Ireland’s electric cars plan is a “seductively simple-sounding solution” but could make things worse, says planning expert

— Growth in SUVs mainly a “status symbol”, but focus should be on tax by weight not a ban.

The Government’s plan for 1 million electric cars on the road by 2030 is a “seductively simple-sounding solution” but could make things worse, an international planning expert told RTE’s Morning Ireland today.

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Brent Toderian, a city planner consultant, said: “If you’re talking about emissions in any country, you have to be talking about transport- and building-related emissions. Basicaly how we’re building cities and suburbs. The problem is when we’re having that conversation, our politicians are going directly to the seductively simple-sounding solution of let’s just change all of our internal combustion cars to electric cars and then we’re done. Doesn’t that sound easy?”

“The problem is that we know that doesn’t go far enough — at best it does not go far enough, at worse, it might make the problems worse,” he told Morning Ireland.

He said that there’s still pollution from electric vehicles, including the national grid depending on the mix of energy, and also from wheels and brake pads which is “pretty dangerous pollution” even if it does not contribute directly to climate change.

He said on carbon emissions that the construction of vehicles, roads, and parking all have to be factored in.

Toderian pointed out thatJevons paradox applies to car use — Jevons paradox outlines that when technology or policy pushes an increase in efficiency the falling cost of use increases its demand, removing the gains.

“Every time we have improved our cars we end up buying more cars than we had before and driving even further and that erases any benefit to emission reductions that the new technology has given us”, he said.

When challenged by the RTE presenter that it would require better public transport, he said it needs better walking, cycling and public transport provision.

“It’s public transit, walking and biking in the context of better-designed communities, more density, more housing mix, not just single detected houses out in the suburbs in the middle of car depends. So, yes, you need other options to be not just present but attractive,” said Toderian.

He said he is taking about urban areas and not rural ones and that same thing applies with when he talks about SUVS.

The presenter on Morning Ireland referred to the suggestion from Brendan Griffin, a Fine Gael TD for Kerry and Deputy Government Chief Whip, to ban SUVs in south Dublin as a rebuttal to what he claimed to be anti-rural thinking around the debate on the climate emissions targets for agriculture.

Deputy Griffin said: “You know, why isn’t there talk about SUVs where, in my opinion, nobody in Dublin needs one unless there’s a particular reason. Why aren’t they talking about banning them in Minister Ryan’s own constituency in Dublin Bay South for example.”

Toderian said that the focus should not be on banning SUVs but rather on taxing them for people who don’t need them.

“The biggest growth area of SUVs is people who don’t need them. They have become a status symbol. They are driven around empty, with one driver, to get a jug of milk. So, they are not being used in any way except as a status symbol and we’re seeing that in big cities all over the world. Again: This is not a commentary for folks who need and use their vehicles for a large family or for a job as a contractor or agricultural use,” said Toderian.

He said that statements about banning SUVs is “not helpful” but that rather the focus should be on regulating and taxing based on the costs in terms of “space and wear and tear of heavier vehicles” of vehicles, especially where there’s no commercial or agricultural use involved.


  1. While of course Deputy Griffin was being snarky and playing to his own rural gallery in his comments, he may be on to something. Considering that there will be a significant reduction in fuel tax income and that we will need to begin to move away from an emissions-based Motor Tax system in the relatively near future, some alternative means will need to be found to sustain government tax intake. Measuring taxation based on environmental (and infrastructural) impact caused by vehicle size and weight seems like an ideal way to do that. Exemptions could be allowed for large families building contractors and farmers perhaps, but for everyone else the future of motorised transport should be much smaller.


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