EEA: Walking, cycling and public transport in cities remain greener mobility options than electric scooters or car ride-hailing
A new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) finds that, taken together with public transport, walking and cycling for short city journeys provide the greatest benefits for both human health and the environment in urban areas.
The introduction and rapid uptake of app-based vehicle sharing schemes can also have benefits. However, the report points to studies which show that their impact on the environment is not always positive. E-scooter sharing schemes especially appear to attract users that would have otherwise walked or used public transport.
While the use of shared e-scooters generates few direct environmental impacts, their green credentials can be questioned by the substantial negative impacts associated to their materials, their manufacturing and their frequent collection for recharging purposes.
Similarly, studies show that ride-hailing apps such as Uber or Lyft do little to reduce emissions or congestion and actually draw people away from public transport.
The transport and environment report ‘The first and last mile — the key to sustainable urban transport’ assesses how green and sustainable ‘first and last mile’ transport options such as bicycles, scooters or other means of short-distance travel can transform mobility systems in cities.
The report also assesses how innovative urban freight and inner city delivery services, including the use of delivery drones, can make urban freight transport more sustainable.
Shifting to walking, cycling and public transport will be crucial if Europe is to meet its long-term sustainability goals and policy objectives under the European Green Deal proposed by the European Commission in December 2019. Digitalisation and mobility apps can make a good urban mobility system even better, but they cannot compensate for underdeveloped public transport, the report cautions. For green options to have a fair chance to compete with cars, prices also need to reflect the harm done to health and environment.
The report finds that better F/L/O [first/last/one] mile connectivity in cities can significantly improve environment and health outcomes. However, realising this potential requires an in-depth understanding of the different options, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they affect the mobility system as a whole.
This is hardly ever simple because the environment and health effects of F/L/O mile options are determined by how they are used and what they replace. A simple example would be a short trip by electric kick scooter. If it replaces a motorcycle or a car trip, the environment and health effects are positive. If it replaces a trip by foot or by bike, the situation gets worse. More transport options can also lead to people making additional or longer trips, which again could make the situation worse.
The above example shows that new and innovative products or services do not make things better or worse by themselves. It is their real-life use within a dynamically changing context that determines the outcome. Technology needs to be aligned with sustainable mobility goals to make a positive contribution. Framework conditions, incentives and disincentives, and user attitudes also play a decisive role.
The report, therefore, takes a cautious view of the contribution that innovations such as delivery drones or autonomous vehicles will make to sustainable urban mobility. The report is equally cautious about our current ability to fully understand and predict their impacts. Therefore, public authorities should give some room to experimentation and focus on building a reliable evidence base before introducing regulation.—“The first and last mile”
Increasing transport emissions. The transport sector continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels and is responsible for one quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. The sector is also a significant source of air pollution, especially of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as well as the main source of environmental noise in Europe.
A separate EEA briefing tracks the short- and long-term environmental performance of the transport sector in the EU. Transport emissions were 29% above 1990 levels in 2018. According to the European Green Deal proposal, transport emissions need to be cut by 90 % by 2050 to achieve climate neutrality in the EU.
Other key findings:
In 2018, average CO2 emissions of new passenger cars increased for the second consecutive year, reaching 120.4 g CO2 per kilometer.
Gasoline cars are overtaking diesel-fueled cars in sales of new passenger cars, but the total consumption of diesel fuel keeps increasing. Average CO2 emissions of new vans started to follow a similar upward trend in 2018.
Greenhouse gas emissions from aviation increased the most rapidly of the transport modes—by an average of over 3% each year since 2013. Greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping increased by 5% in 2 years (2015-2017).
The share of renewable energy used for transport in the EU rose from 7.4% in 2017 to 8.1% in 2018. This is well below the EU target of 10% set for 2020.
More than 27% of European citizens are exposed to transport noise levels of 55 decibels (dB) or higher, including 15-20 % for road traffic noise alone.