Better public transport is crucial to reduce the carbon footprint of mobility

Miguel Simão, lead data scientist at Stratio explains why public mobility must be at the forefront of COP 27’s approach to bringing down GHG emissions

The transportation sector is the largest contributor to GHG emissions. So, while transitioning towards a future where all private vehicles are electric and zero emission is important, we must also reduce the number of cars on the road by making public transport a more reliable, viable alternative. With more than 70 per cent of drivers put off electric car ownership by soaring energy bills according to a recent AA poll, we clearly cannot rely on individual carbon footprint reduction in the short term. 

What costs less than renewable energy is not having to power so many vehicles, which makes a push towards shared mobility so important. Public transport must be an essential piece of the arsenal in the fight against climate change, and we hope to see more resolutions involving the use of public transport to move people at COP27.

Indeed, relying on individual cars—electric or not—will not resolve the huge congestion and air pollution problems in rapidly growing cities. The solution to decarbonised mobility goes beyond mere passenger vehicle electrification and requires better urban planning, city reorganisation and transit-oriented development. Technology will have a significant part to play, along with simultaneous structural reforms of the transport system to achieve lower emissions and inclusive access. But it is reliability that represents the key to public acceptance of shared mobility. Unfortunately, that was overlooked in the pledge made during the COP26 Transport Day. While EV and zero transmission vehicle transition is certainly key, it’s an effort that needs to be made concurrently with a push towards reliable shared mobility. 

The year since COP26 has also highlighted how volatile the cost of energy can be. Any recommendations that COP27 makes to reduce the environmental impact of the transport sector will need to take this into account. Although an all-electric future based on batteries or green hydrogen is needed, what costs even less than renewable energy is not having to power so many vehicles. We must encourage EV transition, but without a concerted effort to get private cars off the road in favour of reliable electric buses and shared mobility solutions, the impact of any policy will be slower and less effective. 

Indeed, zero emission vehicles aren’t really zero emission until we manage to make the grid cleaner, so a big push needs to be made in that direction. Adopting electric vehicles and facilitating the transition should be one of the items on the agenda, but should appear alongside a serious commitment towards making public transport more ubiquitous, reliable, and accessible.

To leverage the socio-environmental benefits of public transport networks, we need to first increase passengers’ trust with the promise of getting them where they need to be, when they need to be there. Because of the mentality of “if the bus doesn’t take me there, next time I’ll use the car”, we now have more private vehicles than ever on our roads. This further slows down the speed at which buses can move through cities, creating a catch 22 that impacts the environment and the air quality in cities. 

With technologies like predictive maintenance, it is now possible to make public transport reliable by anticipating breakdowns and eliminating the downtime that causes disruptions for passengers. Vehicle technical data can be turned into actionable intelligence that allows us to reduce the carbon footprint of ICE fleets through eco-driving strategies, while also maximising the reliability of both ICE and EV fleets. The integration of this predictive maintenance approach to the roll out of electric-powered public transport fleets will also ensure decent ROI for operators, thus expediting the transition. By creating reliability for the consumer and profitability for the public transport provider, shared mobility can become a truly appealing and more environmentally friendly alternative to private cars.

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