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We must embrace new transport technologies

We saw the future of sustainable transport this week in the form of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

Japanese car manufacturers appear to have, as usual, ignored the "it can't be done yet" philosophy and Honda looks set to be first to bring the holy grail of a fuel cell powered vehicle to market.

Yes, at £50,000 for a basic car it's a bit pricy for most. And as many commentators have already noticed, there isn't anywhere in the UK to refuel a hydrogen powered vehicle yet.

But there can be no doubt that it won't be long before prices come down and availability goes up.

It is a genuinely exciting step for us all. Maybe there is an element of marketing hype associated with Honda's announcement which comes a few years ahead of expectation. But nevertheless we are edging closer to delivering a realistic alternative to the fossil fuel powered car.

It is therefore quite bizarre that in the 35,500 word report this week by the Department for Transport (DfT) setting out the Government's strategy to move towards a sustainable transport system for the UK by "supporting economic growth in a low carbon world" there is no reference to the word "hydrogen" or to the phrase "fuel cell".

How can this be missing in a report supposedly addressing the challenges set by the Treasury-commissioned Stern Review of climate change economics and highlighted by the Eddington study on UK's transport policy priorities?

The DfT report's first paragraph even claims to propose "a new approach to longer term transport strategy" so that "transport will play its part in delivering the overall level of reductions in carbon emissions".

And it highlights that road transport "currently produces about 93% of all CO2 emissions from domestic transport". It is therefore nonsensical to ignore a technology which, although developing is close to becoming commercially viable.

Don't get me wrong, the DfT's report raises some interesting questions not least the fact that introducing non-polluting vehicles will have no impact on congestion in the UK.

To tackle this we will still have to roll out active traffic management across the entire network, widen roads, introduce draconian road user charging and improve public transport alternatives if we are to avoid the £10bn a year impact on the economy that Eddington predicts.

In the 12 months ahead of next year's transport White Paper, engineers must make their views known about how to best deliver these goals.

But I still cannot get away from the fact that by failing to address the impacts of new transport technologies, the UK government is once again operating behind the curve.

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