Transport and travel: the future
Transport currently accounts for a quarter of the total carbon emissions. Whilst there was a reduction in car travel between 2007 and 2014, the recession changed Government priorities from environmental issues to sustaining jobs, leading to reduced funding for non-car modes of travel, and the (relatively) reduced cost of driving means that travel by car is back on the rise. The latest National Road Traffic Forecast (NRTF) predicts up to 55 per cent traffic growth by 2040. As only one per cent of current vehicles on the road are not petrol or diesel, this means that the transition to low or zero carbon vehicles is a long way away and that perhaps carbon emissions from transport will also continue to rise.
However, with increasing house prices and a desire to make better use of time when travelling, car travel may not increase at the rates currently declared in the NRTF. With more people living in cities than ever before, combined with the Flexible Working Regulations (2014) and a marked reduction in the number of under 21s obtaining a driving licence, arguments to counter the NRTF’s can be supported. The Department for Transport’s Sustainable Travel Towns initiative led to a nine per cent reduction in car use, which demonstrates that with investment in infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport, substantial changes can be achieved. It also highlighted that providing accurate, up-to-date and easily accessible information is key to change travel behaviour.
The data to enable smart cities to become a reality is already being collected (or certainly the technology exists to enable it to happen), but it is not being utilised. Alot is already achievable today, from intelligent traffic signals to better manage the highway network, to self-compressing waste bins that advise when collection is required, and automated air quality monitoring to be collected and used. We need to be using this technology more effectively to maximise its value. We also need smart policies, to enable us to use this data and allow flexibility in rectifying existing issues or those that may arise.
To reiterate, technology is key. Besides autonomous vehicles, developments in mobile technology and changes in attitudes to sharing, particularly among younger generations, has the potential to substantially impact our reliance on the private car. A key concept which is being actively funded is Mobility as a Service (MaaS). The service removes the need for a personal car, and allows users to pay a monthly fee for their travel which will provide them with access to all modes from car hire and car share, to public transport and cycle hire.
Research shows that MaaS could reduce car dependence by 40% and, in a future combined with fully autonomous vehicles, we could see a substantial reduction in vehicle use and the reallocation of road and parking spaces to other uses.
There is undoubtedly still a habit of predict and provide, and until this is changed we potentially continue to increase car use and the associated carbon emissions. As with conversion theory (think carrier bags and car seat belts), the minority will have to have a disproportionate effect on the majority, progressing the state of transport, and thereby emissions, forever.