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Petrol Prices Cut Car Trips – Will People Take to Two Wheels Instead?

Petrol prices
Petrol prices

Petrol and diesel sales have fallen, as drivers cut back on car trips because of high prices, reports the BBC. Petrol station company Ascona Group said it is selling 200,000 litres a week less fuel than before the pandemic. That represents a drop of 6-8% over the last six weeks.

Similarly, an RAC survey shows that 30% of drivers are using their vehicles less often, and 21% are deliberately driving more efficiently to save fuel.

Pedal to the Metal on Knaresborough Road

While some people are undoubtedly trying to save petrol, others’ habits are harder to break.

On the A59 from High Bridge Knaresborough towards Harrogate, many drivers still insist on ‘pedal to the metal’ up the hill – generally so that they can sit at the Forest Lane/Bogs Lane junction for a little bit longer, enjoying a view of the red traffic light.

Idling in Harrogate

Switch off engine Reduce Emissions
Switch off engine Reduce Emissions

Similarly, the number of people idling while parked has not diminished noticeably.

Hotspots in Harrogate include Cambridge Road, where Uber Eats and Deliveroo drivers leave their engines running in the Disabled Parking spaces to “prove” they haven’t parked while they collect hot food from MacDonalds. On Beech Grove, I often see people idling by the Stray, eating sandwiches or thumbing their mobile phones.

Taking to Two Wheels

Could people take to two wheels for their short, local trips instead?

They definitely could, but I suspect high petrol prices alone are not enough. Safe, convenient cycle infrastructure is needed as well.

The Beech Grove modal filters have made that a safe cycle route. It takes time for any new scheme to have an effect, but this Spring there is a definite uptick in cycle traffic there.

There are some other plans to improve Harrogate’s cycle network, but no evidence that they are being delivered in a timely way.

Active Travel Fund Schemes

For example, there is Active Travel Fund money to reduce the speed limit on Knaresborough Road and provide dedicated cycle facilities.

This time last year, North Yorkshire County Council’s report on the Knaresborough Road plans, and on a Victoria Avenue scheme, set out an indicative timeframe:

ATF timetable
ATF timetable

As you can see, both schemes should have been done and dusted by now, but they haven’t even started. This isn’t a one-off – it happens every time.

If North Yorkshire are incapable of delivering the schemes that are already funded, what is the DfT going to think when they bid for more active travel money?

Electric Cars

In the medium- and long-term, we can’t rely on high petrol prices to make people drive less. Electric cars will gradually take over.

Lifetime CO2 emissions from an electric car driven in the UK are around 30% lower than those from a conventional vehicle, so there is a significant improvement in terms of greenhouse gases.

On the other hand when you’re on a bike, sharing the road with an electric vehicle is no different to mixing with any other traffic; it’s still a major deterrent. Further, electric cars use the same amount of road space as petrol-powered models, so they will do nothing to solve congestion problems in our towns and cities.

Once you’ve spent a lot of money buying an electric car, the fuel and maintenance costs are low, so you’ll probably use it all the time. High prices at the pumps are irrelevant.

From the point of view of road danger and congestion, therefore, the transition to electric cars is a nightmare on Elm Street, and on any other road named after a tree – except for Beech Grove as long as the modal filters stay there.

Electric cars will create as many problems as they solve. If we want people to take to two wheels, we’re going to need physically-protected cycle tracks, and modal filters.

We may need other deterrents to car use in towns and cities too. If you want people to travel to town by bus, on foot or by bike, it has to be safe and convenient, and going by car may have to be less convenient.

Perhaps using a car in the town centre should feel like wearing a woolly coat on a hot a day: I wish I hadn’t brought this with me, what am I supposed to do with it?

Petrol Prices Cut Car Trips – Will People Take to Two Wheels Instead?

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