Focussing narrowly on greenhouse gas reductions in urban transport is “missing the point”, and governments should really focus on solutions that shorten commutes, said Juan Carlos Muñoz, director of the Centre for Sustainable Urban Development in Chile.
“This is also a great opportunity to make cities that are more equitable, cohesive, and healthy, less congested, and with a better quality of life,” Muñoz told a panel session during the COP 26 climate summit last month.
“We don’t need infrastructure that makes the car a more convenient choice,” he said.
Instead of vehicle electrification, the primary goal should be shortening the average trip length, Muñoz urged. This reduces travel time, pollution, and congestion—including overtaxed public transit and roads.
Almost all of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals would benefit as a result.
But to make it happen, communities need to set targets for progressive trip-length reduction, Muñoz said, citing the vision of a 15-minute city embraced by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
“Let’s not try to fix the city we see,” he said. “Let’s make the sustainable city that needs to flourish.”
Muñoz said investment in rapid regional commuter rail systems actually promotes farther-flung settlements and longer trips. Instead, governments should set incentives to relocate daily destinations closer to where people live, thereby reducing trip length.
If mishandled, autonomous vehicles would lead to more cars on the road—the “perfect nightmare” for cities, he added.
“Don’t focus on transport,” he said. “Focus on how the city is organized.”
Geert Pauwels, representing the Rail Freight Forward Coalition, urged a reversal in the trend toward increased road freight transport and a shift to rail freight.
Pauwels, CEO of Lineas, said roads are increasingly jammed with trucks while rail infrastructure—in Europe at least—is underused.
The Rail Freight Forward Coalition wants to see an increase in market share for European rail freight from 18% at present to 30% by 2030. This modal shift would result in a “€100 billion economic gain due to less externalities, 290 million tonnes of CO2 saved, 40,000 fewer premature deaths due to avoided pollution, and 5,000 less fatalities due to saved truck accidents,” he said.
“One train replaces 50 trucks,” Pauwels added, in a presentation that called on governments to create “a level playing field between different transport modes which takes into account external costs.” The European Union’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) should be extended to freight transport, he said.
Pauwels acknowledged that the current rail freight system is dated. But he said work is under way, using digital technology, to bring the system into the 21st century, including capacity management, coupling, train operations, and rail traffic management.