How can technology help reduce traffic

The megaproblem of traffic: How to solve it in the cities

By Susanne Böhler-Baedeker and Hanna Hüging. Böhler-Baedeker works as a traffic expert for the consulting firm Rupprecht Consult, Hüging for the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy.

Today, the transport sector is responsible for around a fifth of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - and the trend is rising. The reason for this is, in particular, the rapidly increasing traffic in the emerging countries. For China, for example, it was projected that CO2 emissions from cars, planes and ships will triple by 2030 compared to 2006 (here as PDF). The main reason for this is the strong economic growth.

The simple principle behind it: The change from a locally oriented, agricultural society to an industrial nation leads to growing traffic flows. In addition to increasing freight traffic, the traffic behavior of the population is also changing.

People are making more money and the car is becoming more attractive and affordable, while the importance of walking and cycling is decreasing. This trend is reinforced by the strong urbanization that leads to rapid urban growth.

In addition to its functional advantages, the car has also become a status symbol in many Asian societies. In China, for example, the market share of large and fast cars, so-called SUVs, has increased continuously since the turn of the millennium, and foreign car brands are preferred for reasons of prestige.

Top speed: ten kilometers per hour If these developments continue unchecked, the number of vehicles, from the current 800 million globally, will probably double in the next few decades.

The result: the road network of many cities in the emerging countries is overloaded, and the population suffers from traffic jams, poor air quality and noise. And since the road network in many Asian cities is not geared towards so much car traffic, the average speed in the inner cities of Bangkok, Manila or Shanghai is only around 10 km / h on weekdays. And that's expensive: Manila, for example, loses around 4 percent of its economic output due to traffic jams. The increasing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are effects that have supraregional consequences.

But how do you solve the problems for the climate and people? In principle, the concepts and measures for sustainable transport development are known.

1. The demand for transport can be reduced through urban planning measures. The city of Curitiba in Brazil began to coordinate urban planning and traffic as early as the 1960s. A dense settlement structure based on a fast bus system was followed. Today, Curitiba is considered to be the attractive eco-capital of Brazil with a significantly lower energy consumption per capita in traffic than in other Brazilian cities.

2. With the improvement of offers in public or non-motorized transport, routes can be shifted to these more efficient means of transport. On average, driving a car generates four times more CO2 emissions per person-kilometer than traveling by bus or train. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic are the most environmentally friendly alternative.

3. When vehicles are technically improved or more climate-friendly fuels are used, fewer pollutants are produced per kilometer. In Japan, with the help of strict efficiency standards, CO2 emissions per vehicle kilometer have been reduced by around 2 percent per year.

The actions of political actors, governments and administrations in the cities are of central importance. They have the important function of formulating goals for the future development of transport and supporting them with appropriate measures.

There are enough examples of what a successful and sustainable transport policy can look like:

Mexico City, a city that suffers from massive traffic jams and air pollution, has set itself the ambitious goal of fundamentally improving the transport system with the 'Plan Verde' (Green Plan). The plan includes, among other things, restrictions on car traffic, the expansion and improvement of public transport, and the promotion of cycling and walking.

Responsibility of national politics Taxes and subsidies are a central control instrument for transport policy, because they have a decisive influence on the costs that arise for consumers, especially in private motorized transport. In many emerging countries, fuels are still subsidized, which creates false incentives.

External costs such as air pollution, noise and greenhouse gas emissions should be reflected in the price of fuel through taxes. Only then will there be sufficient incentives to use more efficient vehicles, avoid unnecessary routes and switch to other modes of transport.

Important countries such as China have recognized the steering effect and are levying a tax on fuel, albeit a comparatively moderate one, while some other countries continue to subsidize this (e.g. Malaysia, Venezuela).

Financially disadvantaged groups of the population usually benefit from not subsidizing cars, as they often do not own a car themselves, but suffer from the negative consequences of heavy car traffic.

Urban planning has a decisive influence on traffic In the area of ​​responsibility of local decision-makers, especially in large cities, there is great potential for reducing the negative effects of the traffic system.

Providing an attractive, reliable and comfortable public transport system, for example, can not only reduce emissions from traffic but also ensure that financially weaker groups have sufficient access to mobility.

It is important that the public transport system is demand-oriented, reliable and comfortable and that it enables easy switching between different modes of transport. Other important areas of action at the local level are non-motorized traffic, sustainable and public transport-oriented urban development, as well as measures such as parking fees or city tolls.

The advantages of energy-efficient and climate-friendly transport are obvious:

1. The reduction of fuel consumption and the use of alternative fuels secure the energy supply against the background of sinking oil reserves and political unrest in important production regions.

2. A mix of different modes of transport makes the system overall more stable and cost-efficient. Expenses for fuel imports and car infrastructure as well as follow-up costs of motorized traffic can be reduced.

3. Access to mobility is secured for various population and income groups, which has a positive impact on societal life and strengthens the local economy.

The emerging countries still have the opportunity to abandon the path of rapidly growing motorized individual transport in order to avoid the already visible negative local and global consequences. Knowledge and technology transfer as well as conceptual help from the industrialized countries can support these countries in the difficult task, also by transferring proven measures and activities from the industrialized countries. But pioneers in other emerging countries can also serve as role models.

The solutions to the traffic problem are available - now they (only) have to be implemented.

This article is a summary of the findings from the book 'Low Carbon Land Transport', recently published by Routledge Verlag. As a guide for transport planners and political decision-makers, the book shows various ways of reducing CO2 emissions in the area of ​​land-based transport.

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