Industry article

What the introduction of new transport initiatives means for public policy professionals

Photo of Sara Ahmed
Sara Ahmed
Posted on 17 Aug 2023 · 8 mins read

This transport-focused insights article looks at the impact of new eco-friendly initiatives on skills demand and hiring within the public policy arena, and highlights why an understanding of climate change science has never been more important for professionals working in the field.

You probably won’t have failed to notice the furore in recent weeks over the approved expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) that will cover the whole of London from the end of August. While we won’t discuss the politics of the move, it’s clear that this has been given the go-ahead in order to tackle rising pollution levels in the capital, but what will the Ulez expansion mean for professionals operating in public transport policy?

Transport policy shift

The move to reduce pollution in the capital is clearly a sensible one, regardless of views over this particular policy shift. According to Transport for London data, road transportation accounts for 44% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, 31% of PM2.5 (particulate matter) emissions and 28% of CO2 emissions in London. The proposal is anticipated to reduce road transport emissions by more than 240 tonnes of NOx per annum when introduced, highlighting that the science makes sense, even if the announcement itself has received a mixed reception.

The main focus of the ire has been over the time given for people to swap their vehicles for compliant ones. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan announced the Ulez expansion plan at the end of November, giving car owners nine months' notice. The previous expansion from central London that encompassed the North and South Circular roads was announced in early 2019 and came into force in October 2021, giving road users almost two and a half years to prepare.

Other policies

London is not the only area looking to reduce pollution levels; In Bristol, the council submitted its plans to charge polluting vehicles in February 2021, and the policy came into effect 21 months later, in November 2022. Overseas, Paris is looking to ban most private cars from using roads within the city centre, while in Madrid there has been a zero-emissions zone in place since late last year. However, residents there are given an exemption so they can continue to use their existing car until they get a compliant one. Oslo in Norway has one of the more ambitious schemes and has created a zero-emissions zone in the centre while removing 700 car-parking spaces to create bike lanes and small parks.

It is true to say that the latest Ulez expansion is happening more quickly than the previous one and in comparison to similar schemes in other cities in the UK and elsewhere. However, anger over the expansion is also being partly fuelled by external pressures too. The cost of living has risen dramatically in recent months which puts more strain on those trying to replace older vehicles with more compliant ones. And the second-hand car market isn’t helping. According to data from AutoTrader, the median price of a compliant Ulez vehicle in 2021 was almost £13,000, however, this has now risen to £18,295. Its analysis also shows that, in February, there were 43,359 Ulez-compliant cars for sale in London with an average cost of £15,000 and £19,991 for petrol and diesel respectively with only around 5,000 of these compliant cars for sale under £5,000.

Skills demand

For professionals operating in the public policy field, particularly those in transport, this shift is likely to scale up demand for skills even further.

Like so many areas, there is clearly a renewed focus on eco-friendly knowledge and expertise on climate change and the benefits that new initiatives can potentially bring. This means it’s well worthwhile learning the science behind these drives in order to get people on side with it. Professionals operating in transport policy can also look to learn from schemes adopted in other countries and the ensuing fallout and potential opposition that they faced there. As always, strong communication skills – both written and verbal – will be highly sought after, as will the ability to win over others with opposing views over other, often controversial, transport schemes as this is unlikely to be the last new policy launched in this field.

For employers, the good news is that hiring may become slightly more straightforward as a result of pay rises, with news in August suggesting that UK wages are growing at a record rate, although they still do have ongoing skills shortages to contend with.

It’s clear that the Ulez expansion is a divisive initiative but it is also one described as ‘the most radical clean-air policy in the world’, so is always likely to have its detractors. Either way, the expansion is coming and transport policy professionals will have new challenges to contend with in the coming months as the fallout expands.

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