Thank you, Bill Shorten. At last, a politician is acknowledging the elephant in the room (or, in this case, the city) – cars. Yes, cars.
Our political leaders have been selling us the line for years that building mega public transport projects will somehow solve all the problems of cities. It suits them because it means they can avoid policies like higher taxes and charges on driving that would make motorists deeply unhappy.
Our cities desperately need better public transport, but when cars account for 90% of travel in capital cities, it's folly to ignore the pressing need to "tame" the excesses of the four-wheeled beast.
The transport component of Labor's Climate Change Action Plan finally promises a serious attack on emissions from cars, principally by implementing stronger standards as well as a National Electric Vehicle Policy.
If elected later this year, the party promises to put in place a standard of 105g CO2/km for new light vehicles, although the start date isn't specified. Labor also promises electric vehicles (EVs) will account for half of new vehicle sales by 2030, although how that will be achieved is pretty vague.
The proposed emissions standard would be a huge improvement on the current level of 182g CO2/km for new passenger and light commercial vehicles.
While it's a step in the right direction, Labor's Plan nevertheless highlights the lack of a coherent urban transport policy at either the state or federal level. It'll help encourage more efficient and smaller vehicles, but all political parties still lack effective policies to address congestion and to make cars materially slower, quieter and less dangerous for vulnerable road users.
Labor's EV policy reflects this narrow thinking. While EVs should, and I expect will, dominate sales at some stage in the future, there are some serious issues associated with an EV-dominant world that Labor's policy ignores.
A key one is the likely increase in travel spurred by EVs. Their running costs are lower compared to vehicles powered by (heavily-taxed) petrol and diesel. While that helps make EVs attractive, it will inevitably encourage more driving, with consequent negative impacts on the amenity of streets, the safety of roads for pedestrians and cyclists, the viability of public transport, the level of traffic congestion, and the density of cities.
Another issue overlooked in the policy is the huge increase in generating capacity that will be required to meet the demand for electricity when EVs win substantial market share. Local solar is often portrayed as the likely source, but EVs are energy intensive and require a large PV array over and above that necessary for domestic or office uses. The increasing number of households living in multi-unit accommodation (e.g. 47% in Greater Sydney) presents another constraint on the potential of local solar.
Nor does Labor's policy provide any response to the reduction in fuel excise revenue that would flow from widespread use of electricity instead of oil. Directly taxing the use of road space by vehicles seems the obvious alternative, but Labor's policy is of course silent on this politically sensitive topic.
Maybe I'm expecting too much; after all, this policy is about politics not good government. It's a marketing document. The lack of evidence and analysis is obvious in the unsupported claim that a Shorten government will lift EVs to 50% of new car sales by 2030. On the basis of what's in the document, the kindest thing that can be said is it's an ambitious target.
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