The Green Road Ahead?

The role of transport in the delivery of the climate change agenda is fundamental. The Government has made a series of high-profile announcements, not least bringing forward the date for ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans to 2030. But detail on delivery is lacking and that is what makes the Transport Select Committee's inquiry into implications for these moves for road pricing, or pay-as-you-drive, schemes of such potential significance.

By looking in detail at issues and getting a Government response to their reports, Select Committees have a valuable opportunity to shape policy. That means submitting evidence should be a priority for those looking to engage in the debate.

It is clear from Government statements that tackling climate change is at the heart of its agenda. Not least this was borne out by the prominence of the 2030 announcement as part of a relaunch late in 2020. With the COP 26 conference due to take place later this year, we can expect a continued emphasis on environmental measures.

Whilst the Government is setting out some broad principles, the Select Committee can help fill in the policy gaps. Those able to bring their experience from across the world will be highly valued as this is essentially a discussion about delivery. Thinking in electoral terms, the sooner that can start to happen, the better. The Government needs to move beyond Covid as soon as possible.

There is a danger of the rhetoric overtaking the practical realities or an over emphasis on what the free market can achieve. Although the PM's recent words praising public and private working together on Covid shows that partnership may be in vogue.

But the Select Committee inquiry is not the only opportunity for engagement. These could be busy months across transport policy. We have the long-awaiting publication of the Williams rail review to look forward to as well as the National Bus Strategy and National Strategy for Disabled People.

According to the Future of Transport Regulatory Review Summary of Responses published late in 2020, the Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper will consider local leadership in new transport services. There is also the critical Transport Decarbonisation Plan as well.

Zero emission vehicles and road pricing which are both significant issues in themselves but the Select Committee inquiry will try to cover both. In particular, the inquiry calls for comments on the level of public support for road pricing. It remains the fact that Government has not been making the case for road pricing and indeed the apparent recent Government flirtation with it was considered by some to be a way that the Chancellor could be seen to firmly dismiss it. But policies across the environment can't just be about popularity contests.

But the reality is that transport will have to pay is fair share of the Covid bill. That could well mean, for instance, substantial cuts across rail subsidies. Potentially unpopular decisions are coming.

There need to be discussions about the type of transport offer we want and what the Government is planning for, and will pay for, if we aren't to be distracted by simple popularity measures. The Government may also need to loosen the regulatory burden, especially post Brexit, to allow new entrants and new technologies, making the lives of disruptors easier.

With the Select Committee inquiry and all these other policies coming soon we need to see a unity of approach rather than a series of individual papers. It may be a slightly dated phrase, we need 'an integrated approach' but one focused on the climate.

Dr. Stuart Thomson is Head of Public Affairs at BDB Pitmans LLP

This blog was published as part of the Decarbonising Transport series with Greener Transport Solutions