Welcome to the first Wednesday interview of 2022. Today we have a discussion with two patrons about the future of electric vehicles. Let me know what you think - and let me know what you would like to discuss.

Anthony:

Electric vehicles are finally making headway in terms of new car sales and there are many reports that say that if we are to achieve net zero by 2050, most of the global transport fleet, cars, trucks, buses, trains, even aircraft will have to be electric. So are electric vehicles the answer? And if they are, have we asked the right question? I'm joined by two specialists who try and answer that. Catherine Weetman has an MSC in logistics and distribution from the Cranfield School of Management. She's a Director of Rethink Global, a circular economy coach and consultant. She's host of The Circular Economy podcast, and author of A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains. She's an advisory board member at UK Manufacturing Symbiosis Network Plus, and was a visiting fellow at the University of Huddersfield Business School. Catherine, welcome.

Catherine:

Hi, Anthony. Good to see you.

Anthony:

Adrian Bond is a chartered electronics engineer for over 20 years with the Institution of Engineering and Technology. He's an advocate for renewables and sustainable living, including having an air to air heat pump, solar panels, battery storage, and he's been driving electrified vehicles since 2008. He's an advisor to Colchester council on traffic air quality and electric vehicle initiatives, and has a particular concern about local air quality. Adrian, welcome.

Adrian:

Thank you so much for having me today.

Anthony:

Pleasure. Is the electric vehicle the answer? They're clean, they use far less resources in manufacture than internal combustion engine cars because they're simpler, and if you can charge at home, they're much cheaper to run. Are electric vehicles the future? Is it as simple as that? Catherine, would you like to start with that?

Catherine:

Yeah. Well, just to go back to the less resources, yes, they're a lot less complicated because of no need for gearboxes and all that kind of thing, but we need to think about the key resources that most electric vehicles are using, which are not particularly prevalent materials, like lithium. So we might be using less resources, but we're using more critically required resources, that are also needed for lots of other clean technologies, and whilst they're a bit greener, we're still driving them around, we're still emitting particulates and so on from tyre use and all that kind of thing, and we're not really designing the cars any differently, apart from the engine's different, but the whole design of the car still isn't evolving towards a car that's upgradeable, a car that could last for 50 plus years like some of the ones we still see around that were built in the 1930s. How have we forgotten how to design for durability? That seems to be a bit of a backward step.

Anthony:

Adrian, you drive an electric car. Is yours going to last 50 years?

Adrian:

I'm not sure I've got many cars which will last about 50 years. But to go back to the original point there, and this is something which I think we picked up very early on, was are electric cars less resourceful to make? And that in itself is a misnomer. I am in no qualms that electric vehicles are not green. They are possibly better alternatives than what we've got at the moment. But various research, one of the best ones is by the Volvo group and Polestar, showed that electric vehicles take more resources to build than your average internal combustion engine vehicle, and as Catherine’s just said, the bulk of that is the special materials, the lithium, the nickel, the cobalt, which I'm sure we'll go onto, and they add an overhead, which the internal combustion engine vehicles just don't have.

Adrian:

The issue is then is context, and is that investment worth it? And hopefully, we'll go through that later on, but are they better than the alternatives? I would say yes. Whether they'll last 20, 30, 40 years? The cars probably won't, but we're already seeing that the batteries probably will, and hopefully, we can cover that a little later on as well.

Anthony:

So if we're looking at cars as a particular section of transport, are we actually approaching the problem of transport from the right direction? Because we know that the private car is idle for 95% of its life, also national governments tend to stimulate the car industry because it's an economic driver, and that means they encourage people to dispose of their cars in a relatively short time. There are two issues. How are we going to get over the government's insistence that we should have a vibrant motor industry, and the other one is how are we going to encourage people to give up the convenience of the private car, if that's what we need to do?

Adrian:

Should I take that one?

Anthony:

Yes, yes. Sorry, I gave you two there. So which one would you like to start with?

Adrian:

The transport, as I've been asked many times, would an EV suit me? It's a case of can you find an alternative first? To compare sustainability and environmentally, there are much better alternatives than a two ton resource intensive box sat in your drive or work 95% of the time. If you can walk, then we should do, cycle, if there's cycle paths, if there's places to do it, we should do, shared transport, public transport, if there's a good route for you, if there's good service in your area, even shared use of electric vehicles, I will always advocate electric vehicles over the others, they are coming very prevalent now. Many colleagues I know live in London and they will hire a car by the hour to do that big trip they need to do, so 200 people use that car in a month as opposed to two, and I would say they were much better alternatives, and then, only then, if life has meant that you have to have a vehicle, because the way that communities have grown, then I'd rather somebody went for something electric than the alternatives.

Anthony:

Catherine, if I'm right, you're in Swaledale in North Yorkshire. Many buses out there?

Catherine:

We have one community organised bus, but it doesn't leave the area early enough for people to use it to commute into the nearest town, so public transport is a big issue, and I think it's something that's been coming up into the national parks, as we've seen increased tourist traffic through, staycations and so on, that congestion and the parking and all the rest of it, with every visitor coming into the park in a car, can become an issue. So I think Adrian's right, that there may be need to be two solutions. People who don't have access to public transport and for whom walking, it's 10 miles to our nearest town, so walking or even cycling to go and get the shopping, and it's not flat either. So I suppose electric bikes can help with that.

Catherine:

But making mobility a convenient solution is something the government could do a lot about. If we look at what happens in London, where you can have a card that gives you access to the tube and the bus, so that makes it simpler. Why haven't we got that rolled out across the entire country? Why aren't all the services connected so you can easily see how you can use bus, train, even taxis and so on, to link with all of that, and thinking about ride hailing, as well as car sharing. Uber is a brilliant model. Uber is a circular economy model because it's all about sharing, but unfortunately, it's quite exploitive for the drivers, and sometimes even for the customers using its surge pricing model.

Catherine:

But there's no reason why that same algorithm couldn't be used as part of a regional mobility system. Why couldn't it be community owned? Why couldn't surge pricing be used to lower the price if the weather's really awful, to give people an option other than walking or cycling, and the price goes a bit higher when the weather's good enough to walk or bike, and maybe time of day and safety and the age of the person and all that? All of that could be taken into account, so it becomes part of a mobility system, including maybe pay per use cars and all that kind of thing, and youngsters particularly don't see the point of owning a car. Why are we fixated on owning things that just depreciate as soon as we've bought them? That seems a bit backwards. Why don't we just pay to use something?

Catherine:

So the convenience, I think, is really at the heart of this, and that's what I like about the circular economy car, the Riversimple car that's been developed in Wales by a team of ex-Formula One engineers. So it uses a fuel cell instead of a battery and it's designed to be a local car, so it's not designed to be a car that you would want to go on holiday, and maybe then you hire a different car, but it's designed to be a local car that you can recharge easily and run about easily, and it's all designed on a circular economy basis. So you don't own the car, you just pay to use it.

Anthony:

Oh, that's the Riversimple car, is it?

Catherine:

Riversimple.com, and you can find lots about them, and the Welsh government is investing in them and DHL, the big transport and parcel operator, in the last few months signed a memorandum of understanding with Riversimple to look at how they could develop the Riversimple concept into vehicles suitable for deliveries, so maybe parcel deliveries locally and that kind of thing. So DHL obviously see the fuel cell technology as a good way forward, and just coming back to another problem of the internal combustion engine, as well as generally in cars, not utilising them enough, because they're parked up for most of the day, less than 1% of the fuel that we put in the car is actually used to move the car. 80% of it is lost in the inefficiencies of the engine and the rest is moving the car, which has got heavier over the last number of years, as we've added more and more features to it and more materials and crash proofing and comfort. So only 1% is actually doing the job of moving the person from A to B.

Anthony:

Just going back there, this Riversimple concept, you say it has got a fuel cell, so if I'm correct, that means it runs on hydrogen. Is that right?

Catherine:

Yes, and we're seeing lots of developments for green hydrogen and just near where I live, well, nearish, on Teesside, BP have announced that they're opening a green hydrogen plant on Teesside. If we're using renewable energy to create the hydrogen, then it can be part of a long term sustainable solution.

Anthony:

That's green hydrogen, because there are lots of different kinds. In fact, I think you can go around the whole colours of the rainbow, in terms of defining hydrogen, so that's green hydrogen. Have you got thoughts on hydrogen, Adrian, as a means of transport? I know that Toyota have got the Mirai, which is their hydrogen car, which looks very nice, but I don't know of any filling stations anywhere near me. What do you think about hydrogen?

Adrian:

Hydrogen is any interesting one. It'll start quite a lot of negotiation, shall we say, on various social medias. From an engineering point of view as a systems engineer, hydrogen has real benefits in certain theatres, but when it gets to the small sort of three, four, seven user car, it starts to have more challenges than solutions we've found. So a hydrogen vehicle is an electric vehicle. It's a fuel cell electric vehicle, FCEV. It's actually a battery electric vehicle with additional technology put on top. So fuel cell vehicles will have a battery as the intermediary between the fuel cell and the drive train, and then it will share the same technology. It's a much smaller battery than a battery electric vehicle, which is a benefit, but then you've got all the materials in the fuel cell. You've got the pressurised fuel tanks, which, as Toyota have shown, incredibly safe, so that's not a problem, but they are an extra weight, and then there is the, as you say, the sourcing of the hydrogen.

Adrian:

The current mix is about 95% of hydrogen, is not green in the world. It's produced from fossil fuels, mainly gas, and it takes a lot more energy then to produce it, and there's a lot of industry which uses a lot of hydrogen already, including the fuel industry, to crack heavy oils into lighter fuels, to use those, so the carbon-intensive industry becomes even more carbon intensive to use the hydrogen. So renewable hydrogen is a way forward, but there are so many better uses for it, I would say, at the moment, as a system, to decarbonise all the industries, metal production, agriculture, all the uses of hydrogen first, before looking at a vehicle which would take about three times as much energy to produce their hydrogen, ship it, get it into the vehicle, and then use it in the vehicle, than actually piping the electric directly to the vehicle.

Adrian:

In the UK, that's about 90 odd percent effective, and then you have losses in the vehicle itself, but for hydrogen, it's about 30% efficient from the green production to the wheel, and yes, that's brilliant if there was a lot of it, and there just isn't enough of it yet. So from an engineering solution and an energy solution, it's not ideal for the small vehicle. For the larger vehicles, lorries, aircraft, ships, those sorts of things, then the mix becomes different and that extra technology bit disappears, the value to getting the energy into the vehicles reduces, and it becomes a much more viable option. So yeah, hydrogen is an idea. In the small commuter car, probably not, but for the solutions definitely, and decarbonising some of the industries which use it, definitely.

Anthony:

Right, well, you mentioned in passing there piping the electricity to the electric car. Now, we have 30 million cars, I think, in this country.

Adrian:

Yeah, 32, yeah.

Anthony:

If we were going to plug them all in, if they were all electric, or even if it was just 10% of them, particularly as we are talking now about improving convenience by having ultra rapid chargers, surely we are going to have a problem, not only with generating enough additional electricity to power all those vehicles, but also a problem in getting that very high current across the country to all the charging points from all the generating stations.

Adrian:

Yes, there is an ongoing chicken and egg battle of where do we need the electricity? The UK grid fortunately has more than enough capacity. It has twice the capacity that we use, and that's mainly to cover peak. So I think the sums are about 150 terawatt hours a year the UK uses, but it has a capacity of about 750, but that's purely because the peaky way that we use energy in all nations, because it used to be when the adverts used to come on in Coronation Street or the kettle will go on, and with huge peaks, and the national grid would manage that on our behalf, and then they'll tap and then they'll pull it back again, and then we won't use any overnight, which is why you ended up with Economy 7 tariffs. So the overall capacity's there and the UK grid has reduced by 17% in the last 20 years, so we use 17% less energy now than we did do, with less populace, than 20 years ago, partly through to certain industries leaving and partly through economies, so better lighting, better heating, better insulation at homes have reduced that.

Adrian:

So the grid, and the National Grid, as an organisation, is very happy they can manage the uptake of electric vehicles. That's their job, is to ensure they can do that, and listen to various of their engineers go through the process of doing that. But then they hand that responsibility and challenge onto the DNOs, the local operators, who put these energy grids in, so they're the ones who are interested when new housing developments go up, when new industries go in. They have the real challenge of saying, okay, so we can get the energy, but how do we get it to where we need it? How do we get it to the homes who will have these new chargers put in, the high power energy solutions, the rapid chargers? How do we get that there?

Adrian:

Now, they have a very tricky balancing act and they're the ones who will be trying to ensure that we can pipe that energy we can get to the right place at the right time for what we need, and that takes planning. That takes time. So yeah, if we'll eventually, what, we're about 300,000 electric vehicles at the moment, about 300,000 plugins on top of that, so we will have to get there in a manageable way and it won't be equal, it won't be fair, which is very unfortunate. There will be places which will be left out because it's just not economically viable, and so those would be the areas which will probably change last, unfortunately. Just say up in, so it's going to be those areas out of place, out of areas, which are going to be difficult to get that energy to, but it will get there. We did it with the petrol car. We'll get there with the electric car.

Anthony:

The other problem though, Catherine, is if you can't park on your own property. I expect you can, but in a lot of places, people park on the street. They're talking about putting power charging points on lamp posts, but people already get into big disputes over parking spaces in crowded London. If the parking spaces are differentiated in so far as some have charging points and others don't, it's going to get even worse, isn't it?

Catherine:

Yeah, I guess that's a potential conflict point, and there's also the different charging systems emerging. You can't charge a Tesla car unless it's a Tesla charger and all that kind of... How that's been allowed to get going so quickly, it should have been obvious to the government right from day one, that we needed a compatible system. Yeah, I think there are lots of practicalities to try and resolve and it brings us back to the, how do you make the whole mobility system more convenient in maybe picking up a car that's been ready charged, that's not your car, it's the car you want to use for that journey? Maybe that becomes more and more attractive, and that fits in better with... I can't remember the terminology for them, but the car-free communities, where whole streets have been blocked off from regular car use, and so they're now becoming places where people can walk, socialise, kids can play and all the rest of it.

Catherine:

So maybe we just have to rethink our approach to moving around completely, and if we can make the shared mobility systems more integrated and so much more convenient, then it becomes a different decision between, do I want to own this car, try and find somewhere to plug it in every night? There's all the cost of insurance and depreciation and maintenance. Is that now such a big plus or should I just go for the shared option? So that seems to be the way forward for perhaps the majority of city dwellers.

Anthony:

Yeah. Yes, well, I've joined the local car club, but I have to say I've never used it. Basically, I'm waiting for my hybrid to finally die. It is 16 years old. It's done 157,000 miles. I was hoping for more than that out of it, but it's worth keeping because it really doesn't cost anything, and I have the convenience outside the front door and we can get in and go whenever we want. It's not that far to walk to where the club car is parked. It's about a five minute walk. I think that's probably what we shall do. I will not replace the Prius once it dies because, as you say, having tens of thousands of pounds sitting outside the front door for 95% of the time is just not a sensible thing to do. I haven't asked you, Catherine. I know that Adrian has an electric car. Do you have an electric car?

Catherine:

No, I'm still motoring on in my Land Rover, having had a pretty scary situation about 10 years ago, when all the roads were iced over and I was kind of sliding gently down the hill with a steep drop on one side back towards our house. So yeah, so I'm going to stick with that until, like all my previous cars, until it gets to the point of needing extremely expensive repairs because it's so old, and I'm hoping by then, the whole dilemma of which car do you go for, a hybrid or an electric or is there a hydrogen option or is there even a local car share option, hoping all of that resolves itself within the next couple of years, but there's no such thing as a sustainable purchase. It's better to keep what you've got, I think, than convince yourself, look, buying a new thing is environmentally better.

Catherine:

And one of the things we've talked about is the design of the cars, that we're still not designing cars to be upgraded. Why couldn't cars have a standard chassis that you could have modules that plug in and plug out, and therefore, when there's a more energy-efficient motor system or braking system or whatever it is, that's what gets swapped in? There's not been really any move forward in that. There's still multiple types of materials. I read, and this was a book that's about 10 years old, saying that there were 40 different types of plastic in the modern car, so it's probably even worse now, and the majority of those plastics will be bonded together or bonded to some metal, making the whole thing really difficult to recycle. So designing for upgrades and designing for recycling, I think, are developments that are much needed across the car industry.

Anthony:

There is a parallel, of course, in the mobile phone market. There's the Fairphone, which is, oh, you have one? Yes, which does everything that you say. It is modular. You can take pieces out. You can replace them and you can upgrade it effectively, but the Fairphone has, what? 1% of the market or less?

Catherine:

Yeah, it's probably about 1% I think, but it is growing, and there's no reason why Apple, Samsung and the others couldn't adopt that same approach. So it's this mentality shift away from planned obsolescence, which is how an awful lot of business models are designed, towards customer for life and product for life. So the product should have a life of its own, which happens with cars these days. Most cars have multiple owners through their lifetime, and the car, or the automotive industry system, is set up to have good repair facilities and so on.

Catherine:

It's just that they're not really these days designing for longevity, and what I think's quite interesting about the electric vehicle market is just how many startups and existing businesses are offering services to convert vintage cars into electric, and vintage is more attractive apparently because they're less complicated. There are less electronics involved. It's easier to get into the guts of the system and replace the parts you need. So if you've got an old plastic Citroen or Saab or Land Rover or whatever ever it is, you can get those converted to electric relatively easily. So maybe that's a better way to go than buying a new car.

Anthony:

Yes, yes. Adrian, I think you indicated that you have actually got more than one car. You've got something in addition to your Leaf, is that right?

Adrian:

Yes, so funny. Like yourself, we started with a Prius back in 2008, and that, when I was told they would only last three or four years, would cost a fortune for the battery be replaced, it was not as good as the diesel. Yeah, we sold that when it was 14 years old. Like yourself, they just don't die, and so that's good. But so we then looked at... Was it about 2018? For a battery electric vehicle. The only ones out at the time were really the Leaf, the Renault and the Teslas, which are just varified atmosphere to buy one of those. So we went for a plugin hybrid. So that's our main family car, is a plugin hybrid Outlander. It's a SUV, but we've just had a dog and got a son and it was the only thing which would take everything everywhere, and being 4x4, I thoroughly recommend something which would go in the snow, so that is good for snow and off road.

Adrian:

And then, about a year ago, due to family reasons, we needed a second car. So that's when the battery electric came in, because it was no brainer at that point. It didn't need to go very far. It only needs to be around town car. It needed to be a smaller car, and that's why we ended up with the Nissan Leaf, a 2015 one, and again, people saying the batteries won't last. That's six, seven years old. That's still with over 90% of its battery capacity, and one of the points which Catherine was saying about actually having vehicles which should be modular, should be replaceable, the Leaf is quite an interesting one, being one of the first electric vehicles in the UK.

Adrian:

There is several companies which will upgrade the battery and change the battery. So the very early versions had a different battery chemistry and they did have issues, so 2011, 2012 versions, and you can change the batteries for a high capacity battery and it gives the vehicle an extra lease of life. It's like changing your battery in a phone. You then have, for a second life, it can move on. NIO, one of the Chinese manufacturers, they have a battery swap service that came through on my feed yesterday. They've done 5.3 million battery swaps, and that only means that the vehicles are consistently the best charged available. As the chemistry and the technology moves on, the batteries are getting bigger, and the cars have got better range, because they can just swap them in. It's basically like changing a battery in a phone, sorry, so that model works well. So as technology moves on and things get better, you can change those.

Adrian:

The rest of them, they're designed to last, as you say, the length of the car, but if you can change the components in a battery electric vehicle, there's, what, 10,000 odd components in an internal combustion engine vehicle, and in the drive train of a battery electric vehicle, there's eight moving parts, so it should be much simpler to swap those items in and out. So if the chassis, if the body work, if the shell can last 20, 30 years, it is easy, or should be a lot easier, to change the battery, provided the battery's been installed in a certain way, to change the motor train, and I think was one of the Teslas, it's about 750,000 miles, but it's a bit like the ubiquitous broom. It's had four new motors and three new batteries. The only thing that stays the same is the chassis.

Adrian:

And I like the idea, I think it was from one of your previous podcasts about circular economy, when it comes to things like batteries, is that the batteries, when they come out of vehicles which comes to the end of their life, mainly due to vehicles doing too many miles or the vehicle being damaged in a non-destructive way, those batteries are going off to another life. They are being used in energy storage by a few companies, which will take them, especially from the Nissan Leafs at the moment, for grid storage and home storage, which then brings into an oval type economy, and so even if the vehicle dies, the battery lives on, and they're living on, they're hoping, for an extra 10 years beyond the original 10 years they're originally intended for. So some of this has been thought about, but I agree, not enough of it, and that's probably more an industry problem than the electric vehicle problem.

Catherine:

I agree.

Anthony:

And what's your take, Catherine, on recycling batteries?

Catherine:

Yeah, I think Adrian's right, that it's kind of more of an oval economy, because it is down cycle and they're not now fit for the purpose that they originally intended, and perhaps there's been some thinking behind that, but I think it's perhaps more accidental, people have been looking to see how could I reuse this waste resource, this unused battery? What else could it be used for? And luckily, there are a few uses for that, but again, with legislation, things could be designed with that in mind, that if there is no way of rejuvenating the battery so that it's suitable to be used in another car, then let's have a progressive down cycle, but let's make sure that the battery is designed with those secondary uses in mind, so that we're designing for the next life of the battery and the next life of the battery and so on, and legislation could easily do that.

Catherine:

And just coming back to the reason I think why the automotive industry has been so slow to take up electric cars, because remember, electric vehicles have been around for decades and decades and decades, so it's not a new thing, but of course, with the lack of maintenance needed for all those moving parts, there wasn't the work for all the local garages, which, of course, sell you the new car when your maintenance started to get a bit expensive, and so they'd been resistant to that, because it was going to take away quite a bit of revenue from the industry. But there's a different way to look at it. If we're selling the car as a service, instead of selling you the ownership of the car, then that can become a different proposition, and you're now maybe you are doing more cleaning services or the battery refresh or more tests. It might be a lighter touch, but you can still keep the relationship with the customer, and you can provide more flexible finance options.

Catherine:

Maybe you provide the small car that people need for most of the year, and as part of the service, you have three, four weeks access to an estate car or an SUV for your holiday trips, that kind of thing. It can all be part of the same package, and just going back to Volvo, the example Adrian used at the beginning, and before my Land Rover, I've had four Volvos and kept them all for as absolutely long as possible, and the next car might be a Volvo if they get sorted with electric, but they're now really experimenting with lots of circular economy interventions, including providing the car as a subscription service. So they're really looking wholeheartedly at that, how do we create a completely different system of providing the service of a car to our users.

Catherine:

And BMW, though they've stopped it now, maybe they've stopped it because of the issues of lockdown and the pandemic, but a few years ago, they started a pay per use car system called DriveNow, and what they discovered, having set this up to appeal to BMW owners who love the marque and love the feel of the BMW, so the idea was that if you were abroad on business or something, you could pay per use for a BMW, so you've got a car that you're comfortable with and it fits your personal brand image and all the rest of it, but what they found was that lots of non-BMW owners hired those cars. So suddenly that gave them access to a whole raft of potential future customers. They were able to start engaging with those people.

Catherine:

So I think if companies think differently about how can we adopt the circular economy to make our business more attractive and convenient for the customer by changing the way we charge for things, by changing the way that we look after the product for life, and we enable the customer to easily give that product back to us and for it to have another life, maybe with somebody who's happier to start with a three or four year old vehicle, that kind of thing. So you're providing the backup and the reliability and the promise that this car is going to be reliable, convenient, economic, all the things that we want from it, and thinking that way and starting to think about the long, long term, how do I keep this customer happy so they keep coming back for more and more, starts to bring in the opportunity for different solutions, instead of it being, how do I make this exciting, but then I've got to spend millions on marketing, so that the customer still thinks it's exciting next time around?

Catherine:

And when you look at the adverts for lots of cars now, we're seeing lots of adverts for things that have been de-prioritised during lockdown, an awful lot of the adverts are about the excitement or how it fits with your personal image, how's this whatever, bottle of perfume or car or whatever else they're trying to sell, how's it going to put a shine on your personal image? And that seems a bit vacuous, really. I think for cars, we really want them to be comfortable, safe, convenient, economic, reliable.

Adrian:

Yeah, I also used to own Volvo. I don't think I bought it for the image status. I just put it to put the dogs in.

Catherine:

No, exactly, exactly, exactly, yeah. Yeah, that's my other excuse for the Land Rover, is that we've got two dogs, one of whom is rather large. Yeah.

Anthony:

I think at the back of all this, there's a lot of inertia, in so far as there is a change, that vehicles are becoming electric, but they're vehicles which look very much like the vehicles we've had before. The traffic jams will still be there, because just changing the motive power doesn't do anything about it. You'll still need the car parks. You'll still provide wonderful convenience for those who have cars, and because they're not using public transport, it'll get worse and worse for people who don't have access to cars. So how are we going to overcome this inertia? Do we see any signs of anybody, the industry, the government, or anybody at all taking a serious view of this? Now, you're advisor to Colchester council, and you talk to them about electric vehicles. Do you cover this sort of question, Adrian?

Adrian:

So, we cover all sorts of questions, and the one which, let's say, I got personally involved in after my son had another nasty asthma attack and was taken off to hospital due to the air quality in Colchester. We have several areas which breach the law in that respect, and it's a case of looking not only at how do we change the air quality, but as you say, how do we reduce the congestion? Cars, as a service, is, in big cities and towns, it works really well and work with quite a lot of younger people, I'm going to say now, and until they get a family, they don't see the need for a vehicle, and so that helps reduce that. They don't see them as an asset or as a status symbol. They're just a bind and they'd rather just jump in bus or jump on a bike or jump in a hire car.

Adrian:

When they get children, that seems to change a little, but that's apparently quite common around Europe, but in Colchester, it is about reducing the amount of people who feel they need to jump in their car. So there's been quite a big uptake, especially during COVID, in improving the cycle structure. So a lot of the changes they put in for making distances between pedestrians, that spare space, they've taken off roads, so actual roads have been reduced, a number of miles of roads have been reduced.

Adrian:

They've moved onto cycle lanes instead. So they've kept the demarcations and moved one of them into a cycle lane, producing some really nice cycle routes through town, safely through town, and that's one of the big things, is the safety angle of keeping bikes away from cars, bikes away from pedestrians, pedestrians away from the pair of them. And that led to a big consultation last year, and so we worked with that, and they're looking to actually put in a lot more infrastructure for cycling, for walking, and the park and ride, which they've produced, just outside of the Colchester main town, and then busing people into the centre, that. They're putting in recharging points, so they're hoping people will commute to Colchester by electric vehicle, charge their vehicles up, and then jump on the bus to come into the town centres. It's because there's less roads now, because of the cycle lanes and the footpaths.

Adrian:

So when towns and cities work in that sort of way together with the citizens, we can, and unfortunately, due to what's happened in the last couple of years, can see that it works. Changes can be made, but there is a lot of inertia. There's a lot of resistance by those who want to just go, "I want to get in my car and go wherever I want, when I want." You can go and sit in your own traffic jams in your own time, if you don't mind.

Anthony:

Yes, Catherine.

Catherine:

I think that there is inertia, but there are lots of things that can try and normalise this, and I remember reading stories about how, in America, they'd had a problem with the designated driver, the person staying sober on nights out, so people just weren't doing that, and they really wanted to get to grips with this. So they asked the writers of the sitcom, Friends, and there was another one, to just write that into the story as a normal thing, and within quite a short space of time, people were happily being designated drivers and it had just become normalised, and I happened to, when I was staying with my parents a while ago, happened to be watching Coronation Street for the first time in decades, and noticed there was a campaign going on to make the main street car free and all the debate around that and what it was going to do to the local businesses who were anti it, because people wouldn't be able to just park outside and buy stuff.

Catherine:

So there are things to overcome, but I think normalising it and making it as convenient as possible and having this interconnected system, so that you've just got one app or one card and that pays for everything, and democratising it. Why shouldn't we have Uber-type systems and car share systems that are owned by the community? Why should it all be in private hands, so that you can be exploited if the company ends up with a monopoly situation? And with the deep pockets of investors behind companies like Uber and so on, that's all too easy to do.

Catherine:

And I think the other thing to reduce the... It's not just the cars, is it? It's the delivery vehicles, particularly as we're all buying more online, and if the government changed its competition law, there's no reason at all why one delivery company couldn't do all the deliveries in an area. When you look at the delivery maps, the route maps of the four or five parcel delivery companies, they're all covering similar routes. So that's five vehicles in one day with more miles between each drop and less efficient, and that could all just be contracted to one of them, they all pay to do it, and it becomes much more efficient and convenient for the person who's receiving the deliveries.

Anthony:

Well, thank you. Now, as we draw this to a close, because we've been on for nearly 45 minutes, let's go back to the question we started with. Adrian, is the electric vehicle the future?

Adrian:

I see it as a part of the solution to the future, when we can't go for the alternatives. It is better than the fuel type vehicles, and amongst hydrogen, as long as they are environmentally friendlier, less hostile, then I think they're part of the solution.

Anthony:

And Catherine?

Catherine:

Yeah, I agree with that. It needs to be part of a more thought through, interconnected and community oriented system.

Anthony:

Well, thank you both very much. That's really been an interesting discussion. Catherine Weetman, Adrian Bond, thank you both very much.

Catherine:

Thanks, Anthony.

Adrian:

Thank you.

I’m very grateful to both Catherine and Adrian for sharing their ideas. Catherine mentioned the Riversimple hydrogen car. You can find out more at https://www.riversimple.com. She also recommended a book: Less is More - How Degrowth will Save the World by Jason Hickel. https://www.waterstones.com/book/less-is-more/jason-hickel/9781786091215 

 

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During January I am working on improving the infrastructure of the Sustainable Futures Report - the social media presence and so on, so there will be no Friday editions until 4th February. There will be Wednesday interviews - some Wednesdays at least.

I’m Anthony Day.

That was the Wednesday Interview from the Sustainable Futures Report.

Thanks for listening.

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