Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Transport category.

Every Little Helps – June 2012

Every Little HelpsAfter predicting that drought would turn to flood (see my previous article), I’m certain that making little changes really can make a difference. Butt installed, we’ve enough free water to keep plants and fish happy. Unfortunately, its going to be a record hay-fever season as a result …

I read in 2009 that 15 of the world’s largest cargo ships made as much sulphur dioxide (a source of acid rain) as all the world’s 760 million cars … but the same statistic was applied this week to cruise ships. Who writes this stuff and do they check it? Deciding how to make a difference is hard enough, without misinformation and “greenwashing”.

With all the hype of the Olympics it was good to hear – on our school trip to the London site – that environmental concerns for the development had been carefully thought out and measured. A report from says that although there were many really good intentions, there will be mixed success at achieving their sustainability goals. I particularly appreciated their disappointment the Olympic torch couldn’t be made “low carbon”.

Let’s concentrate on their achievements – after all, nobody’s perfect. Lots of the materials used in construction, much of the energy to run the games, loads of the water in and on the stadia will meet sustainability targets. Perhaps most of all, though, was the extent that sustainability was considered important: more than for any other large-scale development in the UK, if not the world.

Finally, once the excitement is over, the legacy considerations kick in: re-using as much as possible of the buildings (the basketball building is moving to the next Games), waste (70% re-cycled) and even people (outplacement of the contractors). Perhaps this could become a realistic model of how to plan such developments in future.

In contrast, it saddened me to hear that suggested strengthening of planning requirements for insulation of existing properties (which will save householders money even in the medium term) was greeted as a “planning tax” by the media. It’s about investing in our future, not about paying to “be green”. We don’t fully recognise the costs of clean water, cheap power and “acceptable levels” of pollution: if we did, we’d all be clamouring to do more to help.

Good information and foresight are essential parts of making the right choices. Choose your sources with care.

guardian/shipping-pollution – pdf


Every Little Helps – November 2011

Every Little Helps“Just pedal and go!” As a keen cyclist, increasingly feeling the hills, it was great to feel the quiet green surge pick me up and take the strain.

Ace Cafe in Stonebridge, home of performance bikes and bikers, had their Green Day this May. I went with a neighbour with a Tazzari Zero electric car, to find out about owning electric vehicles.

Around 1912, there were more electric cars than other power sources but they couldn’t compete with later petrol engines … so what’s changed? Batteries much improved but still costly (around half the cost of the vehicle). Performance good – the Tesla and the Quantya off-road bike are astonishing (F1 are considering electric Grand Prix). Batteries work for vans and buses even better than family cars – but range is low: 60-100 miles per charge.

They are very low-cost (tax, insurance, parking, “fuel”) to run, very green and make a quiet statement about the future as they whisper by.

As to practicalities: charging (sometimes free, need to plan long journeys); lifetime cost (replacing batteries is a big deal); capacity (G-Wiz is tiny for someone over 5ft tall – ask Jeremy Clarkson – the Tazzari is fine and the Citroen C-Zero is a 4-seater). There was clearly huge affection for these cars – or perhaps the idea of these cars – with evangelical early adopters showing us the way. Perhaps they are a way forward, but if everyone got electric cars tomorrow, the UK grid couldn’t cope.

So back to bicycles. I tried a couple and was surprised how easy they were – different, particularly when cycling (driving?) slowly, but exhilarating feeling the kick when I wanted it. They are similar in price to un-assisted, high-spec bicycles: around £500 – £1,000 (hello Bike & Run). Security of the battery pack can be an issue – some can be removed almost as easily as bike lights. Range for pedal assisted bicycles – as opposed to electric scooters – can be 40-60 miles: plenty for most commutes.

Would I buy an electric car? Not yet, for a family car, but if I had to have a second (weatherproof) vehicle I’d consider it. I would buy an electric bicycle: love those hills!

Ace Cafe
Newride: recharge points
Info on Electric Cars
Info on Electric Bicycles

Every Little Helps – April 2011

Every Little HelpsWe had a bicycle stolen from outside the house (not the first time). Locked up and everything, just too tempting. Then a friend said they were looking for a second-hand bike and it got me thinking.

Cycling is part of our family life: commuting, fun in the park, popping round to friends, shopping, touring and on holiday. I’ve taught cycling, from beginners to would-be commuters. What stops people cycling more?

Weather, traffic, hills and practicalities.

My least favourite weather is freezing fog, though drizzle at dusk is a close second (I wear glasses). Happiest purchases are waterproof “socks” and CatsEye LED lights. London traffic can be terrifying, so knowing how to cycle with confidence on real roads is a must. Cycling your prospective commuting route with an instructor, identifying easy paths and danger points, will really help. Hills are always in front of you, but good gears (and knowing how to use them) will make them pass eventually.

Practicalities, like “where would I shower”, “how to carry shopping safely” and “how the whole family can go on bikes” are worth discussing with other cyclists doing the same thing. We’re a friendly bunch on the whole and there’s plenty on-line as well. Bike locks are just deterrents: the only safe bikes are ugly bikes and hidden bikes (the more bits you leave on it, the less chance you get it back).

Haringey subsidises cycling training for people over 12 through their “Cycle With Confidence” scheme: children in Haringey education or anyone who lives or works in Haringey. TFL subsidise cycle training for everyone in Greater London, including free cycle-route maps, tube&bike options and advice on cycling safety & security. Sustrans have cycle route maps across the UK.

As we’ve grown up (or the bikes have become un-trendy), we’ve sometimes had more bikes than people. Most old bikes get dumped, but bikes are easy to maintain, cheap to keep on the road and fun to decorate: why not pass them on, even if they’re beat up? They make a great fix-up project for a would-be young cyclist. Re-cycling anyone?

Using a Car Club

Every Little Helps

What do you do if your car gets totalled one evening on the road outside your house? If you’re like me, you put in the insurance claim and buy another car as soon as possible (well, OK, I got a motorbike – I was younger then).

There’s another, greener choice: opt into a car club, and save loads of money while saving the planet. Car owners could save £300+ per month switching to a car club. People without a car can rent a new, low CO2 emission car (or van) just for the hour they need it.

My mate Fred had his car written off and started using a car club. His car-related costs greatly reduced but so did his car usage, because he saved up little trips for one weekly round trip. Apparently, each car club car takes the place of around 20 other privately-owned cars, so eases congestion.

StreetCar is one of several commercial schemes in London – I’m writing about them because they have a car on Twyford Avenue, just round the corner from me (and because they offered me a free trial). The annual joining fee includes fully comp insurance and national recovery, servicing and regular cleaning, as well as a smart card that opens the car. It covers the congestion charge (but not parking fines).

City Car is similar. WhipCar uses people’s own cars, which they hire out to “steady drivers”.

So how to use StreetCar? I had a nice conversation with their customer services and a brief chat with the DVLA. I got my ID and password emailed to me and checked online for cars nearby. I’d soon booked the BMW from Pages Lane for an hour, getting an immediate text confirmation. The hire rate includes free fuel up to a reasonable mileage allowance (30 miles for up to a day, rising to 200 miles per day) then fuel is 23p per mile.

When I turned up at the bay, the car wasn’t there! I rang customer services and they contacted the driver immediately, confirming a 15min delay. I was entitled to £40 credit (paid by the late driver), but I waived that as a) I was getting this for free and b) it wasn’t a big deal to be starting a bit late.

The car arrives and as I’m chatting with the driver it turns out he’s a new neighbour. Kevin works in the city so uses StreetCar just for short, local journeys. He locked up with his smart card and I promptly re-opened it with mine.

I got in and called customer services again (on the built-in phone) for a helpful briefing. There’s a guide to the car in the glove compartment and I’d checked the car for damage. They helped me sign in and start the car (plug key thingy into dashboard) and explained the BMW engine stop/start routine. Fully briefed, off I went.

I did a bit of shopping, extended my booking (by text, replying to their text with “Extend 0.5” for another half hour) and popped home. I returned to the bay in time, managed the key return and locked up with the smart card, then walked back home.

It was quite like any hire car, though pick-up and drop-off was around the corner (any time, any day). I really liked not having to worry about the car once I left it in the bay.

Would I get another car if mine was totalled again? I’d certainly ask myself why not use a car club … it makes sense.

Links: – central London car club – The company I tried – US company that now owns StreetCar – borrow other people’s cars, loan out yours – Hertz Rental car club (central London) – luxury car club (I wish) – rethinking car use, lists car clubs in London and UK

Every Little Helps – October 2010

Every Little Helps

It always happens … I’m printing something important and the ink runs out (how does it know?). I’m about to jump in the car and pop round to Cartridge World on East End Road to get the cartridge refilled, when I remember: a third of my carbon footprint comes from car usage.

Now I like driving, the convenience and the pleasure of it – but living in London I can’t justify having a car most of the time. There’s plenty of (mostly predictable) public transport, lots of great local shops and I like riding my bike even when it’s raining.

So why do we have a car at all? Perhaps it’s because of picking up the teenagers from their parties, or for holidays or for when I can’t get a 3-piece suite on the back of the bike … but really, it’s just inertia.

Here’s some green things I’m trying: car clubs, home delivery and car share.

StreetCar have put a brand new car on Twyford Avenue (they’re aiming to have a car no more than 5 mins from any Londoner). I tried it out: clean, cheap, green and convenient is what I found. Cheap despite the annual joining fee (that covers insurance, quite good free fuel mileage, recovery etc). Green because they have low CO2 diesel vehicles. I hired it for just an hour (the guy hiring before me was a new neighbour) and I’ll be writing a longer article on my experiences soon.

Image of StreetCar bay in Twyford Avenue

Image of StreetCar bay in Twyford Avenue

We’ve used Ocado for home deliveries of heavy groceries (for a fee). I didn’t realise that Budgens will do a “you shop and we drop” service for locals, as will Iceland. Of course, since I got the trolley, local shopping on foot is much easier.

Car sharing seems more adventurous – though for longer or regular journeys it might be worthwhile – and it’s “Liftshare Week” 4-8 October. Perhaps I’ll try that too, though coach or rail travel might be greener.

Anyway, I had a change of heart and decided to cycle for the refill – then ran out of paper. Doh!

Useful links: – liftshare week 4-8 October

Using the car less

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