Switch to electric cars, and reduce car-dependency: new Grattan report

Australia needs to switch to electric cars to cut carbon emissions, but we also need to ensure we don’t become more dependent on cars as we emerge from the COVID pandemic, according to a new Grattan Institute report.

The Grattan car plan: practical policies for cleaner transport and better cities calls on the Federal Government to impose a cap, or ceiling, on the emissions allowed from new cars sold in Australia each year, and to ratchet the ceiling down to zero by 2035.

This would help Australia hit a national target of net zero by 2050 and save drivers money – because zero-emissions electric cars are much cheaper to run than high-emitting petrol and diesel cars.

But cheaper driving could mean more driving, so state and local governments should act to discourage driving and make public transport and cycling safer and more attractive.

They should impose congestion and per-kilometre charges on cars, make trains and buses as COVID-safe as possible, and do more to separate cars and trucks from cyclists and pedestrians.

Grattan Institute modelling for this report shows that an emissions ceiling for new light vehicles could achieve at least 40 per cent of Australia’s emissions reduction task between now and 2030, at virtually no cost to taxpayers.

Contrary to popular opinion, it will be easy for most Australians to charge electric cars, at home, at work, and on the road. Nearly two-thirds of Australian households with a car live in a detached or semi-detached home, and 95 per cent of those homes have off-street parking. Most of these drivers will find it easy and inexpensive to install electric-vehicle chargers.

Electric vehicles cost more to buy than similar-sized petrol and diesel vehicles in Australia, but they cost less to run. Under a carefully designed emissions ceiling, drivers who bought a zero- or low-emissions car would save at least $900 over the first five years of ownership, through reduced running costs.

‘Switching to cheap-to-run vehicles will be great in one way, but cheaper driving will also mean more driving, and more driving means more accidents and more congestion,’ says report lead author and Grattan Institute Transport and Cities Program Director Marion Terrill.

‘Governments need to stifle this in advance, to limit the downsides of driving and prevent our cities becoming clogged.’

Australian governments should consider lowering urban speed limits to 30km/h, as Paris and other global cities are doing, to reduce pollution and accidents.

‘Australians should have safe alternatives to driving – and when we do drive, we should use the best technology to do it with as little harm as possible,’ Ms Terrill says.

‘Our report identifies the policies that make that possible.’

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