Welcome everyone to this episode in the series in which we talk about Private Car Transport and the individual choices available to us particularly in the urban setting. Sustainable transport refers to the broad subject of transport that is sustainable in relation to its social, environmental and climate impacts. The components for evaluating sustainability would include the types of vehicles being used, the energy sources supplying the transport and the infrastructure required to enable that transport.
I am pleased to have Lulu helping with this episode today.
Hello everybody – Transport systems have significant impacts on the environment, accounting for between 20% and 25% of world energy consumption and also for 25% of global, energy-related, greenhouse-gas emissions. The world’s population is becoming increasingly urbanised and the major part of our economic activity is concentrated in cities. A reliance on private car transport over the past few decades has resulted in people living further away from their place of work and this has increased the geographic size of the city in what is called urban sprawl. This has the added affect of creating longer commute times for getting to and from work which can have a negative impact for the individual and knock-on affects for the community. An over reliance on private car transport contributes to air pollution and smog, it reduces physical activity and so contributes to poor health outcomes like obesity and heart disease. It also means there is less interaction between neighbours and this reduces the vibrancy of community life.
For those of us living in urban areas there are more transport options available than in rural areas. Designing a more sustainable city is about improving the quality of life for the city dweller and providing different transport options is an important part of making any city more sustainable. There are the obvious associated environmental issues caused by the emissions from cars. Road transport is also a major contributor to local air pollution and smog, which is a mixture of smoke and fog and that can cause major health problems for city dwellers. Busy traffic on residential streets also causes social separation and isolation within neighbourhoods. The concept of liveable or living streets refers to city areas where social interaction and connection are made easy by design. Another term, used mainly by urban planners and designers in the US, is Complete streets which is about accommodating all forms of transport on a street. In the UK the most common term used for these efforts is home zones and in the Netherlands there is a movement called woonerf which applies to thousands of projects across the country. The term traffic calming refers to design features which aim to encourage safer, more responsible driving and potentially reduce traffic flows. This includes features such as the narrowing of streets, the introduction of speed bumps and pedestrian crossings.
There are a range of new private car technologies being pursued to increase fuel efficiency. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that can be used to power vehicles. It is often found close to other fossil fuel sources. However, despite its name it is a greenhouse gas. This should not be confused with bio-gas which is sourced from the decomposition of waste materials or from animal or human sewerage. Both these gases can be used to power vehicles. Some municipalities power the public transport fleet from gas that has been sourced from the city’s waste treatment facilities which is a good example of turning a waste into a useful fuel. Bio-fuels are derived from plants through fermentation into alcohol as bio-ethanol. Bio-diesel is made from vegetable or animal fats. Both of these fuels are commonly added to standard diesel to reduce consumption of the fossil fuel. Growing plants solely as a transport fuel is problematic on a global scale as the amount of land needed to supply all of our transport needs would leave no available land for food production. The use of hydrogen gas as an alternative fuel has environmental benefits but does have other technological barriers to widespread global uptake. Hybrid vehicles combine a combustion engine and an electric motor to reduce fuel consumption in standard vehicles. Electric vehicles operate without a combustion engine relying solely on an electric motor thus reducing direct fossil fuel use. However, in many countries the primary source of electricity is from fossil fuels so these vehicles continue to have significant indirect use of fossil fuels. All these alternatives can help reduce the vehicles fuel consumption and emmissions but the other associated problems of traffic congestion and social impacts remain.
More radical changes in how we use vehicles have potentially far bigger benefits to the impacts associated with private car transport. A less car intensive means of urban transport is car sharing which is becoming popular in North America and Europe. The model focuses on short-term rental where each car is used by several people over the course of a day. This greatly improves the efficiency of the total resource use of the car rather than just the fuel efficiency. The vehicles are owned by companies such as Cars2Go and ZipCar and registered users gain access to a booking service and the individual cars from designated parking spaces. Some cities are giving priority parking to car-sharing vehicles to encourage their use and help reduce congestion. The company takes care of maintenance, taxes and other headaches of car ownership. Encouragingly, car sharing has also begun in the developing world, where traffic and urban density is often worse than in developed countries. Companies like Zoom in India, eHi in China, and Carrot in Mexico, are bringing car-sharing to developing countries in an effort to reduce car-related pollution, ease traffic problems, and expand the number of people who have access to cars.
Car pooling, sometimes called ride-sharing, refers to where several people use the same vehicle and this can help reduce the congestion especially at peak times. Some companies are encouraging the use of car pooling amongst their employees as a green initiative and this is easy to arrange between employees who may live close to each other. The arrangements can be formal or informal and may involve cost sharing at an agreed rate and regular journeys. Or it might just be about helping to reduce the inefficiency of single occupancy car travel. The advent of smart phone technology and ride-matching websites such as Uber and Lyft facilitate the use of on-demand sharing between drivers and passengers who are unknown to each other. As the popularity of these types of services grows they can make significant impact on the overall resource use of each vehicle on the road. Other services such as Bla Bla Car focus on car pooling for one-off long distance travel that helps reduce costs for all. For example, car drivers travelling between say Paris and Munich offer lifts to passengers for an agreed sum and the individuals arrange pick-up and drop-off points.
As alternatives or supplementary options to private car ownership these new initiatives are changing our relationship to cars. A lot of different changes are needed at all levels to help solve transport issues. Our own individual choices of transport form an important part of the solution.
That concludes this episode in the series which I hope you have found useful and enjoyable. . My thanks to Lulu for her help today and to you for listening. We look forward to you joining us for future episodes.