Going green – but just how do we get there?
FOR Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis, the solution to the Island’s congestion and vehicle pollution problems is greater use of electric vehicles and encouraging more people to use bikes, electric or otherwise, to get around.
And the way to encourage Islanders to make the switch from petrol and diesel, he said, might take the form of tax incentives or perhaps matching Jersey Electricity’s offer to create a pooled fund for subsidising Islanders who want to ‘electrify’.
‘We are working on plans A, B and C,’ he said. ‘It is all in the pipeline at the moment, so I cannot say too much, but we are definitely on track for some serious changes to our modes of transport. I have colleagues who think we need a congestion charge and so on but, no, we need to keep St Helier as a thriving town.
‘We are trying to increase the cycle lanes that we have. From the west it is pretty good and now we need to have the eastern cycle lane coming online, and we want to do more cycle tracks within town to encourage more and more cycling.
‘And as money becomes available, we are putting in more and more cycle racks. My department is talking to the Parish of St Helier to make sure we are all on the same page.
‘Lots of countries do tax breaks [to help people to buy electric cars], so that is also something we are working on. And if we can get Chris [Chris Ambler, chief executive of Jersey Electricity] to put his hand in his pocket, that will help out no end.’
The joint States-JE financial incentive to which Deputy Lewis was referring is a recent offer by Mr Ambler to create a matched fund between the States and the utility company, whereby each contributes half of a £300,000 ring-fenced fund that would be used to provide incentives for Islanders who want to make their next vehicle purchase electric or hybrid.
‘This is only going to become a much bigger policy area,’ Mr Ambler said. ‘There is now overwhelming evidence of the linkage between carbon emissions and climate change. Why this is important for Jersey is that one third of our emissions come from transportation – substantially from road transportation.
‘Although Jersey Electricity has been pushing this quite hard with the authorities, it is still a largely untapped opportunity. I think it is very exciting, I think the technology is emerging strongly now, and what I would love to see is a stronger policy direction and policy support to make it happen.’
So what kinds of transport solutions does he have in mind?
‘Things like cycling networks and incentives for e-bikes, which was trialled a few years ago and was, I gather, pretty successful,’ Mr Ambler said. ‘Also, with things like personal mobility products, such as scooters, Segways or electric unicycles, which are widely used now in more progressive cities around the world, it is about making sure they are available here and that there are no regulatory issues.
‘Driverless cars could also potentially be an interesting opportunity for Jersey, as well as low-emission vehicles like electric cars, which is something we have been passionate about promoting.’
However, Deputy Lewis is not sold on the idea of personal mobility products, which he says are not only unregulated but can also be prohibitively dangerous.
‘These devices do not conform with “construction and use”, meaning they are not regulated and do not fit the specifications for bikes or vehicles, so you cannot ride them on the road or in a cycle lane.
‘The danger of e-scooters, for example, is what Americans call “kissing the sidewalk”. Because you are upright, you have nowhere to go but down – people get broken bones and worse – whereas if you are sat on something [such as a mobility scooter] you can brace yourself.’
What, then, might be the sort of thing that the pooled fund of £300,000 could be used for, should the States agree to it?
‘Well, I’m not saying it has to be exactly like this but, for example, the UK have for some time offered grant funding for people who want to purchase an ultra-low emissions vehicle,’ Mr Ambler said.
‘In the UK, they are offering grants of up to a third of the purchase price, a maximum of £3,500. We don’t have to do the same thing but, in our view, there is probably a place in Jersey for those sorts of schemes on an experimental basis.’
But St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft disagreed with both Deputy Lewis and Mr Ambler.
He said that these sorts of schemes were not what the Island should be thinking about spending public money on and that we should, instead, be looking to invest more in walking and cycling routes.
‘The States has failed lamentably to invest significant sums in walking and cycling strategies, specifically to create safe segregated cycling routes, however difficult that may be,’ he said. ‘They have never actually tried to do it. St Helier remains an incredibly difficult town to cycle around.
‘When I was looking at a possible “Boris Bikes” scheme [the Transport for London bike hire scheme created when Boris Johnson was Mayor], which we were going to call “Simon’s Cycles”, the major reason that we did not pursue it was that town is not cycle-friendly.
‘So if there is spare States money going around, rather than putting it into subsidies for people to buy electric bikes or electric cars, that money should be invested in making it possible to use ordinary bicycles in a manner that is safe and responsible.’
Mr Crowcroft added that electric vehicles also created pollution issues that people tend to ignore.
‘In the push for electric cars, I think people are ignoring the fact that a lot of the particulates that come from cars do not come from the exhaust – they come from the brakes and the tyres –and so anything that increases car dependency is, for me, not an environmental priority.
‘The priority, not only in terms of the environment and tackling congestion but also in terms of people’s health, is to get more people walking and cycling. Whatever type of vehicle propulsion you are using, it is effectively a sedentary pastime – it is not doing you any good, it is not freeing up road space for cyclists and pedestrians or buses and taxis.
‘When looking at transport in a crowded island, we should be thinking about how people could be adopting more sustainable practices – not ones that simply add to the present congestion.’
A proposition for the States to decide whether there is a climate-change emergency and if Jersey should aim to be carbon-neutral by 2030 has been lodged by Deputy Rob Ward and is due to be debated on 30 April.
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