Green alternatives versus oil thirsty car use – aware_ delved into how sustainable mobility impacts people and the planet.
Reducing personal road traffic is a huge step towards easing our reliance on climate change inducing fossil fuels. This is because private car use accounts for a large part of the global transport carbon footprint (Science Direct). In the EU, approximately 30% of the oil budget is consumed by cars (Greenpeace). Transport sector emissions also heavily contribute to the deterioration of urban air quality and have consequent negative health impacts. It is clear that green alternatives to oil thirsty car use are a huge part of our sustainable future. After walking and cycling, public transport is the greenest way to get around.
As the European continent sees hikes in gas prices and living costs, several countries have implemented free or heavily subsidised public transport to ease the economic load on their citizens. Coinciding with increasing heat waves, forest fires and extreme weather variation this spring and summer, these policy shifts are also set to address the burgeoning impacts of climate change by encouraging more people to use public transport and thereby reducing the cars on the roads. aware_ delved into how these new sustainable transport experiments are impacting the people and the planet.
Starting from home territory, Germany introduced the so-called ‘9-euro ticket’ this summer that covered almost all public transport services across the country (apart from the fast trains). The ticket could be purchased for only 9 euros and each one was valid for one month available for the months of June, July and August. As the test period comes to a close, the results are becoming clear that the scheme drastically increased public transport usage, especially in rural areas popular with tourists.
According to Deutsche Welle, rural trips between 30 to 100 kilometres more than doubled to 104% in comparison to pre-pandemic 2019 figures (DW). Interestingly, the 9-euro ticket was a huge success in the Berlin and Brandenburg region where many people chose to ride publicly rather than drive to the lakes for day trips (DW). On the downside, aside from regional differences the national road traffic average remained unchanged for the period of June and July when compared with 2019 numbers. In addition, there was a lack of funding for more service staff to deal with the influx of passengers. Unfortunately, as things stand, it is unlikely that the scheme will continue but there are prospects for some ticket reductions in the future.
There are other European countries that have introduced or are planning to implement similar public transport subsidies such as Luxembourg, Malta, Estonia (Tallinn), France (Dunkirk), the Danish Islands and Spain (DW). The most notable out of them is Luxembourg, which became the first country in the world to offer its entire public transport system free of charge for locals and tourists in 2020. This move is part of the tiny country’s plan to ease its high car traffic congestion problem (Futurism). A more recent example is Spain, which has recently announced that it will make short and mid-distance trains free in Spain from the months of September to December 2022. According to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, the main motivation behind the decision is to help the working classes deal with rising inflation (Euro News).
From a higher policy level, creating a smart and sustainable mobility model across the EU is a central part of the European Green Deal objectives, which seeks to cut 90% of the union’s total transport emissions by 2050 (European Commission). The latest European Commission (EC) document released in December 2021 proposed the following broad strategy points to reach this goal:
- To create a smart and sustainable Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T). The TEN-T refers to a European network of roads, inland waterways, rail, and sea shipping routes. Among several strategies, the plan is to cut travel times between cities, improve public transport and infrastructure for walking and cycling and increase overall connectivity and travel efficiency in the network. To give an example, it will take 2.5 hours to travel between Copenhagen to Hamburg instead of the current 4.5 hours.
- To increase long-distance and cross-border rail traffic. Only 7% of passengers choose EU railways to travel abroad and so the EC has set out several strategies to remove barriers for cross-border rail travel in order to triple it by 2050.
- To enable intelligent transport services for drivers. The EC proposes to boost smart digital services for smarter mobility such as making traffic data available in digital form.
- Cleaner, greener, easier urban mobility. In order to address urban congestion, emissions and noise across cities, the EC is setting up ‘Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans’ that emphasises public transport, walking and cycling (European Commission).
From the city and country levels to the EU-wide level – enhancing sustainable and smart ways of getting around is a clear priority to improve the quality of our lives and reduce our impact on the planet.
– by Tina Ateljevic