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Is Wales headed toward a green future or dystopian nightmare?

BMF South Wales rep Steve Preston takes a look at the Welsh Government’s National Transport Delivery Plan 2022-2027

What better way to while away a few hours on a cold, wintery day than reading through a lengthy document in which the Welsh government outlines its plans to solve our many and varied transport problems as well as saving the environment? Well, this is what I’ve done, and it’s left me feeling quite conflicted. Whilst much of the plan’s stated aims are laudable, as a biker, there’s not much in there that gives me much hope for our future.

Let’s start with the obvious: the entire plan doesn’t even list motorcycles as a form of transport, let alone show any sign that biking has even crossed the minds of those behind it. This not only shows a disturbing disregard for so many people who ride for both business and pleasure but is an indication of what I would suggest is ‘tunnel vision’ in ignoring the potential for motorcycling to form a positive part of a strategy to lower carbon and other emissions.

The BMF’s Alex Parsons-Hulse (2wheelstocommute) has demonstrated in his own research the potential for drastically reducing congestion (by up to 40%) and lowering emissions by 6% if more of us commuted to work on our motorbikes. (A link to his research is at the bottom of this article.) It seems obvious then, that the policy developers haven’t even considered motorcycling as playing any role in moving toward a greener future. Instead, the top of the Welsh government’s list is encouraging walking and cycling ‘because it’s better for us’, public transport and what it calls ‘ultra-low emissions vehicles.’

Where things really become a little dystopian for me, are the implications of other areas of the plan.

Section 3.1 says: “The headline priority 1 from Llwybr Newydd for the next 5 years is to bring services to people in order to reduce the need for people to use their cars on a daily basis. This will involve planning ahead for better physical and digital connectivity, more accessible services, more home and remote working and more active travel.”

So, with all that we’ve learned about the negative impact on mental health of isolation from the pandemic, the plan here is to either keep us at home when working, or get us walking or cycling to work (active travel). Whilst no-one in their right mind would want to defend the huge traffic congestion many people have to endure each day, with the accompanying pollution and waste, commuting on motorcycles could make a huge positive difference to the problem, without the need to isolate people during their working weeks. Yes, there are those for whom working from home is a good thing, but there are many who hate it, and also many, many jobs: in industry, hospitality, education, health etc, for which home working is irrelevant.

The plan then states: “Journey integration is central to achieving our ambition of accessible, sustainable and efficient transport. We are bringing together roads, active travel, bus and rail in Wales with other transport modes to think in a holistic way about travel from the customer perspective.”

So, central to this plan is to integrate our travel, which the plan indicates means a kind of one-stop-shop for train and bus ticketing, with our towns and cities completely redesigned to ensure that our work places are within easy walking or cycling distance from the nearest bus stop or train station. As I read through much of the detail of this plan, the question that kept occurring to me is, where is all the money going to come from to redesign our infrastructure and create this utopian, fully integrated

transport system? Given that the targets for the Net Zero future are anywhere between 2035 and 2050, how on earth is any of this going to be achieved in that timeframe even if we found a magic Money Tree? In the meantime, as we wait for the government to build us a new country, surely it makes sense to encourage the use of motorcycles as a greener, less congestion-causing form of transport?

Having set their sights on this supposedly sustainable future, the plan then lays out an ambition to propagandise us.

“We need to change our culture and behaviour to make sustainable transport choices the socially desirable choice.” (3.3 Priority 3: Behaviour Change)

It seems the Welsh government have a plan to ‘educate’ us into seeing cars as socially unacceptable, like cigarettes or fly-tipping. For us as bikers, I think this presents us with a huge PR mountain to climb. Already, many people see us as noisy, loutish lunatics who spend their recreation time making a nuisance of ourselves on country roads and terrorising animals and ramblers up green lanes. This isn’t helped by…well, the noisy, loutish behaviour of some in our ranks, and the image of bikers presented by some riding groups. If we are going to get anywhere, it is essential that we present motorcycling as a responsible, sustainable form of transport that should be taken seriously by governments. That means that we really do need to be brave enough to call out bad behaviour amongst bikers in order to try to protect our right to ride in the long term.

I think there may be an opportunity for us in one area of the transport plan in particular though. Section 4.1.4.4. Secure cycle facilities looks at:

“improving the number and quality of cycle parking spaces available at railway stations across the network and working on ensuring a similar level of provision at bus interchanges” and introducing “more high-quality cycle storage at key stations including secure cycle hubs with ancillary facilities such as cycle repair stands, e-cycle charging, and retail offers where appropriate.”
One of the key issues that Alex Parsons-Hulse has highlighted regarding why more bikers don’t commute to work is motorcycle security. It seems to me that if integrating secure parking for motorcycles could be dovetailed into the plans for bicycles, including charging for electric bikes, then this is an area where we could actively support the government’s agenda.

Looking at this issue as a whole, it is pretty clear that fully implementing the transport plan is many years away at best. The amount of money needed to create a functioning public transport system, a widespread and reliable EV charging network, a redesign of our towns and cities to bring workplaces close to home or public transport hubs, and all of the other things mentioned in it, is eye-watering. Given the current state of our economy, I struggle to believe that any government will be able to secure sufficient funds to pull it off. To be fair, the Welsh government have managed to implement one area of their plan: the role out of 20mph speed limits across the country. The irony of delivering the one thing that neither actually benefits the environment according to some studies, nor makes our roads safer, if current experience is anything to go by, should not be lost on any of us. And yes, none of this currently affects the other nations of the UK. However, given that Labour is likely to win the next election, I think it’s safe to say it’s only a matter of time before this is a UK-wide issue.

The BMF will continue lobbying governments and local authorities to make motorcycles an integral part of their transport strategies. There is a lot of work to do to avoid a potential dystopia in which motorcycles are consigned to history. Part of that work for the BMF is developing a new motorcyclists’ manifesto to present to all political parties as we approach the next election. We appreciate your support and input as we endeavour to ensure a future in which we as motorcyclists can play a significant role in helping to bring about a sustainable future for our planet, whilst doing that thing we all love: riding motorcycles.

Identifying the barriers to a wider uptake of motorcycles as a primary mode of transport for commuting in the UKAlex Parsons-HulseIJMS (motorcyclestudies.org)

National transport delivery plan 2022 to 2027 | GOV.WALES

Written by Stephen Preston (BMF South Wales Representative)

Top image courtesy of Steve Preston

 

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