Written evidence submitted by GreenSpeed (RSM0002)


1.              Introduction


1.01        GreenSpeed was set up in response to the reduced speed limit imposed on coaches in 1995 that increased the competitive advantage held by the car on trunk roads and motorways. It has continued to campaign for a greater reduction in the national speed limits for cars in and between urban areas in order to encourage a modal shift to return the competitive advantage to coaches, trains, cycling and walking.

1.02        The case for reducing the national speed limit was accepted by the Environment Audit Committee in 2005/6 Reducing carbon emissions from transport. This recommendation based on the significant reduction of carbon emissions included the point that such a measure would bring home to the public that the Government was concerned about climate change.  The failure to implement a change that would cost very little, could be done tomorrow (at the ‘flick of a switch’ – David Mackay 2016, Sustainable energy without the hot air) and would be entirely equitable, has shown to the public that for 15 years the Government has not been serious about combatting climate change.

1.03        The support for electric vehicles has added two important new dimensions/arguments to the case for reduced speeds. The Treasury resistance due to the significant loss of revenue from the more efficient driving of ICEs has been stepped back with the Government support for electrification (ie no fuel duty). The second issue is the significantly greater efficiency of EVs driven at lower speeds that impacts on their range, related anxiety, and the need for both power and re-charging facilities.

1.04        From recent correspondence with the Department of Transport (mostly regarding the de-carbonisation of transport) it seems that there is nobody or department looking at the systemic effects of speed, and there is a repeat of the 25 year old mantra that, “there are no current proposals to examine the speed limits”.  This magnifies the importance of the role of the Select Committee and this inquiry.

1.05        It appears that some of the changes occurring in response to the corona virus pandemic might be for the long term good, and should be reinforced rather than reversed.  Many of these are in the transport field. One change that is likely to have seriously detrimental consequences without strong intervention is the decline in the use of public transport. In these circumstances measures that advantage to coach and train compared to the private car have become more important.


2.              Inquiry


2.01              The Committee is particularly interested in views on:

• the benefits of smart motorways, for instance to reduce congestion on busy sections of motorway, and how necessary they are;

• the safety of smart motorways, the adequacy of safety measures in place and how safety could be improved;

• whether All Lane Running is the most suitable type of smart motorway to roll out or if there are better alternatives;

• public confidence in using smart motorways and how this could be improved; • the impact of smart motorways on the usage and safety of other roads in the strategic road network;

• the effectiveness of Highways England’s delivery of the smart motorways programme, the impact of construction works, and the costs of implementation.

2.02              The speed of traffic and other transport modes has systemic effects many of which appear in the terms of reference, including, congestion, safety and public perceptions.

2.03              In the climate emergency the share of emissions arising from the transport sector and the demand on renewable sources, primarily green electricity, are fundamental considerations.

3.              Scope of Evidence


3.01              The first point to make/repeat is that the transport system is a system and must be considered as such if measures are to be effective to take advantage of potential virtuous circles and not exercises in futility for failing to take into account the incoherence of the current system and persisting with incremental and inconsistent policies.


3.02              The transport system comprises three fundamental elements;  volume, mix and speed. Whilst the objective of this enquiry is to influence the volume and mix, a key or trigger for the necessary virtuous circles is to adjust the speed.


3.03              The inquiry is being carried out in the context where carbon emissions (nationally and internationally) must reduce very substantially in the next few years.  The transport system (and most significantly, the motor car) is a major contributor to the problem and, therefore, to the possible solutions. It is the only sector that is currently failing to reduce emissions.


3.04              Air quality is a related issue that is closely linked to other greenhouse gas emissions.  The Committee will be aware that the Highway Agency is currently measuring the effect of 60mph speed limits on NOX emissions. This is in the context where HE cite the results of recent research showing that NOX can actually increase when speeds are reduced from 70mph to 60mph!


4.              The impact of lower speeds


4.01              Congestion and carbon: In the past the DfT has argued against a lower speed limit on the basis that there would be detrimental impact on business through ‘loss of usable time’. Remarkably, the lower levels of congestion (costing £20billion a year) that would arise with a 50mph or 60mph limit were not costed in. 


4.02              The introduction of smart motorways reflect an awareness that congestion matters, but attempts to introduce a lower national limit have been resisted (see the M1 in 2018). Variable speed limits have shown that these can reduce congestion and are accepted by motorists benefiting from free flowing traffic.


4.03              The key to less polluting cars in urban areas is the reduction of the national speed limit to 50mph (see the recommendation of the Environmental Audit Committee Reducing Carbon Emissions from Transport 2005/6).  This will have an instant effect of reducing carbon emissions from ICEs between urban areas by about 30% (Slower is Better 2010 CE Delft, VIBAT 2005 UCL/Halcrow and Quick Hits 2006 UKERC)) but would also trigger a power shift to vehicles that would be more efficient and less polluting at the lower speeds in urban areas. It is understandable that recommendations from select committees are rejected by Governments but unfortunate that the Transport Committee does not appear to have given the EAC any support.


4.04              Slower speeds caused by physical traffic calming include stop-start driving. that is very polluting.  In urban areas the DfT advise that slower speeds (eg 20mph limits) are not observed without physical restraints and the same psychology probably applies on dual carriageways.  One obvious conclusion is the impact of narrower lanes.  These are commonplace during road works and operate with reduced speed limits.  Unless there is evidence of increased RTAs within these areas (ie lower speeds in narrower lanes), then this could be the key to the smart motorway question. By introducing a 50mph national speed limit, four running lanes could be created out of three (maybe three out of two) retaining a hard shoulder as a refuge.


4.05              Modal shift can have a major impact on congestion.  The Government urgently needs to find ways to improve the comparative advantage of public transport modes in response to the pandemic advantaging the private car.  By allowing buses/coaches to use the overtaking lanes of dual carriageways at 60mph or higher, some if not most drivers being overtaken will consider whether their journeys would be faster by public transport.


4.06              Electrification: The shift from ICEs to EVs is likely to be critical to the UK meeting carbon reduction targets.  This raises the fundamental issue of what proportion of low/zero carbon energy can be used by the transport sector in competition with growing demand from heat (esp residential) and manufacturing. This will include the building of cars and batteries and for MMC in housebuilding. The Transport Committee should consider whether private transport is more important than building homes and keeping them warm?


4.07              The consequences of failing to control demand for electricity throughout the economy could include: building more generation capacity than necessary (and with embodied carbon), retaining fossil fuel generation longer than necessary, increasing the cost of the scarce supply reflected in price of electricity for heating and manufactured goods. These are the type of systemic impacts that need to be considered.


4.08              The most efficient speed for an electric car is between 30mph and 50mph.  The difference in mileage between driving at 50mph and 70mph is in the order of 50% (ie 180miles per charge down to 120miles per charge).  This translates to a very significant reduction in both the power required by a growing fleet of EVs and the number, location and duration of use of charging points.  These are all non-trivial considerations.  In the meanwhile ICEs will be on the road for the foreseeable future (in reduced numbers) and lower carbon emissions would arise at 50mph.


4.09              There seems to be a trend (see various manufacturers range of EVs) to replicate the current fleet of private cars in terms of oversize vehicles (large saloons and SUVs).  Large batteries and more material is required in the building of large vehicles in order to maintain the range/mileage.   A speed limit of 50mph would increase the range of an EV SUV but might also reduce the attraction, popularity and numbers of these wasteful vehicles.


4.10              However, if a 50mph speed limit reduces or removes the competitive advantage of the ICE over the EV and significantly increases the sales of the latter (as is Government policy), the impact on the demand for renewable electricity could accelerate.  This circular argument or a virtuous circle that might not require further interventions on the route to net zero transport.


5.              Summary


5.01              The National Infrastructure Commission understood the relationship between ‘congestion climate and carbon’ (2017 Report bearing that title). The Transport Committee should follow that lead and consider smart motorways in the round; how can capacity be maintained or increased in a way(s) that would reduce both congestion and carbon.


5.02              The benefits from reducing the national speed limits from 70mh to 50mph would be as follows:


-                     Modal shift from cars to bus, train, cycling and walking

-                     Increased capacity on dual carriageways

-                     Power-shift to electric vehicles by maximizing the range of the latter

-                     Reduced demand for scarce renewable electricity and re-charging

-                     Less noise from engines and tyres/road

-                     Reduced GHGs from use and manufacturing

-                     Reduced PM from brakes, fuel, tyres and road dust

-                     Reduced wear and tear on vehicles

-                     Reduced number and severity of accidents

-                     Reduced trauma and economic cost (inc NHS) of RTAs

-                     Greater fuel security and less generation capacity required

-                     Easier integration of car with other modes


5.03              These benefits are mutually reinforcing  (ie forming a virtuous circle) and are necessary but possibly not sufficient to create an integrated and low carbon urban (and national) transport system.  The national speed limits should be reduced now, at very little cost and without any unfairness (other than to the drivers of over weight and overpowered cars). Other measures could than be considered.


5.04              The lower national speed limit would enable/require motorway lanes to be narrowed. Capacity would be increased through both the lower speed, free-flow and even more usable road space where the number of lanes could be increased (maintaining a hard shoulder).


5.05              Finally, the Committee is concerned about public attitudes. There is growing evidence of a majority of the public understanding the urgency of a transition to net zero carbon.  The transport sector is the laggard in this regard, and by lowering the national speed limit to 50mph the Government would (as the EAC said in 2005/6) be seen to be leading and not following in facing up to this existential threat.  The lower limit would, incidentally, resolve for the better many if not all of the other issues arising from ‘smart motorways’.


February 2021