A growing population and economy places increased demand on our transport infrastructure; transport accounted for almost 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions in 2017.
It's not always possible to avoid travel or take an alternative option with lower environmental impact. The vehicles we are using are 98% dependent on fossil fuels and biofuel alternatives are expensive. Electric vehicles currently have a heavier initial cost and may be less suitable for heavy freight transport.
So how can we improve the emissions from our transport sector? We have to decarbonise on a massive scale and invest in the development and penetration of cleaner, alternative fuels. At the same time we have to encourage innovation to shift to lower emission transport modes and improve the efficiency and management of our public transport and motor industry.
The Climate Action Plan projects a reduction of overall emissions in the transport sector of 35 to 40% by 2030. Commuters and car owners can also embrace a more sustainable way of travelling to tackle climate change but also provide a better quality of life, cleaner air and health benefits for all of us.
The Government and transport stakeholders are working towards transitioning bus fleets to low emission vehicles. Trials are already running in Cork City and Dublin City using a variety of technologies including fully electric vehicles, hybrid, hydrogen, gas and retrofitted diesel buses. The trials will monitor emissions and create a cost benefit analysis which will inform the best solution for the move towards low emissions. The Government has pledged to bring 1,000 electric buses to the streets by 2030 and no more diesel-only buses will be purchased in Ireland from July 2019.
Trains and local services are already less polluting than other modes of transport and, being electricity based, are more cost effective than other options and are far more adaptable to renewable energy sources that are becoming more prevalent in the energy market. The ratio of CO2 emissions per passenger compared to other modes of transport is significantly lower than motorised transport.
Luas is also not reliant on fossil fuels. The light rail system represents less air pollution, less noise and less vibration from road traffic. The company operates under the Environmental Impact Steering Group (EISG) which is responsible for the development and implementation of sustainability initiatives for Luas targeting waste generation, energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
With the development of affordable biofuels still some way down the line for the motor industry, the more accessible alternative for cars is electric vehicles. Commercially, motor companies have been developing and investing in electric technology for some time now and the resulting technologies are now widely available for private car owners.
While the initial investment cost is currently higher than a petrol or diesel vehicle, over the course of the vehicle's life cycle owners will actually save money, and initial investment costs are coming down. Incentives are already in place to reduce the cost of running an EV with owners qualifying for discounted rates in their motor tax and tolls. Some insurance companies are now offering discounted quotes based on the type of EV you have.
The Government have committed to getting 700,000+ EVs on Ireland's roads by 2030 and are working on building the infrastructure necessary to support this ambition. A fast, convenient charging network is being rolled out across the country with free parking available at the majority of charging locations. This rollout also includes regulations that require a certain amount of charging points included in all new builds going forward.
For anyone interested in making a change to electric vehicles, a variety of grants and schemes exist to help with the initial cost. A qualifying electric vehicle that is purchased privately could be eligible for up to €5,000 relief with up to €3,800 available for commercially purchased vehicles through the SEAI. VRT and Motor Tax relief is also available and could reduce your tax bill significantly.
Help is also available for installing the necessary supports for driving an electric vehicle. You can claim up to €600 off the cost of installing an EV charger at your home through an SEAI grant and the installation of that equipment qualifies under the Accelerated Capital Allowance.
Business vehicles can also benefit from Government aid with BIK rates available and supports in place for SPSVs like taxis, hackneys and limousines.
SUSTAINABLE AND ACTIVE TRAVEL
The Government is currently implementing a range of major sustainable mobility projects including DART expansion, Metro Link and the BusConnects programme.
Many local Councils have already established park and ride facilities to access main working and education hubs while some Luas stations were built alongside dedicated park and ride facilities. Even taking some of the driving out of your commute or journey can have a positive impact in reducing emissions.
The Climate Action Plan sets out ambitious targets for the expansion of cycling networks, greenways, and infrastructure that will support even more sustainable modes of travel. Many journeys we take by car can be made easily by walking or cycling, both of which provide added health benefits.
The Cycle to Work Scheme is a tax incentive scheme which aims to encourage employees to cycle to and from work. Under the scheme employers can pay for bicycles and bicycle equipment for their employees and the employee pays back through a salary sacrifice arrangement of up to 12 months. The employee is not liable for tax, PRSI or the Universal Social Charge on their repayments.
Initiatives are in place in schools and colleges to help students and staff combat climate change. The Green Schools programme contains a theme based around travel where the community is encouraged through education and outreach to give up the car in favour of more sustainable modes of transport: walking, cycling, scooting, using public transport or carpooling on the way to school.
The Smarter Travel Campus and Smarter Travel Workplace programmes help colleges, universities and companies to support and encourage their students and staff to embrace sustainable travel through schemes, challenges and awards.
It isn't just our daily commuting that causes greenhouse emissions. Any social trips or holidays that we take can contribute to climate change. There are lots of facilities online where you can check your personal, household or business carbon footprint and learn about ways that you can reduce it.