Climate groups call demand end of petrol and diesel car adverts

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Climate charity Possible, thinktank New Weather Institute, and activist network Adfree Cities have written to executives at Network Rail calling for an end to high-carbon advertising in their advertising space to help deliver crucial climate change targets. The call from the “Badvertising” coalition comes in the light of new analysis of national-level official travel data that explicitly links increased levels of household car ownership to decreased levels of public transport use.

Public transport use in the UK has still not recovered to the levels seen before the coronavirus pandemic.

The coalition said Network Rail’s financial interests rely on revenue which is predominantly derived from passenger travel on their networks.

It added that advertising cars to public transport passengers “demonstrably undermines” these streams of revenue.

Both National Travel Survey and London Travel Demand Survey data show that higher household car ownership levels are associated with correspondingly lower levels of rail travel and overall public transport use. 

The new analysis shows that nationally, average-income drivers take 38 percent fewer train trips than non-drivers.

This rises to a significant 69 percent less rail travel for drivers in households with two or more cars.

Leo Murray, co-director of climate charity Possible, claimed that advertising petrol and diesel cars could affect net zero efforts.

He added: “High-carbon ads are driving climate breakdown and in the case of car ads, draining public transport networks of valuable revenue by pushing people to take up driving instead.  

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“Ultimately, adverts for fossil fuels and fossil fuel hungry products and activities are one of the key ways in which our society perpetuates a doomed culture that sees climate damaging behaviours impact human health all across the globe. 

“For people’s health, for the climate and for sustainable transport in the UK, we need all public authorities to adopt more responsible advertising policies that reflect the damage that high-carbon advertising causes.”

National statistics released in the summer found that rail travel had only recovered to around three-quarters of pre-pandemic levels. 

The coalition argues that there is a specific conflict of interest in National Rail continuing to allow high-carbon advertising.

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Even without a change to a climate-friendly advertising policy, the campaigners highlight that Network Rail already have clauses in their existing codes of acceptance for advertising which are supposed to prohibit ads which may harm their interests in any way. 

Network Rail has also made specific policy commitments to encourage a modal shift from road to rail. 

Such a restriction would not only minimally impact the revenue streams of this organisation, it could be a key step in de-normalising car and high-carbon culture, encouraging public transport use and, eventually, upping much needed passenger traffic in the future.

Emilie Tricarico, Badvertising campaigner, said: “Car advertising on public transport makes no sense. 

“Network Rail relies on people making sustainable travel choices for their income, so allowing car makers to try to sell directly to their passengers is an extraordinary act of self-sabotage. 

“What’s more, National Rail has made policy commitments to support a shift from road to rail, but hosting car ads on trains and buses does the exact opposite. 

“Public transport bodies need to implement policies to clean up their ad space and stop pervasive private car advertising pushing people toward polluting the planet.” have reached out to Network Rail for a comment.

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