Debate by Individual Members under Standing Order 11.21(iv): Future Transport Modes

Oct 18, 2017 | Articles, Assembly Business, Assembly Issues | 0 comments

Plenary Wednesday 18 October 2017

16:06:19
Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Spoken Contribution – 16:06:19
Watch this contribution on Senedd TV | View this contribution in the Record of Proceeding document

Thanks to the various Members for bringing forward today’s debate. We do broadly support the motion, although there are some observations that do need to be made regarding the development of driverless and electric vehicles. Now, I take on board that we are going to progress with this technology, so the problems we have now may not be the problems of a few years’ time, but I do want to follow Vikki Howells’s lead in pointing out some of the problems that we have currently.

Regarding driverless cars, I’m not really sure if they are going to be a positive development, because it seems to me that there is a very real risk that if driverless cars did become a commercially viable product, you could end up with more cars on the road. Will you need a traditional licence to drive them? If not, you could have people who are too old to drive getting back into a car, as well as people who are too young. Now, as Dai Lloyd said, this could bring social benefits. However, we could have a huge increase in vehicles on the road, and the roads could end up being even more congested than they are now. We have to remember that every major improvement to the road system that we have ever had from the inception of the motorways in the 1950s onwards has led to more traffic congestion—

Nick Ramsay AM

Nick Ramsay AM

Party: Welsh Conservative Party

Will you give way?
Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Of course
Nick Ramsay AM

Nick Ramsay AM

Party: Welsh Conservative Party

Thanks for giving way, Gareth. You made some interesting points there. There is, of course, a flip side to that: that if you have driverless cars that are communicating with each other via computer, Wi-Fi or whatever it is, you can actually have shorter stopping distances, because you’re not relying on human reaction, so you can get far more capacity out of the existing road network.
Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes. I’m aware of the concept, but what bothers me with that concept is the transitional period, when you have both driverless cars on the road and you have passenger-driven cars on the road. How will they interact with each other? I’m interested in what the implications are for congestion and other road factors in that interaction, but it’s good that you raise that issue.

The other issues relating to driverless cars: if it makes it easier for people to get into private vehicles to make a journey, this could have a negative impact on the use of public transport, and it is public transport that we are trying to encourage. What about its impact on active travel? Driverless cars could make it even easier for kids to get to school in a private car, since that car might not even have to be driven by time-pressured parents. So, I think that these are things that we do have to bear in mind as we go forward with considering driverless cars.

Electric cars is the other thing that we’ve been discussing, and I don’t want to rehash all of the very valid, practical points that Vikki Howells has just made. She mentioned the same measurements that I’ve seen quoted. She made the distinction between the two different types of charging points, and we do need the rapid charging points, but even then, at the moment, we’re talking about half an hour to recharge to 80 per cent. What does that compare with in terms of filling up a tank of petrol? A few minutes. So, there is still a big difference, and it will render many journeys unviable in a certain time frame, which currently you can undertake.

There are other issues as well relating to electric cars. How are we going to dispose of all the batteries after we’ve used them and where do the parts come from to make them in the first place? Given that two of the parts that are used are lithium, some of which is sourced from Zimbabwe, and cobalt, some of which comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this may raise issues of working conditions in the mines in those countries.

Another problem is that electric vehicles are also very quiet; you can’t hear them coming. So, one thing we could get, if we have more electric cars on the road, is more fatalities involving pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. So, I think, although I agree with the broad thrust of your motion, and it’s something that we do need to investigate, I think we have to bear in mind we are entering unchartered waters and there could be pitfalls ahead. Thank you.