A green transport revolution is critical to tackling climate change and air quality in Northern Ireland, an event has heard.
To mark Clean Air Day (June 16), Translink hosted an event, titled Better Connected, at Skainos Centre to talk about the importance of tackling transport emissions.
The transport sector is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the region.
Analysis shows Belfast is the most car-dependent city in the UK, with more than four-fifths (81.5%) of journeys in Northern Ireland taken by car — well above the UK average of 63%.
Over two-thirds (68%) of journeys into Belfast are also single occupancy and cars are used for increasingly shorter journeys. Some 24% car journeys are less than two miles and 58% of journeys are less than five miles.
However, with a cost-of-living crisis and increased fuel prices, we may start to see fewer cars on the road.
Chris Conway, group chief executive officer at Translink, feels confident that more and more people will choose public transport. He believes that a fares freeze — meaning that prices will stay the same despite rising fuel costs — could incentivise more people to opt for bus and rail services.
Decreased carbon emissions are an obvious benefit of public transport: by switching today, people could reduce their carbon footprint by more than 50%.
Mr Conway explains that greener transport boasts multiple benefits for “our economy, environment and society”.
He said Translink has ambitious plans to lead “a green transport revolution in Northern Ireland”.
“We need to change travel behaviours and work together with partners to maximise the potential that greener transport offers our economy, environment and society,” he added.
Mr Conway explained that Translink is moving away from fossil fuel combustion engines and now has 80 battery-electric and 20 hydrogen buses.
The launch of these vehicles paves the way for Translink to achieve its vision of a low-carbon society and economy.
Mr Conway said these zero-emission vehicles will also help Translink to meet its “ambitious road map”: to be ‘net zero’ by 2040 and to be ‘climate positive’ by 2050.
Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd also outlined the health benefits of public transport, explaining that it is a solution “to promote healthy towns and cities” and “to improve the air we breathe”.
With an average of 30,000 air-quality-related deaths every year in the UK, air pollution is clearly a serious health concern.
EY Ireland’s head of sustainability, Stephen Prendiville, reinforced the need to share more of these positive impacts with the public.
He said we should spend more time talking about the “vision and benefits” of greener transportation.
Mr Prendiville explained that moving towards a cleaner transport sector would also hold numerous benefits for biodiversity and wildlife. For example, less space would be required for parking, which would create more public green space.
However, as well as encouraging more people to take public transport, the sector itself must also rapidly decarbonise.
Mr Prendiville spoke of the need for further collaboration between public transportation and the private operator market, such as taxis and private coaches.
Caroline Bloomfield, director of Sustrans NI, said we must see further investment in safer cycling infrastructure. She also talked about improved connectivity and stronger transport networks for rural communities.