Power-up For Sustainable Transport

More people than ever before in the history of humanity are on move; faster and further than our ancestors could have ever dreamed possible.

And our lives our shaped around the transport that gets us moving. Just imagine what your great, great, great grandfather would have thought as you gaze out of the window of a plane at 35,000 feet and see the curve of the Earth stretching out before you as you jet through the atmosphere to the other side of the world; a journey completed in hours that, only a centuries ago, would have taken months and really have only been available to the very rich or the very incarcerated. The personal freedom we have today has opened up the world to many millions of people and in doing so brings us massive new challenges around accommodating this travel, it’s sustainability and the inevitable damage it causes to our environment.

Sustainable transport is powered by energy sources that can power travel indefinitely, like renewable energy captured in storage form through batteries for example. It it measured by both the effectiveness and efficiency with which it transport people and goods, but also by its impacts on the environment.

And the impacts of our global transport system are severe. With transportation accounting for up to 25% of world energy consumption and carbon emissions it has never been a more urgent time than now to start thinking in depth about sustainability and making the switch to a more sustainable system of transportation. Our urban cities are home to over half the world’s population and these heavily populated centres will be at the forefront in a shift to greener technologies, to improve both the environment and the health of the world. It’s time for a radical rethink of the transportation sector and an opportunity for us to get greener, and cleaner, whilst we’re on the move.

Petroleum fueled vehicles continue to dominate the road transportation sector and these vehicles are heavily polluting, producing up to 75% of all the emissions created by the transport sector. Exhaust Gas includes a whole host of ugly pollutants such as particulate matter, NOx and carbon monoxide and these have been linked from everything from Asthma to Lung Cancer — damaging our health as well as the planet. The UN has even estimated that 2.4 millions premature deaths per year are linked to air-borne pollutants, caused by the road transport system. It’s clear that this cannot continue.

So How Do We Unleash A Sustainable Transport Revolution?

Sustainability needs to be built into the infrastructure of society from the ground up; that much is clear. Bicycles will not prove popular without a safe cycling environment, especially in busy urban centres, and electric cars will not take off without the charging infrastructure in place.

But things are changing and we can look to areas across the world where modes of sustainable transport have been hugely successful in order to learn by example and better understand the challenges in implementing a sustainable transport infrastructure closer to home.

The BBC has reported that up to half of all young people in the UK want electric cars and this belies a fundamental and disruptive shift across the entire car industry that will see cars transition to electrically powered, interactive computers on wheels as opposed to their combustion engine ancestors. Indeed the very notion of car ownership will one day seem an outdated concept as car sharing proves to be cheaper, easier and more economical.

Very soon we may not even be driving our vehicles, but instead placing our trust in algorithms and artificial intelligence to ensure we safely get from A to B.

The Economist has examined the role that technology companies are now playing the automotive sector and the huge investments that traditional car companies, such as General Motors, are making ($500 million) into tech companies, such as Lyft as they scrabble to stay relevant in a new world order of electrically powered, self driving, car sharing services.

But thats all still to come… What can we do right now, in 2018, to start the shift to a more sustainable transport infrastructure?

Drive Electric for Sustainable Transport

Thinking of buying a new car? Then make the move to electric. Tesla has revolutionised the entire car industry changing it forever and providing a sharp, all-electric jolt to other automakers to get themselves in gear for the coming electrically powered revolution.

With all the hype of an Apple product launch, Tesla and its outspoken CEO, Elon Musk, has done what 10 years ago would have seemed impossible. They’ve made the electric car cool; 250+ mile range, instant torque, ‘Insane’ mode! And self -driving capabilities.

Although electric cars are still at the early stages of their industry domination they have, with the release of Tesla’s Model 3  and a starting price of $35,000, come within the reach of of the masses and removing their reputation as an unaffordable luxury.  

Tesla has realised that in order to sell electric vehicles they would have to make them really, really cool. Vehicles that are capable of learning, receiving Over The Air updates which can even, in times of emergency, provide an extended range, with an OTA update, for vehicles belonging to Tesla owners fleeing the path of a hurricane.

And the 2017-2018 were the years that all major automakers committed to an electric future. Combined with local Government incentives, the Volkswagen Diesel emission scandal and increasing restrictions on the level of CO2 emissions permitted, we will see electric vehicles gain increasing traction over the next decade as they rise in dominance.

It’s not just cars that are transforming to electric power. Norway has embraced sustainability and is setting the standard across the board and showing us how electric power can be applied to land, sea and air in its goal to transform its transportation industry.

Even the iconic London Black Cab is even getting in on the act with the New Electric Black Cabs taking over the streets of London in 2018 when you need to hail a cab, you’ll soon be able to grab one that will be a CO2 free ride.

Why Two Wheels Are Even Better for Sustainable Transport

For those really short journeys, or those looking to travel and exercise at the same time, two wheels are better than four. Bike sharing schemes have taken off around the world with nearly every major city implementing them in order to reduce congestion and pollution.

And they have taken over the world, changing our attitude towards bikes in subtle ways so that there has been an indiscernible shift in the way we consider, use and ‘own’ bikes.  

Outside of the bike-centred havens of Dutch cities, bike theft has always been commonplace. Cities have, with weary resignation, been strewn with discarded bits of old bike, or bikes that have been damaged beyond use – decapitate seats or crumpled wheels.

Until bike sharing schemes rose to prominence. No longer do we need to worry about bike maintenance, style, damage or theft. With the rise of bike sharing schemes, bike ownership has gone down. The chains of theft, loss and repurchase have been broken and new technology has enabled us to make micro payments, via smart phones or payment stands, to release and hire bikes, from their docks, for timed periods in order to get around our cities.

New startup companies, such as Ofo and Mobike are creating further waves in this world, introducing bike services that do not even need to be docked and effectively allowing riders to travel from the location of the bike to any random location within the city.

In China this has caused huge problems with the advent of massive, unbelievably large Bike Graveyards and mountains of bikes, piled high. Authorities across the world have reacted with alarm and are clamping down, introducing new legislations and orders to ensure these problems aren’t repeated in their own cities.

But bike sharing schemes such as Ofo and Mobike have the potential to provide huge reams of data to city planners that would prove very valuable in shaping our cities of the future. All bike journeys are tracked so this information could be used to better understand where citizens congregate, what are the main thoroughfares and how can this data be used to create a more inviting city environment.

There are even plans to introduce a truly publicly owned bike scheme in the Netherlands. Fairbike is a bike scheme that would be financed by blockchain:

What we propose is a decentralized autonomous organization. Each bike collects its own money and reinvests these funds back into the network by issuing repairs or if the situation allows it, expand the service by adding a new bicycle to the network.

Fairbike does not use bikes imported from China, instead it will ask local bike shops to deploy new bikes and to perform repairs. We want Fairbike to be a part of the city and support local economies.

Electric bikes are also making an appearance, and Uber user’s may soon be able to take advantage of this development after Uber bought US electric bike sharing firm, Jump. This complements Ubers premier position as a personal transportation company that joins the dots between more traditional modes of public transport.

What clear is that bike schemes are here to stay. As they have quietly appeared on our streets they have changed our notions about bike ownership, introducing new opportunities for businesses, city planners and a reduction in pollution in the process. However the bikes of the future will look is all too play for, as technology continues to play a huge role, reinventing and evolving this two wheel mode of transportation.

Sustainability in Public Transport

Is public transport as green as we think? The answer is.. Yes, and sometimes no. It’s complicated. If you are comparing a diesel chugging bus with 3 passengers on to an electric car with 3 passengers in then the energy required to move the huge mass of a bus is going to make it less environmentally friendly.

Arguments have been made that because of the weight and mass of public transportation systems, pound for pound, they are considerably more polluting than individual private vehicles. In the MarketPlace article Save the earth, drive your car? Stephen Dubner argues:

Typically, moving a passenger a mile by bus requires roughly 20 percent more energy than moving a passenger around by car…So, just in terms of energy expenditure, bus actually fares worse than car.”

And trains? Trains are on average better than cars, roughly two-thirds of energy per passenger.

However, there are many variables that need to be taken into account. Public transportation vehicles generally have a much longer lifespan than private vehicles, in rush hour periods they transport huge numbers of people, depending on the location and journey and overall  the public transportation system is changing. Most country-wide railways in Europe are now electric and Transport for London aim’s to have Europe’s Largest Double Decker Fleet by the summer 0f 2019.

Additionally electric vehicles don’t produce emissions, ever. And although public transportation might not be as green as we could be led to believe we also have to understand that it’s almost impossible to compare two entirely different transportation systems that present different merits, opportunities and challenges.

What we can do is apply increasing scientific research and focus to the journeys that warrant investment and to curtail, or provide alternatives to journeys that do not necessarily require large scale public transportation. For example inner city underground systems are essential for moving millions of people round, efficiently and effectively, but is a large bus suitable for serving a small village with perhaps 2 or 3 customers? In the future we will need to consider alternate modes of transport for a fully integrated system. Public electric car-sharing schemes that can transport rural residents to large transportation hubs for shared journeys that are more environmentally friendly.

We can be sure of one thing however; the transportation system is set to change more in the next 50 years than it has in the last 500. Not since the very wheel was invented will we see so much invention, innovation and inspiration thrown at the challenge of human transportation as we hurtle through the 21st Century further and faster than ever before.

…And if all of this proves a little overwhelming, then we can always fall back on the mode of transportation that has been at our beck and call since the dawn of time, one that has served us for a millenia and enabled our species to conquer the globe….

We can walk.