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“Absolutely amazing” say campaigners as Government quietly announces it will prioritise a shift away from cars

Decarbonising Transport policy paper was published without notifying the media

Campaigners have described the contents of a new Department for Transport (DfT) document as “gobsmacking” and “absolutely amazing” for the way it seems to indicate a dramatic change in government attitude towards public transport, active travel and cars. The Decarbonising Transport: setting the challenge policy paper was quietly published earlier this week without notifying the media.

The document states the current challenges and steps to be taken when developing the transport decarbonisation plan, which is due to be published in autumn of this year.

"Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities,” writes Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in the foreword. "We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network."

The document goes on to list, “Accelerating modal shift to public and active transport,” as the first of six strategic priorities for the plan, which seeks to deliver a net zero emissions transport system.

To achieve that, the DfT says it aims to…

  • Help make public transport and active travel the natural first choice for daily activities
  • Support fewer car trips through a coherent, convenient and cost-effective public network; and explore how we might use cars differently in future
  • Encourage cycling and walking for short journeys
  • Explore how to best support the behaviour change required

Reacting to the document, visiting professor at Hertfordshire University, Stephen Joseph, told BBC News: "This is utterly gob-smacking. We're still digesting the document, but Grant Shapps' words really do seem to signify a radical change."

Cycling UK policy director Roger Geffen commented: "It’s absolutely amazing. This makes Grant Shapps the first government minister in the UK to talk about traffic reduction since John Prescott tried (and failed) to achieve this aim in the late 1990s.

“There are some holes in the document, but it suggests that the government really does seem to be taking climate change seriously."

Former Commons Transport Chair Lilian Greenwood said the contents were, “incredibly welcome if the rhetoric matches the reality,” but pointed out that would require a significant change in investment.

"Right now all our energies are on tackling the coronavirus but when we come out the other side we have an equally serious emergency because emissions from transport have to be tackled if we are serious about turning around the future of the planet for coming generations.

"It's great if the first choice is to be public transport and active transport – but that does mean the government has to change radically investment."

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