EVEN LESS IS EVEN MORE
Helen Viner, Vijay Ramdas, Prof. Alan Stevens, Martin Lamb and Iain Knight discuss some of the more taxing complexities of reducing transport energy demand
Our article in the previous issue of Thinking Highways highlighted the urgency of achieving significant reductions in carbon emissions from transport.
Part of the answer lies in switching to electricity for vehicle propulsion, combined with generating electricity from renewable sources. We argued that, given the right infrastructure, significant reductions in carbon emissions are plausible. Government road traffic forecasts predict an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 in the optimistic scenario in which the car and LGV fleet are largely powered by electricity(1) . However, while moving in the right direction, this will not be sufficient to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2050 and, from a societal perspective, it may not be the optimal solution in any case. Most would agree that individually driven cars are not the best option to convey large numbers of people in and around population centres. Anyone who has visited Los Angeles will have seen first-hand the extraordinary amounts of highways and infrastructure, and how adding to it has not helped to deal with congestion. Traffic jams in LA are legendary, and a 2017 report claimed that the Los Angeles region topped the list of most congested cities for 6 years in a row(2) . While there are other contributing sources, transport doubtless contributes to Los Angeles being the smoggiest city in the USA according to the American Lung Association(3) , an unwanted record held for 19 of the 20 years that the association has reported on this.
“Most people would agree that individually driven cars are not the best option to convey large numbers of people in and around population centres”
In the UK, traffic is forecast to grow by between 17% and 51% over the period 2015 to 2050(1), driven by increased population and car ownership, declining fuel cost (due to increased fuel-efficiency) and resulting in an increased proportion of traffic forecast to be in congested conditions. The ‘predict and provide’ model for planning transport provision has been widely criticised and new concrete and asphalt come with their own carbon costs. In our view, as well as decarbonising fuel supply, we need to encourage people towards more energy-efficient modes of transport and those that occupy less roadspace.
(1) Road Traffic Forecasts 2018. Department for Transport, July 2018. (2) https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-la-worst-traffic-20180206-story.html (3) https://la.curbed.com/2019/4/24/18514407/los-angeles-smoggiest-city-america
Public transport should have a larger share of the transport mix. A typical passenger car carrying one person achieves around 10 km/l while a conventional bus at capacity achieves 6.5 times as much(4) : each bus has the potential to take as many as 55 cars off the road. A 2019 report by the International Energy Agency(5) reports that rail transport requires an average of 4.1 toe (Tonne of Oil Equivalent) per million passenger kilometres, compared to nearly 11 toe for 2 and 3 wheelers, 14 for buses and minibuses and around 55 for cars. The figure for light rail is not reported separately, but is likely to be lower than the average for rail due to the lower speeds and lighter weight of vehicles.
The debate on the efficiency achieved by buses continues. Significant progress has been made in improving fuel efficiency and reducing other harmful emissions: Transport for London planned that all double-decker buses would be hybrid by 2019 and all single-decker buses will emit zero exhaust emissions by 2020. However, the benefits of mass transit systems are dependent on achieving high occupancy and this has been a particular challenge for buses. A survey in four cities in Scotland showed that occupancy levels varied significantly, from ~80% in the morning peak to 40% in the later morning and reducing further at other times, resulting in an average occupancy of only 9 passengers. Light rail in cities has been demonstrated to be effective in encouraging people to switch from their cars in a way that buses may not: household interviews and user surveys suggested about 20% of peak time travellers to Manchester city centre by Metrolink (and up to 50% at weekends) were displaced from car travel(6) . There are a number of reasons for this, primarily the sense of a permanent piece of infrastructure giving confidence to people to live and work in particular areas, in contrast to bus routes and schedules which are subject to change. Other factors include ride quality, frequent services and easy-to-navigate routes.
(4) https://reason.org/commentary/does-bus-transit-reduce-greenhouse/ (5) The future of rail: Opportunities for energy and the environment. International Energy Agency, January 2019. (6) What light rail can do for cities: A review of the evidence. Passenger Transport Executive Group, 2005.
“Light rail in cities has been demonstrated to be effective in encouraging people to switch from their cars in a way that buses may not: household interviews and user surveys suggested about 20% of peak time travellers to Manchester city centre by Metrolink were displaced from car travel”
Electric bikes and electric scooters have been taken up enthusiastically in some parts of Europe, Asia and the USA; they are also beginning to become popular in the UK. Simplistically, e-Bikes and e-Scooters can be regarded as essentially zero-energy transport modes, so any substitution of other travel modes should be good for transport energy reduction. The “e” brings wider public appeal, enhancing the potential for these modes to progress from early adopters towards the large majority populations of travellers. Anecdotally, many of those trying these devices for the first time find the experience enjoyable. They can replace short individual car journeys or provide the first- and last-mile of journeys on public or shared transport that might otherwise only be convenient by individual vehicles. In a rural context, densities mean that individual vehicle ownership will likely dominate, whereas share schemes (docked or dock-less) can be more efficient in dense urban areas.
The barrier posed by poor and unpredictable weather can be offset to some degree with good clothing, and also the availability at destinations of lockers, showers and changing facilities. Cycle helmets need not be a barrier – they are not mandatory and their safety benefits may be overstated(7). Other challenges such as up-front investment and worries over security (and battery charging) when parking, can potentially be offset by the introduction of share schemes. Electrically assisted micro-mobility is relatively new and, as with all disruptive technology, raises new concerns and possibilities. e-Bikes and e-Scooters may be used for longer journeys than their manual counterparts and may encourage new ridership. However, their hybrid nature challenges conventional transport corridors that have reserved spaces for pedestrians and other spaces for motorised vehicles. The question of which mode is permitted to use which space is complex(8); in the UK, a web of legislation goes back to an 1835 Highways Act. Nevertheless, there are upcoming legislation reviews and micro-mobility trials which offer the prospect of increased future flexibility and hence uptake of these modes..
Considering the overall context, we can distinguish three distinct cases. Urban areas are characterised by a substantial, high-density population of travellers and freight deliveries; this engenders efficient use of public transport and shared use of micro-mobility modes. Targeted development such as light rail schemes can unlock areas for economic development and the availability of low-cost final-mile transport can increase the number of people that can benefit from it. Rural areas have a much lower population density and this represents a particular challenge for provision of accessible and affordable public transport. We are seeing a reduction in services and an increase in ticket prices for bus journeys, undermining the feasibility and attractiveness of buses as a mode of travel. The result is that passenger journeys in England outside London have declined since 2008/09 and were lower at the end of 2018 than in 2005; in London bus use rose by nearly a quarter in the same period(9). In rural settings, on-demand transport is likely to be more energy-efficient than fixed schedule transport and small-scale shared transport may be the key to making this affordable to more demographics of the population. Finally, the inter-urban context is characterised by relatively long distances between travel origins and destinations where fast motorised transport is appropriate. For this, rail and private vehicles are likely to be the main modes, and as reported earlier, the tonnes of oil equivalent per million passenger kilometres for rail is less than a tenth of that for cars. Whilst reducing travel, promoting more sustainable modes and electrifying the vehicle fleet will be highly beneficial in the context of climate change, true sustainability would include cutting the toll of death and serious injury from collisions as well. All the options discussed here would change the mix of vehicles in use, which could introduce new safety risks.
For example: • Occupants of lightweight vehicles are at increased risk when colliding with heavier vehicles; • Pedestrians, cyclists and scooter-users are among the least protected road users and the most vulnerable in the event of a collision; • New modes of micro mobility introduce new risks. Depending on implementation, these may mix with pedestrians in off-road environments or with traffic on roads although the speed and mass of these devices is not entirely compatible with either.
“Whilst reducing travel, promoting more sustainable modes and electrifying the vehicle fleet will be highly beneficial in the context of climate change, true sustainability would include cutting the toll of death and serious injury from collisions as well”
However, injuries from road traffic collisions are only the tip of the iceberg; a holistic measure would include the illness and early deaths resulting from poor air quality and physical inactivity. To meet aspirations such as the Healthy Streets for London initiative (aiming for 80% of all trips to be made by walking, cycling and public transport by 2041) and the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 (requiring local authorities to continuously improve facilities and routes for pedestrians and cyclists), both personal car disincentives and micro-mobility incentives may be necessary. Car disincentives include increasing the financial costs for driving and parking, zonal registration schemes and enforcement of lower urban speeds. Positive incentives which focus on active travel infrastructure are likely to be the most effective including pleasant segregated routes, clear signage and secure charging/parking facilities. As car speeds reduce and micro-mobility become more popular, a greater harmonisation between modes becomes a worthwhile and achievable goal.
(9) Annual bus statistics: England 2017/18. DfT January 2019 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/774565/annual-bus-statistics-year-ending-mar-2018.pdf
Helen Viner (Enodamus), Vijay Ramdas (Truvin Analytics), Prof. Alan Stevens (Independent ITEN Associate), Martin Lamb (Maple Consulting), Iain Knight (Apollo Vehicle Safety) are the founding members of The International Transport Experts Network (ITEN), a network of small, independent transport consultancies providing evidence-based research, consultancy and strategic advice to public and private clients. Working together we provide multi-disciplinary expertise, including: • Vehicle safety • Highway infrastructure and operations • Railway systems • Future transport systems and technology strategy • Reducing harmful impacts of transport For more information contact https://www.iten.global/