Text By Fiona Grahame Photographs by Kenny Armet Art Work by Martin Laird
Orkney Housing Association Ltd which provides affordable homes for rent and purchase in Orkney has signed up with a community car club to encourage the reduction of private car ownership. Supported in a pilot programme by Transport Scotland and the Energy Saving Trust, a discount of 25% is being offered to OHAL tenants.
The Co-wheels car club has 3 electric vehicles for hire in Orkney.
Over 60 locations are spread throughout the UK where the Co-wheels car club has vehicles for hire. There is a £1 registration fee to join the club and instead of owning a car or taking one south, members in Orkney can hire one out.
There are 3 million motor vehicles in Scotland. Private car ownership in Orkney is very high with 753 people out of 1000 having their own vehicle. Electric car ownership is also popular with over 200 drivers opting for an EV. The Scottish Government aims to phase out petrol and diesel road vehicles by 2032 as part of their commitment to reduce carbon emissions. This will require a complete shift in the way we think of personal transport and if people are not to be disadvantaged, huge investment in a public transport system.
The Scottish Government’s Transport Bill was passed in October 2019 . Its vision includes more EVs and better public transport. The Transport strategy is full of good intentions getting us to walk and cycle more (for those who do not have mobility problems). The pre-Bill consultation was littered with phrases such as:” Scotland’s transport system will enable a healthy and fit nation”; “Everyone in Scotland will share in the benefits of a modern and accessible transport system”; it will be “affordable for all”; and “sustainable travel options are people’s first choice.”
These are laudable intentions but the Scottish Government is also committed “To ensure we continue to welcome a growing number of international visitors we need to retain our important air links and also develop new routes”.
We need a cultural shift if we are to seriously reduce fossil fuel emissions.
It is just over 100 years since the world saw its first passenger air flight but even with the digital connectivity we now have transport planners actually want to increase flights into and out of Scotland. The ‘vision’ is for us to forgo the convenience of the private car but still get a holiday flight out to Marbella. The global climate emergency is happening now, not in 2032. The sea level is rising and since 2000 by 5 -6 cm globally. This is accelerating with a study done for the US military concluding that the tipping point will come before 2030. There will also be an increase in the occurrence of extreme weather events.
Our use of fossil fuel based transport is a crucial part of this climate catastrophe. The pilot scheme by OHAL and Co-Wheels with only 3 vehicles based in Orkney may become a victim of its own success. At the launch of the scheme many EV owners in Orkney who were not social housing tenants were also joining up. The car club scheme is a great idea but how will people feel if they cannot book a vehicle when they need it?
The convenience of private car ownership is a difficult nut to crack. In Orkney, as is the case throughout rural and island Scotland, bus services have been slashed, not expanded. The option to go by public transport simply does not exist for an increasing number of communities.
The Co-wheels scheme in Orkney has a year to run. In islands which rely on private car ownership for the sustainability of its communities it’s a peedie step forward.
A version of this article first appeared in iScot Magazine.