Transport is the fastest growing sector both in the UK and worldwide, and contributes significantly to air pollution and other forms of environmental degradation. If we are to minimise the impacts of transport on the environment and on society, we need to adopt a more sustainable transport strategy, and one that integrates all modes of transport rather than being over-reliant on the motor car. There exist a number of solutions to today's transport problem.
The use of public transport must be encouraged if a sustainable transport policy is to be developed. A decrease in the use of personal vehicles would be beneficial to the environment both in terms of land use pressure and air quality. Cycling and walking too, should be encouraged for short journeys, where improved land use planning makes this practical. Park and ride facilities, which reduce the amount of commuter traffic entering urban centres, have become more popular during the last few years. Park and ride facilities provide a car park where people can transfer from car to bus or train.
With a large rise in traffic numbers, it becomes increasingly important to keep polluting emissions to a minimum. There are presently a number of technological solutions which can help to reduce pollutant emissions from road traffic. Since 1993 new cars have been fitted with catalytic converters which reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. Alternative fuels to petrol and diesel are currently also being developed. These include compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), city diesel, hydrogen, alcohol fuels and battery operated vehicles, all of which release less carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air.
The vast majority of journeys made to and from work by car take place with only one person in a vehicle. If people making regular car journeys could share them between a group of drivers, then congestion and hence pollution would be kept to a minimum. There would also be a reduction in the number of cars in city centres, and commuters' petrol and parking costs could be reduced. Furthermore, with the introduction and expansion of the Internet, it has become possible for some people to work from home. Work processed on a computer can be electronically mailed across the globe within seconds, making it possible for people to work for companies on the opposite side of the world.
At present, travelling by car is the most attractive form of transport, due to its convenience. To encourage people to use other modes of transport and adopt more sustainable transport behaviour we need to make travelling by car seem less attractive. Road pricing provides a way of charging motorists for some of the social and environmental costs of cars that are not reflected in petrol or maintenance expenses. Charges can be varied according to whether cars are used during peak times. Unfortunately, government legislation is required before such a road-pricing scheme can be introduced. It is possible, however, that such legislation may be made available to local authorities in the UK in the next few years. Higher parking charges in cities may also deter people from using private cars, and make public transport seem more attractive. For this to be successful, parking charges must exceed the cost of public transport.