The challenges and benefits of promoting sustainable transport

Sustainable transport has long been a complicated topic. Modern societies demand a high degree of mobility of a variety of types. This makes a complex transport system adapted to social needs essential, so as to ensure people can move and goods be transported in ways that are safe and economically efficient. Moreover, it must be subject to today’s volume and diversity of demands.

The new paradigm is the inexorable logic of sustainability. From this perspective, a flexible and efficient transport system offering intelligent and sustainable patterns of mobility is critically important for the health of both our economy and our quality of life. Current mass transport systems present significant and growing challenges (not to say problems) for:

  • Their impact on the environment
  • How they affect human health (mental and physical)
  • Ownership and cost management

Our existing model of mobility seems to have become highly reliant on private vehicles. These shape our lifestyles, how we move about and the way our cities are organised. This model inevitably has an impact on the way we develop, manage (and, at times, mismanage) sustainable land use in urban areas and their expanding surroundings.

What are the major challenges in terms of current transport?

  1. Existing systems often have poor connectivity, building ‘ad hoc’ on-legacy networks rather than planning for long-term future use.
  2. Inadequate maintenance of road networks: two examples are a general lack of clear signage and a ‘patch-up’ policy of resurfacing and repair management due to insufficient investment in infrastructure projects.
  3. Insufficient planning for parking and the option of ‘hybrid’ journeys; for example, ‘park and ride’ schemes
  4. A slow uptake on conversion of buses and coaches to sustainable fuel technologies; hybrid electric buses and use of biofuels are two examples.

Why should we promote sustainable transport?

There is less need to constantly change infrastructure and vehicles if what we have simply lasts longer. We don’t have to use private transport all the time. If we develop more responsive, better-connected, affordable and reliable transport systems, there will be less need (or preference) for our own vehicles.

The arguments for promoting sustainable transport.

A helpful source is The EU urban mobility strategy (defined in the Kyoto Commitment 1990-2010 on environmental, economic and social sustainability criteria), which set objectives in five areas:

1) Spatial planning and planning of transport and infrastructure

2) Combating climate change and reducing energy dependence

3) Improving air quality and reducing noise

4) Enhancing safety and health

5) Intelligent demand management (proactive rather than reactive)

The sixth objective of the Kyoto Commitment was ‘an informed, engaged public as a crucial partner in advancing sustainable transport solutions’. Once users get on board with how much better sustainable systems can be than what we have at present, a critical mass of opinion can move us towards what is a realistic, feasible and fundamentally healthier future for transport.

Let’s finish with a selection of cities where elements of sustainable transport are making a difference right now;

  • Frankfurt (low-emission policy, green spaces)
  • Stockholm (biofuel for taxis)
  • Singapore (mobility and connectivity), 66% journeys by public transport – 75% by 2030,
  • London (increased capacity and connectivity: the massive Crossrail project)
  • Prague (electric car hire)
  • Paris (line extensions and bus lanes)
  • Zurich (switch from diesel buses to electrified trams)
  • Hong Kong (Mass Transit Railway).

The technology exists. Perhaps it is a question of political will to join up the dots.

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