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UC Davis, ITDP study suggests global shift to public transport, NMT and away from cars could save $100T through 2050 and cut GHGs

One of the more affordable ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to design cities to give people clean options for using public transportation, walking and cycling and to move away from car-centric development, according to a new report released by the University of California, Davis, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

The study by Michael Replogle, ITDP, and Lewis M. Fulton, UC Davis, examines how major changes in urban transport investments worldwide would affect urban passenger transport emissions as well as mobility by different income groups.

The study considers two main future scenarios: a baseline urban scenario calibrated to the IEA 2012 Energy Technology Perspectives 4° Scenario and the authors’ “High Shift” (HS) scenario, which projects an aggressive shift in global transport investment to far greater urban passenger travel by clean public transport and non-motorized modes, along with a reduction in the rate of growth of private vehicles and the decrease in the rates of road construction, parking garages and other ways in which car ownership is encouraged.

The study found that the High Shift scenario could save more than $100 trillion in public and private capital and operating costs of urban transportation between now and 2050 compared to the baseline scenario.

Overall, the total costs of the baseline between 2010-2050 are roughly $500 trillion ($200T in OECD and $300T in non-OECD countries). The costs of the “High Shift” (HS) are about $400 trillion ($160T in OECD and $240T in non-OECD countries). The HS scenario would also eliminate about 1.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually—a 40% reduction of urban passenger transport emissions—by 2050.

Further, an estimated 1.4 million early deaths associated with exposure to vehicle tailpipe emissions could be avoided annually by 2050 if governments require the strongest vehicle pollution controls and ultralow-sulfur fuels, according to a related analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation included in the report.

Doubling motor vehicle fuel economy requirements could also reduce CO2 emissions by an additional 700 megatons in 2050.

The study shows that getting away from car-centric development, especially in rapidly developing economies, will cut urban CO2 dramatically and also reduce costs. It is also critical to reduce the energy use and carbon emissions of all vehicles.

—Lew Fulton, co-director of NextSTEPS Program at the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies

Transportation, driven by rapid growth in car use, has been the fastest growing source of CO2 in the world. An affordable but largely overlooked way to cut that pollution is to give people clean options to use public transportation, walking and cycling. This expands mobility options, especially for the poor, and curbs air pollution from traffic.

—Michael Replogle, managing director for policy at ITDP

Assumptions in the HS scenario include:

  • Total urban passenger mobility through 2050 (measured as passenger-kilometers, pkm) is roughly preserved from the baseline scenario in the same year and region. In some areas, such as the US and Canada, lower levels of travel reflect improved urban planning and urban re-agglomeration that lowers trip lengths. Africa experiences a large increase in total mobility in High Shift because a similar increase in transit and NMT (non-motorized transport) as occurs in other regions along with a 50% reduction in LDV travel results in much higher total travel levels than in the baseline.

  • HS assumes lower private ownership rates, along with lower travel per vehicle and somewhat higher occupancy rates. All of these would need to be achieved through policy and pricing initiatives, since autonomous changes in lifestyle that might affect car ownership are already included in the baseline.

  • For public transportation modes, the average number and length of systems, as well as the modal capacity, frequency, speeds and load factors are all increased to generate higher pkm estimates. These are all checked against data on existing high-performing systems, with the idea that the future aver- age system would perform closer to today’s best systems.

A key aspect of the projections in the High Shift scenario is growth in urban rapid transit systems—particularly rapid transit such as metro, tram/light-rail (LRT), commuter rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems.

Given the assumptions made and scenarios compared, the main finding is that a high- transit, high-non-motorized-vehicle scenario that (at least in the developing world) provides similar total mobility (in passenger kilometers) as a baseline, more car-dominated scenario, is likely to be more equitable, less expensive to construct and operate over the next 40 years, and to sharply reduce CO2 emissions. Unmanaged growth in motor vehicle use threatens to exacerbate growing income inequality and environmental ills, while more sustainable transport delivers access for all, reducing these ills.

—Replogle and Fulton

Cutting emissions across the world’s cities.

Transportation in urban areas accounted for about 2,300 megatons of co2 in 2010, almost one quarter of carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Rapid urbanization—especially in fast developing countries like China and India—will cause these emissions to double by 2050 in the business-as-usual scenario. Among the countries examined in the study, three stand out:

  • United States: Currently the world leader in urban passenger transportation CO2 emissions, the US is projected to lower these emissions from 670 megatons annually to 560 megatons by 2050 because of slowing travel growth combined with sharp improvements in fuel efficiencies. But a high shift to more sustainable transportation options, along with fewer and shorter car trips related to communication technologies substituting for transportation, could further drop those emissions to about 280 megatons.

  • China: CO2 emissions from transportation are expected to mushroom from 190 megatons annually to more than 1,100 megatons, due in large part to the explosive growth of China’s urban areas, the growing wealth of Chinese consumers, and their dependence on automobiles. But this increase can be slashed to 650 megatons under the High Shift scenario, in which cities develop extensive clean bus and metro systems. The latest data show China is already sharply increasing investments in public transport.

  • India: CO2 emissions are projected to leap from about 70 megatons today to 540 megatons by 2050, also because of growing wealth and urban populations. But this increase can be moderated to only 350 megatons under the High Shift scenario by addressing crucial deficiencies in India’s public transport.

Under the High Shift scenario, mass transit access worldwide is projected to more than triple for the lowest income groups and more than double for the second lowest groups. This would provide the poor with better access to employment and services that can improve their livelihoods.

The study was funded by the Ford Foundation, ClimateWorks Foundation and Hewlett Foundation.




Its interesting that this is funded by the Ford Foundation.

In my view the days of allowing cars, even electric ones, to run roughshod over the safety and convenience of our cities is drawing to a close.

Dinosaurs, even electrified ones, weighing 4000 lbs to usually carry one or two people and accelerating in less than 5 seconds to 0.60, when hitting a pedestrian at 30 mph will almost certainly kill them, is an absurdity.

Nick Lyons

One can hope, one can dream. Make it so, younger, wiser generations.

And Bri

Nope, im staying with my car and my motorcycle, both powered by gasoline regular grde and premium. Here it's cold 6 months in a year and i won't get cold waiting at a corner of street for 20 minutes, i won't transport groceries in a bus or metro and i won't stop doing joy rides in my sport touring motorcycles and there is no bus service between Halifax and montreal. This study is useless but i guess that stupid politicians and stat employees pay some peoples to study and writes something with the appearance of logic thinking, lol. i do it for free here everyday and they don't read it, lol.

I said many time to equip cars and truck with 2 tank and offer bi-fuelnat gas and gasoline option, do it and we will enjoy less pollution and lower fuel costs.


Davmart, I would like to speak to your comment as one who has relied on public transit until recently and is also a very minor stockholder in Tesla Motors, to which you just made an oblique reference.

But first, on public transport. When service frequency is sub ten minute, public transport is akin to being chaufeured around town by the government which is of course somewhat fiscally responsible, I suppose, in hi density areas. The problem is that when authorities are charged with providing a suburban route at a price that makes financial sense it ends up with you, the consumer, being constrained by a 30 minute service with the circle route that puts you on the twenty minute neighbourhood tour you would rather not make.

It's really hard to be anywhere near cost effective when the chauffeur has to be paid at a rate consistent with possessing an equivalent AZ license (about 3 times minimum wage against what most of the passengers are probably earning) while motoring around in an eight ton vehicle. Outside of North America some transit authorities are addressing the cost issue by adopting the use of microbuses, for their feeder routes I assume, similar to the airport shuttles with which most of us are familiar. In the mean time private companies here in NA are not eligible to bid on the established routes which are operated by members of a public service union. There is also the hidden cost, paid for though property taxes, of the significant damage these larger vehicles do to the roads they frequently travel.

Tesla will continue to make cars for the rich since this early stage company needs the high margin sales while in expansion mode so they can be ready to support the market when the demand escalates for the entry level luxury models at around $50K sometime in the next four years.
Despite the fact they sell product that meets current legal requirements, I too would like to see a world where 7sec cars and 100mph represent the upper limits on speed and acceleration.

I apologise if these comments seem facile to you. I have had to put up with comments on the Tesla website where there seems to be a breed of car enthusiasts out there who want every car Tesla puts out to be a track car. You can see the frustration when another poster responded "so if I have got this right you are wanting almost the same performance as a Model S has now but at $50K, in other words then what you're really asking for is for Tesla to knock $40k off their price for a Model S and you would be good to go !! LOL"


Peugeot, Renault and VW (and a few others) have demonstrated that much lighter, better design cars can go 220+ mpg instead of the current under 22 mpg (average) monsters we drive.

Hybrid lighter buses and re-designed hybrid large trucks could also use almost 10 times less fuel. Electric (higher speed) trains would use a lot less diesel fuel than current diesel-electric units.

By burning 10 times less liquid fuel, pollution and GHG would both go down and so would the price of liquid fuels. Oil reserves would last 200+ years instead of 50 to 100 years. Bio-fuels could fill a higher percentage of total requirements.

Of course, the final solution is with BEVs and FCEVs and low cost REs. In the near future, people will print their own low cost solar panels with small low cost 3D printers. A few years latter, the same will be done for low cost home storage units.


Thoughtful comments, T2.
I find my own position is evolving.

I had simply thought:
'Great! Powerful, long distance electric cars!'

But once they became possible, some of the consequences started to become clearer.

I am moving more towards PVEVs, as lightweight as possible.

Batteries below about $100kwh would appear to be years off, as that starts running into material price limits.

So for BEVs many people might be limited to perhaps 50kwh or so, which is fairly half way adequate for range.

The business model for away from home charging won't be easy either, once the early stage hype and subsidy is over.

Coming from the other side, recently here in the UK most city streets went to a 20mph speed limit, and things improved, just as they did many years ago when most shopping areas went pedestrian.

So I am leaning more and more towards as many electric bicycles as possible, rather than 85kwh cars.

I must be turning into an anti American socialist or something!


Over 4000 lbs, 15 mpg, monsters to move 1.3 people from A to B never made too much common sense.

The acquired conviction that bigger is better is very South of the Border. Almost 40% are fully convinced and they keep eating more and more until they reach 400+ lbs.

The technologies required to build much lighter, much cleaner, under 2000 lbs, 200+ mpg, large enough vehicles for 5 o 7 people, exist. VW, Peugeot, Renault and many others could do it by 2020 or so.

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