The Path to Climate-Friendly Transportation: Are We There Yet? 

The Path to Climate-Friendly Transportation: Are We There Yet? 

Governments around the globe are accelerating their transition to sustainable forms of transportation as a means of reducing emissions along with providing better mobility services to citizens. Advancements in technology, in combination with other innovations and developments, have created new opportunities for city planners to create transit networks that are modern, efficient, and accessible. This includes promoting the use of electric vehicles, investing in public transportation, and encouraging people to walk or ride bicycles instead of driving. In this article, we’re going to look at some ways that transportation has evolved, what has been achieved so far, and how we can move forward through combined efforts to find solutions that meet climate goals as well as our vision for smarter, more resilient, and sustainable urban environments.  

Public Transportation Leads The Race Toward Climate-friendly Transit

Public transportation is crucial for providing equitable and cost-effective mobility to residents of cities while emitting fewer greenhouse gases than private cars. The reason for this comes down to efficiency since cars are usually able to carry just one or two people at a time, whereas buses can carry up to 50 passengers or more and a train in a big city may even carry thousands at a time. Since transportation is responsible for more than a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, diverging people from their private vehicles and to public transit is of utmost importance to meeting climate goals and reducing the sector’s environmental impact.  

Buses and trains hold the potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to two-thirds per passenger, per kilometre compared to private vehicles. According to the UN, shifting from cars to public transportation could reduce around 2.2 tons of carbon emissions per individual, on an annual basis. The UN’s latest climate action report underlines the importance of increasing mass transit adoption, deeming it “essential” to curb the effects of climate change. Increasing access to reliable public transportation brings many benefits to communities, such as improved mobility, lower traffic fatality rates, less congestion, better air quality, and more livable cities.  

Government leaders need to shift their perspective to creating efficient transit networks that are smart, highly adaptable, and capable of meeting the mobility needs of citizens. Digital solutions such as Automated Fare Collection Systems (AFC) are further aiding in facilitating seamless transit experiences by simplifying the process of fare collection, in combination with MaaS services which have shown great potential in filling in gaps in mass transit networks. Furthermore, the acceleration of bus electrification in mass transit is also set to play a crucial role in meeting future climate goals and improving the air quality in cities. While metro rail and light rail vehicles are now largely powered by electricity, many buses in public transit remain reliant on diesel or other fossil fuels. The Federal Transit Administration has recently announced a budget of $1.66 billion for transit agencies to invest in more than 1,100 zero-emission buses, nearly doubling their number with this year’s funding alone.

Leveraging Innovations In Technology In Our Fight Against Climate Change

Transport authorities are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits that come from implementing new technologies as a means of reducing their carbon footprint and moving closer toward net-zero emissions. These advancements are critical in the fight against climate change and in making sure we meet the goals set in the Paris Agreement. It has been concluded that a 55% reduction in emissions is needed by 2030 to keep on track with global efforts and transportation has a big role to play in filling in this gap. When it comes to the adoption of new and advanced technologies in mobility, research indicates that digital solutions have the potential to decrease up to 5% of GHG emissions by 2050. This can be achieved by leveraging sensing technologies such as IoT, in combination with imaging and geo-location to collect real-time data that will assist transport authorities in their decision-making.  

Transport providers can apply data analytics to help elevate their day-to-day operations by closely examining the performance of vehicle fleets, along with various trends, demand for services, user patterns, and customer feedback. This allows agencies to become more effective in their efforts of scheduling services, optimizing routes, and allocating resources wherever necessary to ensure that the very best services are consistently provided to passengers. Advanced sensors, data analytics, and machine learning algorithms can further assist agencies in predictive maintenance, informing them of any potential issues before they occur, reducing the chance for delays or potential breakdowns. This type of approach makes it possible to achieve better savings in fuel, extending the lifespan of fleets while making public transport more reliable and pleasant to use. Technology can serve as a powerful tool in increasing ridership in public transit as improved rider experiences that are convenient, accessible, and flexible, means that more people will be included to leave their cars at home, further aiding in the reduction of emissions.

Shared Mobility Solutions Are Changing The Way We Travel

Shared transportation offers a unique opportunity for government authorities to reduce car dependency in cities by shifting toward the use of more sustainable, equitable, and accessible transport modes. Shared mobility services in the form of ride-hailing, car sharing, e-scooters, and shared bikes, offer flexible and affordable ways for citizens to get around town without the need to use their car. This approach makes it easier to plan, route, and book journeys while simultaneously alleviating issues such as congestion, parking, and bad air quality. On-demand mobility services, shared cars, and dockless micromobility modes are capable of transporting passengers closer to their destination so they are great at filling in gaps in services where public transit is unable to. Since shared mobility services don’t follow a specific and fixed route, they can be simply requested on-demand, assisting in “first and last mile” connections.  

Shared transportation is also considered to be easier to implement as far as urban environments go as it uses existing road infrastructure, whereas most shared bikes and shared e-scooters are virtually dockless. Shared mobility could contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions, particularly when integrated into existing public transport networks. By encouraging a switch to multimodal mobility, a portion of the car journeys taken daily can be replaced with other active forms of travel such as walking, cycling, and other shared modes such as micromobility. Adopting a shared mobility approach to transit that limits the use of private cars has been shown to reduce emissions by 34%.  

Shared mobility - ride-sharing

McKinsey Center for Future Mobility has highlighted consumer trends regarding the use of shared mobility. It was reported that around fifty-six percent of today’s consumers are willing to replace private car trips if they are presented with shared mobility alternatives. Furthermore, integrating MaaS into public transit makes it possible to offer end-to-end customer experiences. By digitally combining different transport options, information, and payment services into a unified ecosystem, cities can create mobility networks that are more connected, easy to use, and attractive to riders, leading to an increase in ridership.  

Greenway Projects Are Gaining Traction As Funding Increases

Greenway projects have started to attract more attention in recent years as they hold the potential to address various urban challenges such as congestion, bad air quality as well as lack of infrastructure to support alternative modes of travel. Cities are recognizing the importance of investing in such initiatives if they are to meet sustainability goals. Changing the travel habits of residents will be largely influenced by the provision of transportation alternatives and the supporting infrastructure which involves more bike trails, green paths, and mobility hubs. Fortunately, these types of projects are now reported to be generating around $10.6 billion annually in spending. It was estimated that between 2021 and 2022, federal funding for transportation alternatives such as bikeways and trails has seen a drastic increase from $850 million per year to $1.4 billion, on an annual basis.  

One of the most notable examples of such initiatives is the East Coast Greenway Plan which aims to deliver over 3,000 miles of bike and pedestrian trails along the Atlantic seaboard. The project is in development through various segments and stages across fifteen states and the District of Columbia. The 3,000-mile route, which consists of paved trails, dirt, and gravel paths, along with sections of roadway, is currently the nation’s longest greenway, connecting 15 states and 450 communities from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Florida. Plans to develop a Greenway Project are currently underway in the city of Philadelphia that will connect to all transit stations of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority as well as the Schuylkill River, Delaware River, various business establishments, and schools. In Virginia, efforts are underway to build a 43-mile trail spine that extends throughout the central part of the state. Development is currently centered around the initiation of a regional Greenway Project called the Fall Line which aims to facilitate non-motorized modes of transport along the city’s heavily trafficked roadways.  

Similarly, in the city of Portland, officials have budgeted over $24 million for the creation of an extensive recreational path designed primarily for bicycles and other active forms of transport. In Flower Mound, Texas, officials have recently released their plans to create a multi-use pathway that connects various trails throughout the community. The plan showcases a budget of over $30 million for upcoming projects such as The Regional Veloweb which aims to improve connectivity for pedestrians in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex along with upgrading bicycle infrastructure. The 435-mile network will consist of interconnected trails that support shared mobility modes and will link citizens to various locations such as shopping districts, jobs, as well as public transit. 

Mobility Hubs Will Help Create Low-carbon, Multimodal Mobility Networks

Mobility hub projects are being launched at an unprecedented pace around the globe as government authorities attempt to address urban challenges such as inadequacies in mobility networks, gaps in services along with finding practical solutions to reducing Single Vehicle Occupancy (SOV) dependency, in combination with achieving a decline in CO2 emissions. Mobility hubs incorporate a more streamlined, integrative approach to transportation, connecting citizens and neighborhoods to a variety of different transportation networks. Their user-friendly, compact design allows them to blend effortlessly into residential and commercial amenities which is why public officials are allocating generous portions of their capital budgets to financing such initiatives.  

Mobility hubs provide a practical and feasible solution to car ownership by offering services to communities that reduce the need to travel long distances to access transportation. They equip cities with powerful tools that will aid in the creation of low-carbon, multimodal mobility networks. By prioritizing space for people instead of private cars, city planners can work toward their goal of establishing systems that are adaptable and responsive to the individual needs of communities while also meeting sustainability goals. Mobility hubs are a great way to promote multimodality in urban areas as well as maximize access to mobility by seamlessly connecting residents to important societal locations. 

Mobility hub

The integration of multimodal mobility hubs into MaaS platforms offers tremendous possibilities to meet riders’ demand for enhanced travel experience by allowing for seamless connections between different modes. Advanced ticketing systems support users in the purchasing of fares in addition to giving direct access to a multitude of mobility services that are made available under a unified app or platform. The purpose of mobility hubs is to integrate a variety of different mobility options, with an emphasis on sustainable modes such as public transport along with shared and active mobility. The more these types of services become available and integrated with existing transit modes, the less likely it is that people will be inclined to use their cars. This is a trend that’s likely to continue in the future and it’s already making an impact by helping to establish smarter and more sustainable mobility systems.   

Initiating The Shift Toward Integrated, Sustainable Mobility

One of the most prominent mobility hub initiatives in the US is Union Station in Denver, Colorado. The station, which serves as a hub for Amtrak, offers a range of transportation options, including light rail, bike-sharing, and car-sharing services. The station has become a model for other cities looking to create their mobility hubs. Transportation officials in East Boston have also launched a successful mobility hub pilot program at eight different locations in June 2022 to span throughout the summer. The hubs vary in size and services, incorporating transportation options such as bikes, and scooters along with car-sharing initiatives. Another notable feature is their “smart benches,” which allow residents to charge their smartphone devices while providing Wi-Fi, community information, and other features. In Minneapolis, a mobility hub pilot helped grow public transit ridership, along with increasing usage of other active and eco-friendly modes. Since the development of its initial pilot back in 2019, the city has expanded the project to over 13 hubs in a total of 25 locations.  

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) has launched its Universal Basic Mobility (UBM) program which is a transportation initiative that aims to provide affordable and accessible mobility options to all the residents of Los Angeles. The project comprises a suite of different transportation services such as car sharing, bike-share, ride-share, transit passes, and other services that will be available to low-income households and individuals who are experiencing difficulty accessing affordable transportation. UITP’s latest Policy Brief on Mobility Hubs underlines the importance of involving decision-makers in the process of collaborating with public transport authorities as well as service providers to develop comprehensive integrated mobility hubs that serve communities and benefit the environment.  

Small Steps, Big Impact – What Can We All Do?

Researchers suggest that it’s highly unlikely that we will meet emission targets without a significant shift away from motorized transport. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit revealed that an increase in active mobility could drastically lower the collective carbon footprint of the nation. By looking at nearly 2000 urban dwellers over time, researchers observed that residents who swapped just one car trip a day for cycling or other micromobility modes were able to reduce their carbon footprint by about 0.5 tonnes over a year, depicting a tremendous share of average per capita CO2 emissions.  

Making the shift from private vehicles to active forms of mobility could make a real difference for cities. Aside from helping us meet climate goals, promoting this kind of mobility has an important role to play in reducing social inequalities along with improving public health and the quality of life for residents of those urban environments. Cities across the world will need to emphasize making the right investment in high-quality infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists as well as implement policies and strategies for urban planning that fall in line with the individual needs of communities.  

Earth Day 2024 Has An Important Message For Us All 

Earth Day serves as a powerful reminder of our collective responsibility to protect the environment and ensure that we’re proactive in our efforts to create a sustainable future. This year’s annual edition brings a critical environmental issue to the forefront by emphasizing an urgent call to action that focuses on the growing crisis of plastic pollution. With over 8 million tons of plastic being dumped into the oceans, every year, it’s clear that more needs to be done to ensure the survival and preservation of numerous ecosystems on our planet. Global efforts are combined in a joint commitment to advocating for a 60% reduction in plastic production by 2040. This presents a distinct opportunity for transit agencies to do their part in making the sector more sustainable by becoming acquainted with new and emerging technologies that have the potential to reduce single-use plastic from transportation.  

Contactless payment technologies stand as a prime example of this having become a practical and feasible replacement for traditional cash transactions. Aside from the improved speed and convenience for passengers when traveling, contactless payment systems provide an added benefit for the environment through their ability to reduce paper waste. They eliminate the need for single-use tickets and plastic cards, which are hard to recycle due to the magnetic strips that are found in them. Going contactless also limits the additional need for resources required for the sourcing, production, and printing of tickets.  

Automated ticketing systems (AFC) are among the best tools agencies can use to upgrade their digital mobility infrastructure since they equip them with the tools needed to transition from single-use paper tickets, as well as reusable plastic cards. Riders can seamlessly pay for their journeys using their smartphones, contactless bank cards, or any smart wearable of their choice. Transport authorities should strive to create seamless payment experiences that cater to the evolving needs of consumers and make people want to use public transit. By adopting a mindset that extends from just “ticketing” to “fare collection,” we can build highly customer-centric experiences that increase ridership and improve sustainability in transit.  

In Conclusion

Finding solutions to our current urban challenges is no easy task, however, new technologies are providing the tools needed for authorities to better manage cities, modernize systems, improve efficiency, and simplify the experience of traveling. City planners are also partnering with global leaders, various sectors, and businesses to find new and innovative ways of reducing carbon emissions, driving economic sustainability, and helping to create more livable cities. Smarter, cleaner, and more citizen-oriented mobility systems are a great step in that direction and can go a long way in the future by creating a lasting impact on our fight against climate change.