‘I was in rural Ludlow recently,’ said Nick Lester-Davis. ‘We came by car and it took me 20 minutes to find a parking space. Parking charges are far too low almost everywhere. Some research suggests up to 30% of traffic in cities is wandering around in search of a parking space.’
But parking has its supporters. It’s not just a cash-generator for hard-up local authorities but critical for bringing customers to hard-pressed bricks-and-mortar retail outlets in towns and cities. Towns compete hard against each other for citizen’s business and if car parks and roadside spots aren’t priced keenly then customers go elsewhere.
There has been much talk in recent years about the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs). While they may well have a place on the wide cross-state highways in the United States, their suitability for cities is far less clear. Negotiating their way down city streets filled with roadworks and pedestrians—who when they step in front of an AV force it to brake immediately—is not going to be easy.
At the same time Professor Frank Kelly, Professor of Environmental Health at King’s College London, warned that it’s not just vehicle tailpipes which create emissions. Brakes and tyres, previously ignored when it came to emission-measurement, are now becoming the focus of new research. Given every vehicle requires brakes and tyres, again reducing the number of vehicles on the roads appears to be a key part of the solution.
There’s a strong sense that what cities require now is a Big Fix. There was talk of the search for ‘an Oyster Card of the 2020s’. Do we, for example, require a new Clean Air Act for the 21st century? Far more work needs to be done to make intelligence about the fastest ways to move about cities via public transport instantly accessible. Citymapper is leading the way here in providing real time data on where the pinch points lie. A major concern remains that elected politicians are not moving sufficiently quickly because big, bold ideas are fraught with political risk. One way or the other, however, the writing appears to be on the wall for private cars with single occupants in city centres in the next two decades. ‘It’s all very well hearing from the cycling and walking camps who are highly proficient lobbyists. A few more policymakers should spend a bit more time travelling by bus,’ remarked one expert.
‘What cities will have to assert for public highways in future is that the public can access but on our terms,’ said another panel member. One thing is for sure—the path to virtue and cleaner air is not a simple one-way street.
Incidentally, the World Health Organization gathers average particulate levels from cities around the world. They suggest that Beijing’s levels are about five times worse than London’s. The cities with the dirtiest air are Zabol in Iran and Onitsha in Nigeria. All three know real smog when they see and breath it.
The roundtable was convened by Go-Ahead Group, and chaired by Go-Ahead Group CEO, David Brown. Go-Ahead is a leading international transport provider. The Group is responsible for more than a billion journeys each year in the UK and beyond, and is the largest operator of bus services in London.
Matthew Gwyther is a journalist and commentator. He edited Management Today for fifteen years and is also the main commentator on BBC Radio 4’s In Business programme. His work appears in The Independent, The Telegraph, The Observer and GQ, among others.