Electric vehicles and the cost of transport

Sir, The UK’s adoption of plug-in cars and vans isn’t only being held back by an expensive, limited and complicated public charging network.

Myths, misinformation and prejudices hamper awareness of the benefits of low and zero-emission electric vehicles (EVs). The availability of cheaper, used EVs counters the expensive-to-buy argument; fuel and maintenance savings can be up to £1,500 annually; battery range is increasing all the time; battery degradation has proved to be minimal and the objection that coal-fired power stations move the pollution elsewhere looks increasingly hollow too. On Christmas Day about 30 per cent of our electricity came from renewables.

Having driven EVs for the past five years, I may be an early adopter but public awareness of the benefits of electric cars is still low. The government needs to hold free public test-drive events, roll back the “benefit in kind” charges on plug-in cars, offer free street parking, use of bus lanes and even tax credits like California. With pedestrian-level urban pollution at record levels, wider plug-in vehicle adoption in the UK isn’t about environmentalism — it is about the air we breathe.

Quentin Willson
FairFuelUK

Sir, John Marriott (letter, Dec 31) asks why we can’t swap in and out of our car standardised, charged electric car batteries. There are two obstacles.

One is weight – an 85kWh (250 mile range) Tesla battery weighs half a ton (1,200lbs). This is not insuperable but it will need lifting equipment or each battery split into 20 60lb sub-units.

The other is the age of batteries. Batteries have a finite life and owners of old batteries will be keener to use this system than owners of new batteries, who will fear getting an old battery in exchange. Will the charging station or the EV owner pay for the replacement battery when it reaches the end of its life?

Fast chargers could be the solution to long-distance driving. On account of the longer time to charge than fill up with petrol the number of fast-charging bay stations will have to be multiple the number of petrol-pump bays. For short journeys people could use slow chargers at home or at work. A colleague uses his Tesla for a daily 40-mile return trip to the office in Los Angeles. He has not visited a service station all year.

Tim Guinness
London SW1

Sir, I would contend that the government has a perverse incentive to delay EV rollout. Fuel excise duty raised £25 billion in 2015-16. If I were to replace my car with a plug-in hybrid or EV achieving even as little as three miles a kWh, on the majority of use my energy costs (4p a mile) would have dropped by 80 per cent, with the larger part of this saving being the absence of the fuel excise duty, depriving the government of £1,000 a year. Every 1 per cent migration of mileage to EVs would cost the government £250 million a year.

Nick Hortin
Houston, Renfrewshire

Sir, The letter (Jan 2) from Edward Page on the charging of bus batteries reminded me that a few years ago a company in Israel called Better Place set up a system whereby an electric car could drive on to a ramp and a robot would replace the battery with a charged one in 40 seconds. Due to financial reasons the company failed.

Julian M Marks
Wallingford, Oxon

Sir, Rail fares may have gone up by 2.3 per cent (“Rail fare rises a ‘kick in the teeth’ for passengers facing strikes”, Jan 2) but petrol and diesel prices went up by 9.29 per cent and 8.4 per cent in the past year. This has a much greater effect on consumers as we travel nine times as much on the road as we do by rail.

David Leibling
Editor RAC Report on Motoring 1989-2003

ADOPTION SUPPORT

Sir, Libby Purves (Comment, Jan 2) is right to highlight the difficulties of many adopted children and the devastating effects on their families. The Office for National Statistics survey confirmed that 50 per cent have mental-health disorders, compared with 10 per cent of the general population.

However, the causes are not just abuse and neglect; disorders that have a primarily genetic cause are equally prevalent, such as autism and learning disabilities. The good news is that there are treatments that can help the problems, from trauma and disruptive behaviour to ADHD and attachment problems. However, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are grossly underfunded: they receive about £50 a year per head of population aged 0-18 for outpatient services, so that adopted and other children with emotional and behavioural difficulties are denied access. The promised £1.25 billion over five years is being spent on other patient groups. If we wish to have a humane society, these children deserve better.

Professor Stephen Scott
Head, National Adoption and Fostering Service, Maudsley Hospital, London SE5

BETTER BUILDINGS

Sir, Clearly, from Ivor Hall’s praise for postwar Span houses, he has never lived in one (“Housing boom for new garden villages”, news, Jan 2, and letter, Jan 3).

In my view they have wafer-thin walls that vibrate, rampant condensation and unique construction techniques that cause today’s builders to weep.

Neil Riley
Dorking, Surrey

Sir, The Durham University authorities should bear in mind how future generations may appreciate the qualities of Dunelm House (“Campaign to save ‘brutal’ city icon”, news, Jan 3).

In the 1930s Georgian buildings had surprisingly few supporters, leading to the loss of most of the Adelphi in central London. Not so long ago, Victorian buildings were reviled. Outstanding examples such as the St Pancras hotel and station, Foreign Office and Albert Memorial all faced demolition proposals. Fortunately the campaigners of the day were successful.

Philip Venning
Docking, Norfolk

UNIVERSITY REFORM

Sir, Lord Patten of Barnes, chancellor of Oxford University and former Conservative chairman, is not speaking for many in universities in his resistance to the higher education bill, which reaches the committee stage of the House of Lords next week (“Peers oppose bill to create universities, report, Jan 3).

Still less is he speaking for the consumers of higher education, the students. For too long the sector has been dominated by the producer interest in higher education, ie the academics and administrators rather than the students, whose interests lie at the heart of the proposed legislation.

The bill introduces long-overdue regulatory reform and highlights the importance of excellent teaching. The bill stimulates innovative thinking that will underpin, not undermine, the success of our university sector.

If Lord Patten and others wanted to help British universities, they should be campaigning harder in the House of Lords to make visa applications easier for overseas students; they should be fighting to improve the dire mental-health position of students and, above all, they should be working to improve accountability while extending, not restricting, competition. Brexit is a reason not to delay, as Lord Patten argues, but to forge ahead.

Anthony Seldon
Vice-chancellor, University of Buckingham

LIBRARY INNOVATION

Sir, The government did not need to invest in a report on turning libraries around (news, Jan 2; letter, Jan 3). In 2006 we began a programme of investment and modernisation of our 17 libraries in Hillingdon, west London. By 2014 the redevelopment was completed with a number of libraries having coffee-making sales points.

This facility and other innovations — meeting areas, computer rooms, work stations, rooms for hire — has shown significant percentage increases in resident use of all ages.

Cllr John Riley (Conservative)
West Ruislip ward

THE HAMLET PLOT

Sir, The Young Fortinbras who surveys the carnage at the end of Hamlet and becomes king of Denmark is not the king of Norway (“Alas, poor Hamlet, we didn’t date him well”, news, Jan 2).

He is the loose cannon nephew of Old Norway whom that king has — due to wily diplomacy on the part of Hamlet’s uncle and fratricidal usurper King of Denmark, Claudius — diverted from an opportunistic attempt to raise a mercenary army to reclaim lands lost by his late father, also Fortinbras, to Hamlet’s late father, also Hamlet, in single combat before the beginning of the play.

The symmetries in the play are manifest but whether James VI and I would have found the comparison flattering, I am yet to be convinced.

John Faulkner
London W4

Sir, In Shakespeare’s time, plays were written for acting companies by a “committee”. A “plotter” was engaged (often Anthony Munday) and then “makers” expanded the plotter’s ideas into a beginning, middle and end. Three or four makers would each write a section, then the piece was sewn together. The case for De Vere as author of Hamlet is a fantasy.

Bruce Montague
Author The Book of Shakespearian Useless Information

HEATED ARGUMENT

Sir, Tom Whipple’s article (“Why healthier eating is making us fatter”, Dec 31) overlooks a change in conditions since the 1970s — heated buildings. Body temperature is maintained by converting food into heat and the amount required depends on how much body temperature exceeds the surrounding temperature.

Heated buildings mean that this temperature difference is reduced and less energy is required. We may be consuming fewer calories than in the 1970s but the reduction is too small.

Edward Vickerman
Huddersfield

PRICE OF WASTE

Sir, While I agree that fly-tipping and rubbish strewn around are a blight on our “green and pleasant land” (Leading article and report, Jan 3), the fault mainly lies with local and central government that reduce refuse collection and make it difficult or expensive to dispose of waste.

A lot of fly-tipping is business waste and this is no surprise when, despite charging business rates, local authorities levy extra charges on businesses for waste disposal even if the waste is taken to the tip by the business itself.

Austin Shackles
Llanwrda, Carmenthenshire

CLOSE TO THE WIND

Sir, If Mr Rivers (letter, Dec 31) had been under the main path of Storm Barbara rather than in sheltered Northamptonshire he would have experienced wind speeds not far below what the south of England calls the Great Storm of 1987.

The worst of Barbara passed over western Scotland, the northwest Highlands and the Hebrides. He did have “a windy day” but, given current good forward forecasting, he should be able to pop up to the northwest and experience a true stormy day.

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