More efficient urban transportation could save $70 trillion by 2050

Policies that improve the energy efficiency of urban transport systems could help save as much as USD 70 trillion in spending on vehicles, fuel and transportation infrastructure between now and 2050, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.

Among the three broad categories of policies recommended in the report are those that allow travel to be avoided, those that shift travel to more efficient modes, and those that improve the efficiency of vehicle and fuel technologies. The report notes that if fully implemented across the transportation sector, this “avoid, shift and improve” approach could save up to USD 70 trillion in terms of lower spending on oil, roadway infrastructure and vehicles.

“Avoid” policies address transport energy use and emissions by slowing travel growth via city planning and travel demand management. “Avoid” policies also include initiatives such as virtual mobility programs (e.g. tele-working) and implementation of logistics technology.

“Shift” policies enable and encourage movements from motorized travel to more energy efficient modes, such as public transit, walking, cycling and freight rail. For example, increases in affordable, frequent and seamless public transport can alleviate local congestion while improving access and travel time to destinations and reducing household expenses on travel.

“Improve” policies can reduce energy consumption and emissions of all travel modes through the introduction of efficient fuels and vehicles. “Improve” policies include tightened fuel-economy standards and increased advanced-vehicle technology sales (e.g. clean diesel trucks and hybrid and plug-in electric cars).

The path for better city efficiency depends upon the type of city. They describe four categories of urban transport system contexts: developing, sprawling, congested and multi-modal cities.

Developing cities are experiencing increasing demand for transport services and rapid growth in private motorization. They frequently have relatively low densities, inadequate travel infrastructure and are often characterized by weak public transit services.

Target policies include regulations that discourage or penalize sprawling development (e.g. minimum density thresholds); land-use initiatives that prioritize dense urban cores (e.g. transit-oriented development); transport infrastructure development (e.g. dedicated spaces for pedestrians and public transit networks, increased service quality and frequency of public transport); and removal of fuel subsidies and implementation of vehicle registration fees.

Sprawling cities tend to have low densities and high urban and suburban sprawl. They often have weakly-defined urban cores with commercial and business hubs spread intermittently throughout the urban and metropolitan areas.

Increasing density is one approach to increasing efficiency. This generally requires years of planning and development, the report notes, with policies that discourage sprawl and encourage densification.

These policies can include travel demand management programs, such as parking reform and road pricing, as well as tools that focus on improving transport and travel flow (e.g. advanced traffic signal control and buyer incentives for alternative vehicle technologies).

Congested cities have medium to high densities and strong urban cores, although urban sprawl may exist in surrounding metropolitan areas. Policies that discourage vehicle ownership (e.g. vehicle quotas and vehicle registration taxes) and private motorized travel (e.g. road pricing and parking fees) can help to reduce or stabilise increasing traffic levels.

Improved travel management technologies, such as advance traffic signalisation and real-time travel information, can also help to improve mobility and system flow.

Medium- to long-term policies include transport system development and an improved land-use transport interface. In the shorter term, policies and programs that respond to existing gaps in travel networks can help to improve passenger travel and encourage shifts away from private motorized vehicles.

Multi-modal cities have high densities, strong urban cores, and high public transit and non-modal transport shares. Multi-modal cities generally have strongly interconnected, well-developed travel networks, which facilitate and encourage more efficient travel.

Travel demand management policies are particularly useful in multi-modal cities to maintain or improve travel shares by more efficient transport modes.

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