Tuesday, 29 July 2008

A Full Throttle Experience

Last week I attended the Motor Show at the vast ExCel centre in East London, along with my Alliance Against Urban 4x4s colleagues Sian Berry and Blake Ludwig. For anyone who hasn't visited this event, imagine a massive airport terminal with shiny cars of every description, groups of lads (some topless!), blaring music and annorexic girls trying to look seductive whilst standing folornly by the side of a car.

On the plus side, there was a Greener Driving section, with electric cars and even a new Tesla, the electric sports car that has just been manufactured. Sian was most impressed by this but I remonstrated that there was no room for a baby seat, much less a pushchair. Ever the pragmatist.

We also attended the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership 5th Annual Conference, which took place upstairs, well tucked away from the Hummer stands etc down in the car show. We wouldn't want to upset any car manufacturers with talk of low carbon, responsible travel and the like. They might cry.

We heard from a number of really interesting speakers (didn't stop the chap next to me snoring and drooling, mind you). The best speaker I thought was Prof. Dr Jillian Anable, a research fellow at the Centre for Transport Policy, Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University. She and her colleagues has interviewed loads of drivers regarding their attitudes to motoring and the environment.

They found out that most drivers ONLY think about how much a car costs to run, not how much CO2 emits. That's just not a factor. Advertising doesn't help sell cars, but what it does do is cement brand loyalty. What car people bought was often a very arbitrary decision e.g. 'My friend said this was good.'

In terms of information that's available at car showrooms, people tended not to look at the fuel label, if indeed it was displayed. It really needs to be interactive, the researches concluded, and tell people what each car costs to run each week. This is the only thing that will stop most people buying gas guzzlers - that it's going to leave them penniless.

Another important thing to bear in mind is that 75% of cars sold are second hand, and these don't have to have any emissions data displayed on them. Indeed, as cars get less fuel efficient the more miles they clock up, this would be difficult to calculate. But with the govenment saying that they are going to consider starting to charge differential tax bands for older cars, it is unfair to do this without arming the consumer with all the information they need.

It is a massive task but it needs doing, both for environmental and economic reasons.

All in all, much food for thought.

And of course, on the way home I got to have a rare ride on the Docklands Light Railway, weaving its way through the haunting wastelands/soon to be Olympic village, which to me is what a ride in a Tesla is to someone else. I heart the DLR!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Getting Pushy

Here I am pushing a 'Mundo car' (the clean car of the future) down Torrens Street in Islington. That's Jean Lambert, Green MEP nearest the camera. My Alliance Against Urban 4x4s colleague, Blake Ludwig, is inside the car, steering blindly!

It's all part of a campaign to encourage MPs and MEPs to push (push, geddit?) for low emissions targets for car manufacturers. We're asking them to commit to 120g/Co2 per km by 2012. There are cars out there doing that right now - the technology exists. However, there are also cars out there doing 3 or 4 times that amount, such as the biggest 4x4s.

It was great that Jean came along and supported the campaign. It's a Europe-wide initiative and the website is:


Write to your MP, your MEP and your local councillors and ask them to support lower emissions targets - the car companies aren't going to choose to make their fleets clean, we must force them to do so!

Think of it as a challenge, ye car companies!

Stop and Search - more like stop and stare.

I saw loads police conducting 'stop and search' outside Archway tube station yesterday. Teenage boys were having their turn-ups searched for knives and the like. They even had a metal detector to walk under - I saw two policemen struggling to carry the frame into position.

I actually felt quite sorry for the police. What a massive waste of their time. Talk about knee-jerk reactions! Last year we all were told to be paranoid about terrorists, now it's youths with knives. Or maybe guns. Though knives seem to be the biggy at the moment.

Now, don't get me wrong, it's awful that people are getting stabbed and killed. But yesterday figures were released that showed that crime is down. So why are we being bombarded with front pages about how we're all going to be stabbed any second? Well, because whipping the public into a frenzy is what the tabloids do best.

But when that frenzy extends to the police, and they are stopping random young people in the street - cornering them as they get out of the tube - then you know things have gone too far. Imagine being a young man of 15, being searched in broad daylight by two policemen. Onlookers stop and stare. People whisper that you look like a bad 'un. What do you feel? Resentment, panic and a swiftly developing hatred of the police.

It's the quickest way to turn a law abiding young person into a detester and an antagoniser of the police.

So what is the solution? Well, it's more complicated than packs of police outside tubes with metal detectors. Why do people carry knives in the first place? To seem tough. To belong to a gang. Because the music they listen to tells them that's what you do. Because they have no positive role models, no father figures, no one to show them right from wrong. Because they live in shit conditions, people have had low expectations of them from birth and they see no way but the wrong way.

These problems are huge and deep, and are hard to remedy. Easy to put some police on the streets, stopping lads in baseball hats and hoodies, and then we'll all say "That Boris, he's doing something good for London. We're safe now."

Bullshit. I think we need to address the real issues, not skirt around the subject and further alienate people from the police. Let's get people onto the right track when they're young, and help them to stay there, for eveyone's sake.