Wales cannot afford to miss an opportunity for a culture shift in the way we travel, according to the Senedd’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee.
The lockdown restrictions brought in as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of traffic on Welsh roads and a 17 per cent dip in greenhouse gas emissions as a result.
Now, as restrictions are eased, new challenges are emerging. Social distancing measures mean buses and trains will have to slash their capacity to 10 – 20 per cent of what they were before the pandemic.
Weekly tracking of attitudes to public transport by passenger watchdog Transport Focus indicates people are cautious about returning to public transport, and many say they will walk, cycle and drive more.
Whilst some people are willing to move over to active travel, more will be getting in their cars and an initial short-term switch from public transport to cars could very quickly become a normal commuting habit.
The Committee believes it will be important for the Welsh Government to align any Covid-19 recovery funding with its longer-term decarbonisation targets.
The Committee’s inquiry into Decarbonisation of Transport examined whether Welsh Government targets for decarbonisation are realistic or overambitious. Bus Users UK told the Committee:
“The admirable objective of a zero-emission fleet being achieved by 2028 is extremely unlikely unless significant Welsh Government funding is provided to meet the extra costs this would require.”
The Committee found there has been little consideration for decarbonisation of freight transport.
Professor Robert Mason, Chair in Logistics at Cardiff Business School pointed out that long-haul transport accounted for the biggest share of emissions in the road freight sector.
The Committee wants to know how the Welsh Government will include decarbonisation of the freight industry in its plans.
Questions remain about air travel
Also missing from low-emission policies is the aviation sector, notably Cardiff Airport.
Evidence from Cardiff Community Energy suggested that short-haul electric light aircraft will be available very soon, and the Welsh Government should explore the possibility of making the Cardiff to Anglesey air link an electric service (although the service is currently suspended due to Covid-19).
When the ‘elephant in the room’ was raised – whether people should be flying at all – Deb Bowen Rees, Chief Executive of Cardiff Airport, told the Committee last November that the airport needed to grow to provide economic benefit of Wales but in an environmentally sustainable way.
The Committee wants the Welsh Government to explain how Cardiff Airport fits into its low-carbon plans.
“We cannot afford to let this opportunity slip by”
“We welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment to decarbonisation, but recognise the immense challenges and ambitious targets it has set itself,” said Russell George MS, Chair of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee.
“The climate emergency hasn’t gone away in the global pandemic and the economy must now re-open under new and extremely challenging conditions. The Government must be really clear about how it will meet its decarbonisation targets in the ‘new normal.’
“Before lockdown the rail network was creaking under the strain of overcrowding while bus passenger numbers were falling and routes were being reduced. Transport operators now also face the additional challenge of maintaining the network with social distancing.
“We believe the government’s post-Covid recovery plans present an opportunity to drive growth and a culture shift towards greener, more sustainable transport. We cannot afford to let this opportunity slip by.”
The Committee makes 15 recommendations in its report, including:
- The Welsh Government should outline how decarbonisation targets are taken account of as part of its Covid-19 emergency response to support bus operations, and how it will capitalise on any benefits accruing from the current and future arrangements with operators and partners;
- The Welsh Government should ensure that its strategy for freight includes consideration of a) pilot projects aimed at creating future-proofed low carbon distribution networks, b) how to identify and influence decision-makers to reduce emissions from cross-border road freight movements and c) how it will seek to influence consumer and e-commerce behaviour; and,
- The Welsh Government should set out how Cardiff Airport fits into its plans for a low carbon transport network, how it will be included in the Wales Transport Strategy and the next iteration of the Low Carbon Delivery Plan, and what its expectations are for the decarbonisation of the airport in the short and long-term (including any targets).
The Committee’s findings will now be considered by the Welsh Government.