Recent changes to the Highway Code introduced a “hierarchy of road users” which gives pedestrians and cyclists the right of way over vehicles. Cyclists can now ride two abreast, and in the centre of the road, making it impossible for vehicles to overtake in many situations.
A “closed group of cyclic and pedestrian organisations” contributed to the consultation period, with over three-quarters organised by pro-cycling lobby groups. These anti-car activists claim that these changes will lower congestion and emissions, benefiting the public health, the economy, and the environment. But critics state it will cause “avoidable collisions”. It is clear that this policy change is not based on common sense or safety, but an ideological desire to inconvenience motorists off the road. From high petrol prices to increasingly complicating road rules, utilitarian environmentalists are waging war on privately owned transport.
The Car Free Cities campaign endorse “taking space away from cars” to “encourage walking and cycling.” Increasing journey times by increasing traffic will “inconvenience” people until they “choose to walk instead.” Critics point out their punitive plan is self-defeating: increasing congestion, and thereby exhaust fumes, on routes outside ULEZ and car-free zones. But at the heart of activism like this is that members of these lobbying groups believe their grand goals of abolishing transport emissions immediately take precedent over your free choices and lifestyle. This looks disturbingly like an attempt to socially engineer your hands off the wheel.
Unfortunately, the incompetence of government institutions is aiding them in their anti-car crusade. More than half of DVLA employees were not working while at home during the first lockdown, and more than five-hundred striking for nine of the last twenty-four months. This has contributed to an ten month driving test backlog. Fewer people are learning to drive than usual — which will have knock-on effects for the motor industry for years to come.
But why would you want to drive anyway, given it has become so expensive? Taxes on fuel constitute sixty percent of the price per litre. The Chancellor’s announced fuel duty cut of 5p per litre is undercut by the fact that inflation has driven VAT income up on fuel by 7p per litre. Although businesses claiming VAT back could produce lower prices, drivers will not see a substantial cut at the pumps. Extra costs will come for commuters in England’s capital: with Mayor Sadiq Khan looking to levy his Ultra Low Emissions Zone tax on the entire city next year. Higher road taxes have been proposed, to encourage drivers to “go electric.” Combined with projected ten percent inflation, a National Insurance contribution increase, and rising costs across the board, non-essential travel could be the first item on the chopping block for struggling working families.
So, what about electric cars? Aren’t they a viable alternative? They won’t be cheaper to drive: with the government looking to introduce road pricing and toll roads, to replace tax revenue lost on fuel duty after transport decarbonises. They aren’t cheaper to buy either: with Tesla’s cheapest car hitting a £35,000 high. This is because of a global shortage in computer chips, and the minerals used to make batteries. Sanctions on Russian nickel exports caused a short-squeeze of 250 percent to over $100,000 a tonne. China has assumed control of the market for lithium and other large ore deposits in Zimbabwe, Argentina, Afghanistan, and 37 other countries through their Belt & Road initiative. Like with oil, electric cars are at the mercy of international supply chains controlled by our adversaries.
Electric cars also constitute a concern for consumer freedoms: with government proposing legislation allowing them to turn off your home charging port remotely, or confiscate energy from your vehicle and household appliances during renewables generation deficits. Even if you can afford an electric car, can you afford a de facto travel lockdown?
At least we can all take public transport, right? Well, a mismanagement of public finances has turned TFL into a tax black-hole. London’s Mayor warned twenty percent of services may be cut to make up the £1.5 billion deficit he has presided over. Such cuts hardly make buses and trains a safe and reliable alternative.
Why, if these policies continue to create immiseration and the confiscation of individual freedoms, are they continued? Perhaps Britain’s transport and environment policy-makers are taking their lead from Danish environment minister, Ida Auken: who pushed for the abolition of car ownership by 2030. Perhaps they agree with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said the present high petrol prices should be suffered to “accelerate the phase out of coal and all fossil fuels.” Or even Bloomberg News and the IEA last week, who told everyone to just take the bus, walk, or work from home to fight inflation. Many politicians and pundits seem callously indifferent to people’s necessary reliance on fossil fuels to heat their homes and drive to work.
Our transport and infrastructure policies should not be made by those who wish to pull the ladder up after them, as they drive around in six-figure Teslas. Policies should be made because they ensure energy and national security — not to behaviourally nudge people toward a zero-emissions utopia.
You think we’ll abandon our cars? On your bike, mate.
Connor Tomlinson is the Head of Research at the British Conservation Alliance, and a political commentator with Young Voices UK. He features regularly in C3 Magazine, on GB News and talkRAIO. Follow him on Twitter @Con_Tomlinson