Aisha Iqbal: Is Leeds’s drive towards cleaner, greener cars more than just an electric dream?

The YEP's Chris Burn test drove an electric car around Leeds earlier this year.' Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
The YEP's Chris Burn test drove an electric car around Leeds earlier this year.' Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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This week, we saw three significant developments at local, national and international level which suggest the electric car changeover is gathering real momentum.

Volvo announced that all new cars it produces from 2019 onwards will be partially or completely battery-powered.

Over on the continent, our French friends plans to outlaw all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s radical plans to make France a carbon neutral country by 2050 and “make the planet great again”.

Meanwhile, Leeds and its neighbour cities have been handed a £2million Government subsidy to help get more ultra-low emission electric taxis on the region’s roads. Around £750,000 of the cash will pay for 33 fast and rapid charging points in Leeds for the taxi and private hire trade. With 6,000 licensed commercial cars of this kind operating in the city, that’s a significant percentage of high-polluting vehicles that could eventually be taken off our roads if this plays out to its ideal long-term conclusion.

Leeds’s problems with air pollution are well documented, and we are one of the country’s worst hotspots. So much so that the Government has given us a deadline to clean up our act - or rather our air - by 2020 or face hefty penalties.

In the context of this, the new cash for charging points for taxis - which comes from a dedicated Government fund - seems like a sensible idea to try and reduce the number of gas guzzling vehicles in our city.

However it also relies on taxi drivers being willing and able to afford the kinds of vehicles that can be charged up rather than filled up. And it is this that I find somewhat problematic.

The electric car industry is merely in its infancy, and the fact that Volvo’s move is seen as so groundbreaking is proof of this. I did a quick search on a very popular motoring website for used electric cars on sale within a 50 mile radius. My search threw up just 107 results, with prices starting at £5,500. The average person looking to buy a second hand car probably doesn’t have that kind of money lying around. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, nor indeed all taxi and private hire drivers.

A wholesale transition to environmentally friendly cars is going to take us a good few years yet. So I did wonder if the £2mill subsidy was a little premature. But then again, if the infrastructure is in place, we are more likely to engage with the technology and the broader message.

And that message is one which we will all have to get on board with eventually, commercial drivers and private motorists alike.

What we need from the Government, and our local decision-makers, is not just paying lip service to the problem, but real, lasting investment.

Leeds is a city with ambitions to be a global leader in innovation and technology. And as part of that, we need an even more robust approach on this issue. Apart from the up-front cash, the biggest problem for EV owners is if and where they can charge it. So, with this new cash, we are definitely making progress there. Most modern office complexes, including the YEP’s offices, have charging points, and there is an increasing number of public charging points springing up in city centre locations. There are also Government subsidies available to create charging stations in our homes, something I was pleasantly surprised to discover. However this is just a drop in the ocean in terms of what is needed.

We are at the start of a revolution in how and what we drive, but it has to be a team effort. We need the industry, our decision-makers and the public to all get on board and drive towards a cleaner, greener future.