Report Outlines Best Urban Mobility Solutions Worldwide

Europe Still Leads, While U.S. Cities Improve

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Jack Coy is an economist with the Centre for Economics and Business Research based in London, England.

Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2017 3:56 pm

According to a recent report on urban mobility trends, San Francisco is the North American city that has made the most progress toward operating a zero emissions transportation system.

The report, published by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), also shows that Oslo, London and Amsterdam are the cities worldwide that offer the most advanced, sustainable city transport solutions.

Jack Coy is one of the research economists at CEBR who created the study, which was co-sponsored by the U.S. technology firm Qualcomm. He said the purpose of the report was to examine and assess how cities across the globe are approaching the goal of sustainable urban mobility and achieving zero emissions transportation solutions.

“We’re trying to capture how people navigate the city, now and in the future. We looked at 35 cities around the world and examined three separate indicators.”

  • The status quo considers current performance in transportation and emissions, this includes measures of outdoor air pollution, congestion, the share of journeys made in a personal vehicle and CO2 emissions.
  • Conditions for change examines how a city is encouraging its residents to adopt low emission or electric vehicles (EV), or how it offers sustainable travel alternatives. Indicators include financial and non-financial incentives for buying and operating EVs, low emission zones, and the relative price of fuel to electricity.
  • Preparedness for the future looks at what visionary measures cities are implementing to ensure they minimize or eliminate emissions from transportation in the coming years.

Coy said the CEBR research team wanted to identify leading cities in the movement to sustainability, while examining larger cities from each continent.

So what have the top cities done to earn laurels on the road to building a better urban mobility future?

“They have created a set of incentives and regulations to support their commitments including offering easy access to EV charging points, operating low emission zones, and providing citizens with a reliable transportation infrastructure,” Coy said.

For example, Oslo plans to ban all cars from the city center by 2019 and cut emissions from taxis entirely by 2023. Coy said, “Oslo has invested heavily in low emissions as an ethos for the city. Starting in the 1990s city leaders began examining ways to foster low emissions. They massively subsidized the construction of an electric charging infrastructure and the purchase of electric vehicles, which are exempt from Purchase Tax and VAT. EVs can also use bus lanes and are exempt from charges on toll roads.”

As a result of all these changes to infrastructure, supported by policy and regulations, new trends are forming in the Norwegian capital. “When we began writing the report almost a quarter of new cars sold (in Oslo) were electric vehicles. Now it’s almost 40 percent of cars sold are hybrids or plug ins. It’s amazing how fast things can change,” Coy said.

In London, Coy and his fellow researchers were a bit skeptical when their data showed the British capital ranking very high.

“From a personal point-of-view as a Londoner I was quite surprised that the city came in second. That shocked all of us a bit because when you live here you don't think of London as a green commute, but when you dig deeper you see how many positive changes the city has made,” Coy said.

For example, London residents generally rely on public transport by bus, train and the famous London Underground, rather than private vehicles. In addition, London is accelerating plans for an ultra-low emissions zone where polluting vehicles will be restricted and the city plans on purchasing only hybrid or zero emission buses after 2018.

So, what about closer to home? The top U.S. city ranked in CEBR’s report is San Francisco, which is the recognized center of an area known for innovation in a state that has long been on the cutting edge of energy and transportation advances. The "City by the Bay" is doing many things right, such as, San Francisco residents have a wealth of green space in the city, second only to New York in the U.S. The city also has some of the lowest outdoor pollution levels of any urban area examined in the report – this is due in large measure to its green policies fostering public transport with a higher number of EVs and hybrids on the road than any U.S. urban area.

San Francisco also has a large and growing public transportation infrastructure, including rail, light rail and subway, but it has not ignored smaller efforts as well. In 2009 the city council passed an ordinance requiring all businesses with more than 20 employees to incentivize public transport or carpooling to staff. Other policies, such as a city law requiring all new construction projects to install one EV charging station per four parking spaces, will likely pay off in years to come. In addition, the city has purchased EVs not just for its transport fleet, but also for fire trucks, maintenance vehicles and ambulances, among others.

Other North American cities ranked in the top 20 by the CEBR report include Toronto, New York, Los Angeles and Boston. Each has robust public transport systems, but according to Coy, one of the main reasons the U.S. cities did not rank higher is the continued reliance on private, gasoline-fueled vehicles. Unlike many European cities, which made up the top five, no U.S. cities have adopted any penalties-based incentives, such as low emissions zones, to encourage the adoption of more efficient vehicles. Working to boost the popularity of EVs through not just “carrots,” but also “sticks,” is an approach that U.S. lawmakers have shied away from.

But policy and regulation are not the only tools cities can use to implement a more sustainable transportation system. Commerce is driving innovation as well, through car sharing services like Zipcar. Late last year Zipcar released its first ever Urbanite Study, which polled more than 1,200 city dwellers about their attitudes toward transportation and other relevant topics.

The study found that “the majority of urbanite car owners plan to drive less or give up their cars altogether. And urbanites are open to future transportation innovations – the vast majority consider automated vehicles to be futuristic, but expect to see them within their lifetime and plan to experience them first-hand.”

Beyond ride-sharing apps and public transport, one of the other key ways urban dwellers are building a more sustainable commute is on bikes. Through bike sharing services like Divvy in Chicago and Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., more and more people are getting on a bike that they don't own. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, more than 88 million trips have been made on a bike share bicycle in the U.S. since 2010. In 2016 alone, American riders took over 28 million trips using bike sharing. As of the beginning of 2017, 55 U.S. cities had a bike sharing program with at least 100 bicycles.

So whether looking at zero emission vehicles, better public transportation infrastructure, commercial ride sharing, or bike sharing systems, there are numerous ways that cities can encourage greener, more sustainable futures while improving mobility for all residents.

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