Like many UK towns and cities, Bristol faces a number of mobility challenges – namely reducing pollution and congestion while trying to operate on decreasing budgets.
While some cities in the UK have been mandated by the central Government to introduce Clean Air Zones in the coming years to try and curb emissions, Bristol isn’t one of them, and while there is a pressing need to improve the situation, it may require an element of creative thinking.
The city council’s future transport strategy sets out how it plans to tackle challenges including traffic congestion, growth in housing and jobs, inequality, health problems caused by inactivity, and air pollution in the coming years, and there are some interesting elements to mull over for fleet operators.
Chiefly, the city is looking at operating a controversial Workplace Parking Levy scheme along the lines of the system that has been in place in Nottingham since 2012.
Airport looking at creating charging hub
Away from the city itself, the local airport is in the process of creating a “new and innovate” charging hub in partnership with North Somerset Council.
“We’re in discussions with North Somerset Council on the south side of the airport to open up a charging hub that will be open to passengers, EV drivers and the local community,” Simon Earles, planning and sustainability director at the airport, told Company Car Today.
“We’ve identified a site and we’re in discussion with the council around the funding of it, because they can access third-party funding. It will be straight off the A38.”
Although in early stages of development, the airport expects the site – which will be well-situated just off the M5 motorway as well – to open by next summer and Earles told Company Car Todaythe airport will “slowly turn the screw” to clean up its central fleet and those of its partners within the next year as the airport aims to hit its target to go carbon-neutral by 2030.
Nottingham’s scheme allowed the city to fund a tram network. Bristol also harbours an ambition to overhaul its public transport system in the coming years, and the council has an eye on using a WPL to offset some of the costs.
But Mhairi Threlfall, the cabinet minister responsible for transport in the city, told Company Car Today that this is new territory for the city, and will require careful thought.
“I think at the moment the conversation is open-ended; it’s about us engaging with the public’s understanding and perception. We really need to test that in this city because we’ve never really done anything like that before,” she explained to Company Car Today. “But if we did introduce it, it would have to be like Nottingham. We would have to say: ‘OK, if we introduce this we’ll invest in our mass-transit systems’, and we’d probably need to look at something like that in order to be able to actually implement it.
“For us to achieve our ambitions, we need to think outside the box,” she added, although when pressed on a timescale for the possible roll-out, she admitted nothing will happen for at least a couple of years, mainly because, she said, the city wants to do the right thing for Bristol residents and businesses.
Threlfall explained: “There’s a cultural challenge and I think for anything we do you have to bring people with you. I always think of the care worker as someone who may not be classed as an essential driver but can’t get through six appointments a day without the use of a vehicle because they’re going across the city. It’s ensuring we’re not preventing those individuals from doing their jobs. Doing it in a socially conscious way is really important. It’s only part of the picture – people need to have other options which are convenient, useful and reliable.”
LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
Away from a possible WPL, the city is set to install a raft of new electric vehicle charging points, funded by the Government’s Go Ultra Low Cities programme, and while Threlfall is supportive of this, she explained there has been a significant learning curve with getting the most out of the existing network, and said in some respects the city is lagging behind.
“As a region, we’ve got an ambitious scheme to deliver an additional 200 electric vehicle charging points and we’ve just gone through a market research exercise where we’ve tried to identify where the best places for them are. We’ve found the charging points we put in originally weren’t in the right places; for instance, there’s one at the back of City Hall which wasn’t used as much as we expected,” she explained, adding: “It’s very hard to catch up because there will be a growth, so ensuring we have the right units in the right places is very much a catching-up game. I’d like to see more leadership from central Government on that.”
She concluded: “We’re mandated by the Government to improve our air quality so we will have to think about how we do that. But we want to encourage good practice and offer other options rather than banning people overnight.”