The movers & shakers of sustainable transport in Europe

Our climate is changing – there’s no doubt about that. The solution? Building a low carbon, net zero future. But like all global issues, getting there isn’t going to be easy. It requires action and buy in from many sectors… one of which is transport.

Transport makes up around 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions(1)

 

Over the past decade, huge innovations have been developed across the world to tackle emissions relating to transport. From the technological advancements of electric cars (yippee!) and pedestrian only zones, to the increased popularity of car-pooling, electric bikes and scooters. We’ve even seen early prototypes of electric planes, if you can believe it.

All to get from A-B without emitting harmful pollution and gases into our atmosphere.

With over 50% of people currently living in urban areas (2) (& expected to rise) plus, making for popular tourist attractions, our cities need contemporary transport systems to take society sustainably into the future. Sadly, there are no utopian cities (just yet!), but there are some that do standout and are making real effort to curb emissions for people and the planet.

Here, in this blog, we highlight some of our favourite cities in Europe at the forefront of tackling this global issue. The movers and shakers of sustainable transport in their city.

 

1. Amsterdam, Netherlands – a city for cyclists

 

First up, Amsterdam – very well known for its sustainable transport. The city is made for cyclists! Across the city there is an extensive network of cycle lanes and parking bays for bikes. In fact, recent statistics suggest that over 60% of the population use bicycles as their primary mode of transport (3). Amsterdam have done a brilliant job at making it inconvenient to drive – cycling is by far the easiest and quickest way to get around. 

Key facts:

  • 40% of all travel in the city is done by bike
  • 30% of all travel is on foot
  • Since 2019, all trams, subway trains and buses have been powered from renewable electricity

But Amsterdam isn’t stopping there. They have ambitious plans to have 95% emission free public travel by 2025, and be a completely emissions free city by 2030 (4). And we all hope they get there! 

Bikes in Amsterdam by the canal

2. Oslo, Norway – pedestrian priority

 

Up next, another popular European city, well known for its green credentials and they have BIG plans. By the end of 2023, the city aims to be the first fully electric public transit system. 

This forward thinking city has become close to achieving this through a series of radical changes over the years. 

In 2015 for example, they made the headlines by announcing their Vision Zero program – its main objective, to give the streets back to the people. Not only to help save lives (through reducing traffic incidents), but to reduce pollution in the capital.

To achieve this, they replaced nearly 800 parking spaces with new bike lanes and ‘pocket parks’. Redeveloped several areas of the city, transforming them into pedestrian only zones. Plus, they invested in car sharing, replacing traditional car ownership models in favour of sharing models (a bit like elmo really!) to help reduce the number of cars on their roads. (5)

Electric cars also deserve a mention. The EV capital of the world, apparently. Norway will be one of the first nations to ban sales of new petrol/diesel cars in 2025 and they are nearly already there! In April 2022, they had more than 470,000 EVs registered accounting for 10% of the total number of private cars (6). Part of the success of electric cars in the city (and wider nation) is due to some great government incentives. For example: cheap or free charging, freedom to drive in bus lanes and a reduced tax. However, like most other countries, these benefits are gradually being revoked as driving an EV becomes the ‘norm’ (5).

Ultimately, Oslo aims to be virtually emissions-free by 2030 – and based on what they’ve already achieved, it’s certainly not out of reach! 

    Busy Oslo street

    3. London, UK – public transport at it’s best

     

    We couldn’t write about sustainable transport in Europe without giving London a mention. London has one of the most advanced public transport systems in Europe, perhaps even the world.

    The UK Government has invested heavily in upgrading the public transport network for residents and the huge tourist industry in London, plus linking the capital with other major cities like Manchester and Birmingham through networks like the Cross Rail.

    London’s famous red buses are one of the largest system in Europe – operating 24 hours a day, serving over 6 million passengers (8). Investments of over £300m have been made to retrofit London’s bus fleet, with an ambitious goal for all 9,200 buses in the capital to be zero emission by 2037 at the latest (7).

    Plus, in order to reduce air pollution and congestion in the city centre, the council has introduced a series of taxes for entering certain parts of the city – known as the London Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zones. These have helped to encourage less people to drive, and more people to use public transport. (8)

    Ultimately though, the future of the city’s sustainable transport will rely on it becoming a safe and easy place to walk and cycle. In 2022, London invested £2.1 billion to create what they named ‘Healthy Streets’ – to help improve the experiences for cyclists and pedestrians.

    The Mayor of London has ambitious plans for the capital:

    • By 2024 – 80% of Londoner’s trips to be by foot, cycle or public transport
    • By 2041 – 70% of Londoners to live within 400 metres of a high-quality, safe cycle route
    • By 2050, the entire public transport system to be emissions free
    Taxi and bus on busy London streets

    4. Bremen, Germany – sharing (cars) is caring 

     

    Perhaps a little less well known, but one that deserves a mention is car sharing in Bremen. Car sharing began in Bremen in the 90’s – starting out as a grassroots initiative. As the population and the size of cars grew, the city council knew something drastic needed to be done to reduce pollution and congestion. Eventually in 2003 the first on-street car sharing stations were launched – named mobil.punkt. 

    Upon launch, it was estimated that each mobil.punkt station made available for public sharing could take up to five private cars out of use. They were wrong. After one year, they found each had actually replaced up to 9.5 cars! 

    But they still faced a big issue. Car ownership was still the norm. So, Bremen launched a serious of hard-hitting campaigns across the city to change this perception and encourage less people to drive a private car. 

    The most poignant of all, asking residents to rethink the logic of ‘buying a cow for a glass of milk’. Does it really make sense to undertake the cost and maintenance of owning a car? Similarly, should you buy a cow, just so you can have a glass of milk? (9)

    In 2023, car sharing is now the norm in Bremen and the scheme has been a great success. In 2020, they achieved their goal of 20,000 users of the car sharing scheme, and replacing over 6,000 private cars from their streets (10)

    car sharing station in Bremen

    So, what have we learnt?

    Well, from all of the examples above it’s fair to say that central Government plays a key role in achieving sustainable transport in cities. Investment is needed to make significant changes and replace outdated methods of transport to build cities for the needs of future generations. Changing public perception is also important because without it, investment alone will not help to achieve emissions goals. 

    In the next decade we’re likely to see even more investment and changes in major cities across Europe and the rest of the world as emissions targets become ever closer.  

     

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