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Air pollution, the car and public transport


Air pollution, the car and public transport


The noxious fumes from both petrol and diesel cars are increasingly being accepted as part of modern life, especially in cities and towns. They are also being recognised for the part they play in shorteningpeople’s lives. Now, scientists are making more discoveries including that particles of air pollution travel through the lungs of pregnant women and settle in their placenta1.

Congestion charges sounds good as does vehicles having lower emission levels but the truth  is that these are just cosmetic changes that will do very little to reduce actual air pollution levels. The emissions from an individual vehicle can be reduced but every year there are more and more vehicles on the planet, so it’s one step forward and, probably, two steps back.

Electric cars are offered as another possible solution but there are three major drawbacks. Firstly, it is highly unlikely that we can build enough electric cars in time to reverse the steady deterioration of our air quality. Secondly, electric cars use lithium batteries and there must be a large question mark about whether there is enough lithium available for tens of millions of cars. Thirdly, air pollution is not just from emissions but also from tyres; all the time a car is moving tiny particles are breaking off from the tyres and these particulates are part of the air pollution.

Incongruously, it has been known for some time that people in cars are exposed to up to 15 times the air pollution as compared to the pedestrians and cyclists. Emissions are highest at the centre of the road and dirty air is sucked in through car air filters and inhaled bypassengers.2It’s a very peculiar business model that sets out to kill its customers.

What is needed is radical rethink of our relationship with the motor car. We have to recognise that we must totally change the way we travel and the way we use public transport.

Public transport, like the NHS, should be free at the point of use.General taxation should be used to run an efficient integrated public transport system.  The free, but not really free public transport, will quickly take a vast number of cars off the roads altogether and will also dramatically reduce the mileage of cars still on the road. It will also allow bus services to run unhindered by traffic jams and bottlenecks.

This dramatic change will have to be planned well in advance and will take place gradually, region by region, city by city, so as to reduce theinconvenience and discomfort of the overcrowded bus and rail services until there are enough extra vehicles and trains in service.

Many will say this will not work; they will point out all sorts of real and imaginary problems but refuse to accept the awful truth that we cannot carry on as before. If we do not drastically and dramatically change course there will not be any way that even the rich can avoid the oncoming Armageddon.

The motor car industry and its suppliers are well represented on the European Round Table of Industrialists, a very powerful lobby group that will argue that car manufacturers can produce lower emission levels. However, this rings hollow when we remember that motor manufacturers have been cheating the system for at least the last 10 years.

In September 2018 the EU launched an anti-trust investigation into whether BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche had colluded to limit any development of clean emission technology.3 The suspicion is that the car manufacturers knew they could save large amounts of money if they agreed not to compete with each other in developing more advanced anti-pollution systems for petrol and diesel passenger cars.When will this investigation report and what action will be taken? Don’t hold your breath!!

This development comes less than 3 years after Volkswagen (VW) admitted that cars sold in Europe and the US were fitted with ‘a defeat mechanism’, a piece of software engineered to detect when a vehicle was being tested and when it was running on a road.4

In the US the two senior VW executives have been sent to prison, VW has paid heavy fines and had to buy back all the offending vehicles at a total cost of some $30 billion.5

In Europe the only case that has come to court started on 10th September 2018 and there are no criminal charges against VW or any VW executives!! In fact the court case is not about the air pollution caused by VW but about VW shareholders who claim to have lost money because VW did not inform them about the illegal software that had first been installed in VW vehicles in 20086. You couldn’t make it up!!

PS Mitsubishi, Nissan, Mazda, Suzuki and Yamaha have all also been involved in fiddling their emissions figures.

Michael Gold













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