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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Changing gear – learner drivers in Coventry plugging in to electric vehicles

Learner drivers are benefitting from a super-charged green incentive funded by Highways England that allows businesses to try electric vehicles for free before they buy.

Coventry-based Smart Learner Driving School is just one of several businesses taking advantage of the £2.3m scheme, supported by Coventry City Council, that is designed to encourage a shift to cleaner, lower carbon vehicles.

The incentive works by offering the businesses a free trial of electric vehicles for up to two months.

Driving school owner Tommy said:

"It’s a fantastic incentive between Highways England and Coventry City Council because it creates a synergy between students learning in an electric vehicle and then going on to purchase one."

"We know from experience that generally whatever vehicle students learn in, they tend to go and purchase either a petrol or a diesel car as it’s familiar to them. So, for me it’s about educating the drivers of tomorrow and changing habits so that we don’t live in the past tense anymore."

Employing 55 instructors, covering Coventry, Warwick and Leamington Spa, Tommy, has been running his business around 15 years. He said that the opportunity to learn more about electric vehicles has been hugely beneficial for him and his colleagues.

He said:

"Being able to spend time in an electric vehicle has been a hugely educational experience. There was one instance where I recall picking it up and I was worried it would run out of charge before I got home, but I popped to the supermarket to use one of the charge points, grabbed a coffee and when I came back to the car it had gained 30 miles of range which was easily enough to get me back home."

"The electric car has all of the main features you’d expect in a petrol or diesel car, but the main difference is that it’s actually much quieter and we’ve found that students are now keen to learn in this vehicle compared to the other cars we have in our fleet."

"I’d urge other businesses to take part in the trial because it’s an excellent opportunity to find out more about electric vehicles and to dispel some inaccurate myths around them. The future is definitely pointing towards electric cars and I’m excited to be a part of that."

Following a successful pilot with the Energy Saving Trust and a launch with Leeds City Council last year, Coventry City Council is among the beneficiaries of the investment alongside Kent and Nottingham, who have schemes operating as well as Sheffield and Bristol, who are setting up their own schemes.

In Sheffield, local businesses can trial an electric van for two months for free, to let them “try before they buy”. The aim is to reduce the air pollution from small commercial vehicles on the strategic road network, with 30 Nissan e-NV200s vans available to trial.

It is among a host of measures Highways England is taking to improve air quality and tackle carbon emissions from road transport as the UK takes steps to become a zero-carbon economy by 2050.

The scheme has been made possible by Highways England’s Designated Funds programme designed to benefit people, the economy and the planet with an overall investment of £936m between 2020 and 2025.

Highways England’s Customer Services Director, Melanie Clarke, said:

This is a fantastic initiative for businesses in Coventry and we’re keen to play our part in helping to improve air quality and tackle carbon emissions.

Our work with Coventry City Council is just one example of us working with local authorities across the country to encourage businesses to make the switch to electric vehicles and we expect many more to start using electric vehicles when they experience the savings possible.

We are using designated funds to benefit the environment and communities around our roads as well as the people travelling and working on them.

Councillor Jim O’Boyle, who is the Cabinet Member responsible for jobs, regeneration and climate change in Coventry, said:

"The trial schemes are absolutely vital to help win hearts and minds of businesses and private car users, especially as the city continues to open up after the challenges of the Covid pandemic.

"We already have more electric charging points in Coventry than in any city outside of London. Plus, we are also gearing up to become the first city in the country to run an all-electric bus fleet."

"At the same time, there has been a real interest among businesses in taking part in the free trial scheme and in testing out electric vehicles, and it’s great to see how it has been working with Smart Learner Driving School."

“I know that Coventry University is testing four vehicles out and I hope that more businesses will get in touch and try one out."

"As a city we are applying a whole series of approaches to address air quality and climate change and we are always at the front of the queue to apply innovative solutions.

Highways England’s Designated Funds programme has already delivered more than 2,000 schemes between 2015 and 2020."

The electric vehicles will contribute to improving air quality in cities and towns, and help reduce carbon emissions. They have also been put to good use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Electric vans used for the trial scheme in Leeds have been driven more than 10,000 miles as part of the city’s emergency coronavirus response. The vehicles were used in a number of ways including delivering local food parcels to those self-isolating or shielding, transporting key council key workers and supporting the work of vital third sector organisations.

More than 50 vehicles, mostly vans, are currently operating as part of the scheme in Coventry including three iconic LEVC black cabs which are still proudly made in the city itself along with three Nissan Dynamo taxis.

Highways England’s Designated Funds programme is divided into four funding streams aimed at making the biggest difference and delivering lasting benefits; environment and wellbeing, users and community, safety and congestion and innovation and modernisation.

Between 2015 and 2020 the programme has:

  • ensured over 95 per cent of England’s motorways and major A-roads are within 20 miles of a rapid electric vehicle charging point

  • reduced the impact of noise for around 50,000 people living alongside motorways and implemented measures to reduce air pollution at identified hotspots

  • delivered more than 160 cycle schemes including upgraded crossings to improve connectivity with local communities

  • tackled 260 locations vulnerable to flooding with improved drainage and ecology.

Other achievements include 124 biodiversity initiatives, 150 safety improvements on single carriageway roads to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured and over 6,500 lights and traffic signals converted to LED.

Elsewhere, Highways England will be cutting around 250 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year following the acquisition of seventy-two new state of the art Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs).

The new PHEVs maximise Highways England’s traffic officer fleet, providing 4x4 capability and supporting a target to clear 86 per cent of motorway incidents in one hour, while reducing the company’s carbon footprint from patrolling England’s motorways and major A-roads to help keep motorists safe.

Find out more about Highways England designated funds initiatives.

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