Transport secretary Grant Shapps has suggested the Government will ramp up efforts to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles, amid concerns Covid-19 could lead to an increase in motor traffic.
Latest Government figures show that by the end of June, traffic had reached approximately 80% of pre-lockdown levels – compared to around 40% in April.
Speaking to the Transport Committee last month, Mr Shapps conceded this figure could ultimately exceed 100% – as a result of Government advice to avoid public transport.
When asked about targets to reverse this trend, Mr Shapps suggested the Government’s focus was not solely on reducing the number of cars on the road – but ensuring those cars are more environmentally friendly.
He said the impact of Covid-19 opens up a number of different possibilities – including how quickly the uptake of electric vehicles can be accelerated.
Mr Shapps said: “I always tend to reject the idea that just because roads are being used, that’s a bad thing.
“It’s a bad thing if it’s spewing out nitrogen dioxide or carbon dioxide, but actually it’s not that I have a principal objection to roads and cars.
“We are putting £27bn into building and improving roads, we just want them to be environmentally friendly – which means switching to zero carbon.
“So I think it [Covid-19] does have an implication, and it’s made us look at driving that forward even faster and harder.”
Mr Shapps said in the short term, the Government would accept a rise in car usage in order to protect the transport network – despite its intentions to reduce transport emissions.
Mr Shapps said: “We are quite literally singing to people to avoid public transport, which must make me the first transport secretary in history to actively discourage people from using the system which we have put so much time and effort into building.
“One of the options – it should be said after walking or cycling – is to drive, because right now it prevents overcrowding on the public transport system that we are working so hard to protect.”
New Government figures show the number of ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs) registered for the first time more than doubled in the first quarter of 2020, despite the impact of Covid-19.
The figures, published by the DfT on 30 June, reveal that 34,115 new ULEVs were registered in the UK between January and March – a year-on-year rise of 113%.
In total, ULEVs accounted for 5.6% of all new vehicle registrations in Q1 2020 – up from 1.8% the previous year.