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Transport for tomorrow

Tuesday 27 July 2010
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More sustainable transport systems are increasingly important. Giles Crosse looks at the situation, and ways to hasten improvements.

Photo Credit: Mohd Noor Fadzli

Most people are familiar with problems inherent in modern transport systems. Anyone fuming in morning rush hours, alongside hundreds of other stationary people, all pumping
CO2 into the environment, will understand the need for change.

The solutions will probably come from developing more efficient planning, and using holistic processes for designing more sensible ways of travelling. Better urban thinking will be vital.

This might include urban and cable rail systems, better and more organised public transport. Alongside this, a good look at exactly when, where and why we need to travel is going to be useful.

There will be other issues surrounding the sustainability of air transport. The easy accessibility of cheap flights fails to charge the true price of what this costs in terms of pollution and global warming. Again, this may need to change in order to get ourselves on the right track.

Reading the books

Luckily, there is no shortage of research or ideas into ways we can improve things. For example, the
States of Jersey has just released its Sustainable Transport Policy on July 2, 2010.

Interesting insights are available into the public mood, at least on these islands, in terms of what needs to change. ‘A significant majority considered that congestion was too high, and perhaps more importantly, that they would be willing to consider using a more sustainable form of transport than their car. 75 per cent of respondents agreed that the problem of traffic congestion should be solved by reducing the numbers of motor vehicles on our roads rather than by building new roads.’

Certain elements, perhaps the size of the islands, and the chance inhabitants might be more in touch with environmental concerns than people living in global megacities could be behind these trends. Either way the mood does seem positive for those global governments seeking to make things better.

There are some tough targets included within the proposals. They cover aims to ‘reduce peak hour traffic levels to and from St Helier by at least 15 per cent by 2015.’

Other sub targets cover 100 per cent increases in bus travel, cycling, and twenty per cent rises in walking and school bus usage. Changing our habits is going to be required too, and there are cultural and safety issues that need to be addressed to enable this.

For example, the proposals note that; ‘During the school holidays, traffic levels drop in the morning peak hour by about 15 per cent. This produces at least a 50 per cent reduction in congestion and enables the remaining traffic to complete its journeys far quicker and with far less pollution.’

But the truth is that few parents will encourage children to walk or cycle to school until roads are safer, or until it’s less dangerous to walk home in the dark in wintertime. So there are also wider social elements that need altering to make more sustainable options a reality.

Sustainable Down Under

Elsewhere in the world, more plans are coming online. The
Transport Integration Act in Victoria, Australia, hopes to use legislation to force the right kind of change.

Positively, it’s also looking at transport as a triple bottom line issue, where changes can have major effects in economic, environmental and social terms too.

There is some sensible thinking within the paper. For a start, the Act, ‘unifies all elements of the transport portfolio to ensure that transport agencies work together towards the common goal of an integrated transport system.’

This is a crucial, but often overlooked part of sustainable policy. What could really help develop the right change would be international policy making along similar lines: unifying global ideas to get the right measures in place across the planet.

Agencies like the International Transport Forum (ITF) could be behind such change.  The ITF publishes data, like its 2010 ‘Reducing Transport Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trends and Data,’ which contributes to working out what kind of policy we really need.

There are some interesting numbers within the work. It seems ‘Transport-sector CO2 emissions represent 23 per cent (globally) and 30 per cent (OECD) of overall CO2 emissions from Fossil fuel combustion. The sector accounts for approximately 15 per cent of overall greenhouse gas emissions.’

Even more worryingly, ‘Global CO2 emissions from transport have grown by 45 per cent from 1990 to 2007, led by emissions from the road sector in terms of volume and by shipping and aviation in terms of highest growth rates.

‘Under “business-as-usual”, including many planned efficiency improvements, global CO2 emissions from transport are expected to continue to grow by approximately 40 per cent from 2007 to 2030 – though this is lower than pre-crisis estimates.’

However, there is positive news, as ITF reckons certain countries like France and Germany are stabilising road CO2 emissions, in spite of the recent recession. This also shows that decoupling economic growth would have a massive impact on more sustainable transport.

ITF says that the economic crisis of 2008 led to the sharpest drop in emissions in the last 40 years. That’s important. In other words, unless we look more closely at how a profit driven economy encourages and inspires emissions, and how we can create better ways to distribute and produce the goods we need, it’ll be tough to achieve the required change.

Green movement

What about the future? ITF’s Transport Outlook 2010 suggests we won’t ever remove the need for travel. On that basis, we have to think about how we can make our movement as benign as possible.

‘Our analysis strongly suggests that technologies to improve fuel economy and ultimately transform the energy basis of transport are the key to managing greenhouse gas emissions from transport,’ argues the paper.

This really is likely to be the key to tomorrow’s transport, as ITF also says, ‘It is

worth noting that even under more conservative assumptions passenger travel volumes

likely will triple over the next 40 years.’ Given that aviation travel is already incredibly damaging, this rise can only be sustained by warming-as-motive-for-cap-and-trade" target="_blank">far greener new technologies.

ITF argues that given growth trends in developing countries, it’s highly unlikely sufficiently restrictive policy to limit CO2 from transport can be achieved. Policy can guide, but it can’t totally prevent transport usage and demand growing.

Therefore new tech is the only way to solve the issues; ‘Technology oriented policies are in that sense preferable, as they provide a more direct influence on transport emissions than demand management.’

This will be challenging. ‘Stabilizing global LDV emissions of CO2 requires that new vehicles reach a fuel economy level of roughly 4l/100km (60m/g, 90gCO2/100km) in 2050. This is an improvement of 44 per cent compared to the reference scenario level of 2010.’ But ITF notes fuel economy grew by 46 per cent between 1975 and 2010, so there’s no overriding reason the gains can’t be made.

ITF reckons that ultimately, fuel economy transitions can help, but an entirely new fuel base for transport will be needed post 2050. It appears that while more sustainable transport options can be implemented, if they still use oil, petroleum or energy sourced from these roots, in the longer term view they won’t succeed.

It sounds like somebody could be about to make a fortune from developing vehicles and systems that meet these needs. Hopefully labs across the planet are looking at this right now.

“When it comes to sustainability and transport, we need to look at reducing demand, fewer trips, carrying more people each journey, using more sustainable types of transport and using sustainable fuels,” says Paula Vandergert, Senior Sustainable Design Advisor, The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE).

“Then we need to think about how urban planning supports sustainable transport. For example, how sites for new developments can be located around existing settlements, minimising travel. We also need to think about managing the existing environment better, for example, by making streets as much for pedestrians or cyclists as for cars.

“There are some European cities where other forms of transport, like trams and guided buses have recently been introduced,” says Vandergert.  “However, questions remain over who pays for this and who maintains it. You really need the local political will to be there in order for these kind of options to work.

“How will we achieve an 80 per cent cut in carbon? We need to be working at a package of measures and see what is most appropriate for each place. There is no one size fits all. Decarbonisation is a priority and electric vehicles will have an important role to play, but a range of measures stands the best chance of really achieving success.”

What are your views?  Not sure? Read the resources below for more information. Add your comment below. We welcome your thoughts and proposals. Not a Planetary Citizen? Sign up to Our Future Planet today!

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Reducing Transport Greenhouse Gas Emissions - International Transport Forum

Key Transport Statistics - International Transport Forum

Transport Outlook 2010 - International Transport Forum

Sustainable Transport Systems - Professor Brian Collins

Road Traffic Accidents - International Transport Forum

Transport and CO2 Emissions - International Transport Forum

Investment in Transport Infrastructure - International Transport Forum

Passenger Transport Usage - International Transport Forum

Comments (1)Add Comment
January 27, 2012
Votes: +0

Great article, thanks for posting.

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