Leave the car at home
Making transport 'greener' can play a big role in fighting climate change as well as reducing air pollution. A number of innovative schemes across Europe are leading the way.
Emissions of greenhouse gases from transport are an important contributor to climate change and are growing fast. Around a fifth of the European Union’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from transport and some 90% of these are from road transport. But car journeys can be replaced if suitable alternatives exist, particularly in towns and cities.
Nantes in western France has consistently been one of the most active cities in Europe in greening its transport system. Nantes has adopted a variety of measures that include riverboats for commuters, increased pedestrian areas, park-and-ride schemes, more bus lanes and incentives for businesses to subsidise public transport for their employees. It is one of over 1,200 towns and cities taking part in this year's European Mobility Week from 16 to 22 September.
So what are the best ways to encourage people to get out of their cars and onto cleaner forms of transport?
With their zero carbon emissions, bicycles are the ideal green vehicles. Many towns and cities have come to realise this and a number of them across Europe are making efforts to become more bike-friendly.
Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Ghent in Belgium are well known biking cities. But the town of Groningen in the Netherlands has even higher cycling rates, thanks to a specific policy to boost cycling since the 1980s.
The city has a network of bike paths and lanes that extends all the way to its suburbs and is complemented by parking and valet services and strong public transport measures. Bicycles and pedestrians now dominate the medieval city centre and over a third of commuting trips are made by bike.
The latest converts to this two-wheeled revolution are Paris and Brussels, which have recently introduced bike-sharing schemes. For a small fee, anyone can take a bike, ride around at leisure and then drop it off at any one of a number of bike racks dotted around the city.
Encouraging the use of public transport can make cities more sustainable. And even more so if the transport system used is at the cutting edge of clean technology. Many towns and cities in the European Union are switching the buses and other heavy vehicles they use to run on natural gas, which is less polluting than diesel. One of the most inventive schemes of this type can be found in the northern French city of Lille. The city is building a plant that will convert sewage and rubbish into biogas that will be used by the municipality’s buses.
Charging for road use
One way to encourage alternatives to cars is to make drivers pay for using roads. London is the largest city to introduce a “congestion” charge for cars driving into the centre. The result has been a decrease in the amount of traffic by up to a third and a cut in CO2 emissions of over 15% since it was introduced in 2002.
Though controversial at first, the scheme is now popular among many Londoners who see the benefits of less crowded roads and cleaner air. Several other big cities around the world have introduced, or are considering, similar schemes.
Or just cleaner cars
New technologies are making cars less environmentally harmful. Technologies such as flexi-fuel, hybrid, gas or electric-powered cars are already in use. But their wider use is being held back by a lack of infrastructure such as suitable filling stations.
A series of five projects in Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain aims to boost the use of such alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs). Some of the measures advanced by the projects include encouraging companies or local authorities that own car fleets to buy AFVs. This is done by providing financial incentives for the replacement of old cars with AFVs and promoting the development of markets for second-hand vehicles.
Another alternative is to promote car sharing, as Brussels and Bremen in Germany are doing. Individuals who sign up for the scheme have access to cars parked at a number of locations around the city. Customers pay a fee based on the time an distance travelled, which reduces unnecessary trips as well as the total number of cars on the road. In Bremen the scheme grew from 30 members in 1990 to over 3 000 in 2003 and reduced CO2 emissions by around 2 000 tonnes a year.
European Mobility Week is an annual international event that promotes sustainable modes of transport: walking, cycling, public transport, car-sharing and car-pooling. From 16 to 22 September local authorities all over Europe and beyond are organising awareness-raising activities and launching permanent measures such as new cycle routes, car-pooling or car-sharing systems. More information on can be found at: www.mobilityweek.eu/