One of the surest ways to improve air quality and extend lives shortened by pollution is for cities to ban non-electric cars, two opinion editors with Bloomberg News conclude in a recent post.
“Amsterdam has made itself a test case, proposing an outright ban on gas and diesel vehicles by 2030,” write editors Therese Raphael and Timothy Lavin. “That may sound extreme, or at least like the kind of thing that should only be attempted by a smallish city with picturesque bridges and lots of cycling enthusiasts. But the Dutch capital isn’t alone; it joins Chengdu, Hamburg, Madrid, Oslo, and other cities in moving toward at least partial car bans to reduce pollution.”
The ultimate question for cities is how to balance the “inevitable costs” such a radical shift will entail. But “it’s a debate cities around the world will need to have sooner rather than later: By 2050, an estimated two-thirds of the global population will be living and working in increasingly congested urban centres. Simply banning dirty cars isn’t enough on its own. Instead, cities must be ready to ease the transition.”
The arguments in favour are simple enough, from relieving traffic congestion, to combatting health conditions like asthma, to cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the atmosphere. “Even so, getting people to ditch gas guzzlers in favour of more expensive electrics will be a challenge,” they write. “That’s why any well-designed zero-emissions plan should feature a combination of regulations and inducements,” including municipal purchase incentives for zero-emission vehicles, non-financial prompts like parking vouchers, higher taxes on petrol and diesel cars, or congestion pricing. [The post actually conflates congestion tolls with gas taxes, but a toll is a user fee, not a tax.—Ed.]
All of which will call for significant investment in transit, electric vehicle charging stations, fleet electrification, and a variety of urban design features, Raphael and Lavin note. “But making increasingly crowded cities more livable has to become an urgent public policy goal. Far better to set an overly ambitious target than to get left in the dust.”