Wednesday, May 31, 2017

UK Green Party transport spokesperson: "Free public transport in London is the only way to save our environment"

Air pollution obscures the view of the London eye in central London on 9 April 2015 [Getty]

Opinion: CAROLINE RUSSELL The Independent, (UK Daily), 11 December 2016

Free public transport in London is the only way to save our environment


While short-term measures alert Londoners to air pollution that is already high, our car-centric culture needs to be challenged to permanently tackle air pollution.

Paris has a long-standing reputation as the home of free thinkers and this week the city took the inspired step of making its public transport free of charge during a desperately high spike in air pollution.

In London, our own pollution spike recently led to warnings to keep babies away from traffic-heavy roads and to avoid strenuous exercise. Joggers and vulnerable people are choking in London’s dirty air, which also worsens heart and lung conditions and can cause asthma.

With London also blanketed by a thick layer of brown air mainly caused by cars, vans and lorries, free public transport is one solution.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has already taken some short-term measures to tackle pollution, such as erecting signs advising people not to drive and to walk, cycle or take public transport instead. He also deployed signs telling drivers stopped at traffic lights to switch off their engines to protect the health of drivers in vehicles behind them. It is an often overlooked fact that air pollution exposure is often higher inside cars than it is out on the streets.

While short-term measures alert Londoners to air pollution that is already high, our car-centric culture needs to be challenged to permanently tackle air pollution, not just deal with it on 'spike’ days.

The Mayor is introducing an Ultra Low Emission Zone in London to make the most polluting vehicles pay a charge to drive in the zone. This is good as far as it goes – but once people pay their daily charge there is no encouragement to keep journeys short. In fact, quite the reverse: people may drive as much as possible to get better value from the charge they have just paid.

Obviously the most effective way to cut pollution is by slashing the number of car trips made every day. Pollution is measured in grams per kilometre, so cutting the distances driven will cut emissions whatever the vehicle.

So there is a good case for making all public transport free, or at least very affordable, to encourage people to ditch their cars and get about town in the most sustainable way possible.

When public transport is free or very cheap, there is a clear financial incentive to taking the bus or tube rather than running a car. If the Mayor was to follow Paris and make public transport free – even as a stunt during particularly high spikes – the potential health benefits of getting Londoners out of cars and onto buses, trams and tubes, or onto their two feet, would [offset] the lost revenue. 

 Roads could still pay their way even with public transport passengers travelling for free under a road pricing scheme, but this idea has been laying in the long grass since 1999.

The Rocol (Road Charging Options for London) report suggests charging by time of day, road driven on, distance travelled and the emissions of the vehicle being driven to manage demand for road space and keep on top of pollution and congestion. So it would be very expensive to drive a polluting car in central London at rush hour whereas in the middle of the night in outer London with few public transport options it would be much cheaper. The Federation of Small Businesses, London First, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Institute of Civil Engineers and the Royal Academy of Engineering all support a system of road charging, but no Mayor has yet had the guts to act on this despite a healthy list of eminent supporters.

Until we take some serious action on transport choice, whether you think they are gimmicks or not, London will see more pollution spikes and the worsening health of the people who live there.

Caroline Russell is a Green Party member of the London Assembly and national transport spokesperson for the UK Green Party.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Transforming cities with free public transport: video

The Great American Streetcar Scandal

How General Motors Derailed Public Transportation to Sell More Cars

 Pacific Electric Railway 'red car' streetcars stacked in Los Angeles awaiting demolition, 1956. Tram services in NZ were scrapped in the early 1960s. Many trams were sold off as little beach-side holiday homes. Auckland's trolley buses were removed in the 1970s.

by Earth Talk

Dear EarthTalk: Did the car companies really conspire to kill the trolleys and streetcars of bygone days to force us to become dependent on automobiles instead? -- Taylor Howe, San Francisco, CA
Indeed, in the 1920s automaker General Motors (GM) began a covert campaign to undermine the popular rail-based public transit systems that were ubiquitous in and around the country’s bustling urban areas. At the time, only one in 10 Americans owned cars and most people traveled by trolley and streetcar.
Within three decades, GM, with help from Standard Oil, Firestone Tire, Mack Truck and Phillips Petroleum, succeeded in decimating the nation’s trolley systems, while seeing to the creation of the federal highway system and the ensuing dominance of the automobile as America’s preferred mode of transport.
GM Bought and Dismantled Streetcar Lines Nationwide
GM began by funding a company called National City Lines (NCL), which by 1946 controlled streetcar operations in 80 American cities.
“Despite public opinion polls that showed 88 percent of the public favoring expansion of the rail lines after World War II, NCL systematically closed its streetcars down until, by 1955, only a few remained,” writes author Jim Motavalli in his 2001 book, Forward Drive.
Buses Were First Step to Ending Streetcar System
GM first replaced trolleys with free-roaming buses, eliminating the need for tracks embedded in the street and clearing the way for cars.
As dramatized in a 1996 PBS docudrama, Taken for a Ride, Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s president at the time, said, “We’ve got 90 percent of the market out there that we can…turn into automobile users. If we can eliminate the rail alternatives, we will create a new market for our cars.” And they did just that, with the help of GM subsidiaries Yellow Coach and Greyhound Bus.
Sloan predicted that the jolting rides of buses would soon lead people to not want them and to buy GM’s cars instead.
Automaker Used Political Clout to Build Roads for Cars
GM was later instrumental in the creation of the National Highway Users Conference, which became the most powerful lobby in Washington. Highway lobbyists worked directly with lawmakers to craft highway-friendly legislation, and GM’s promotional films were showcasing America’s burgeoning interstate highway system as the realization of the so-called “American dream of freedom on wheels.”
When GM President Charles Wilson became Secretary of Defense in 1953, he worked with Congress to craft the $25 billion Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Referred to at the time as the “greatest public works project in the history of the world,” the federally funded race to build roads from coast-to-coast was on.
Public Transportation is Regaining Popularity
Today, many eco-advocates and urban planners alike yearn for a rebirth of public transit. In the face of nightmarish traffic tie-ups nationwide, widespread urban sprawl, loss of open space, and the global warming we owe largely to automobiles, will we ever see a return to mass transit as the dominant mode for moving people?
According to the Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow (PT2), mass transit ridership has grown 21 percent since 1995—faster than both vehicle and airline passenger miles logged over the same period.
“Public transportation is a…means of helping our environment and conserving energy,” says the PT2 website. “If one in 10 Americans used public transportation regularly, U.S. reliance on foreign oil could be cut by more than 40 percent--the amount we import from Saudi Arabia each year.”
GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at:, or e-mail:
EarthTalk is a regular feature of E/The Environmental Magazine. Article updated June 2014.