Walking, Cycling and Public Transport – Greener Mobility Options Than Electric Scooters or Ride-Hailing

The growing use of electric scooters and ride-hailing services is transforming how we move in urban centres — but walking, cycling and public transport remain the best way to improve sustainable mobility in cities, according to a European Environment Agency (EEA) report. A separate EEA briefing on the environmental and climate impacts of transport finds that emissions of greenhouse gases from transport continue to increase, as demand for mobility across Europe keeps growing.

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

This year’s 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 like 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.

Short start or end journeys are an essential part of the daily commute. Bus, rail and metro services often cover the main part of trips to and from work, but people still need to first walk, drive or use another way to get to and from the nearest station or stop. Better first-mile, last-mile or only-mile journeys have the potential to bring down car use — reducing traffic congestion, emissions and improving air quality. Cities can do a lot to facilitate access to public transport systems by creating attractive urban spaces that are well connected to public transport infrastructure and by making walking and cycling to and from hubs and stops easier and more pleasant.

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.

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

Not all mobility options are equally green

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. Especially e-scooter sharing schemes 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 like Uber or Lyft do little to reduce emissions or congestion and actually draw people away from public transport.

Increasing transport emissions hamper EU progress towards environment and climate objectives

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. The 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 carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of new passenger cars increased for the second consecutive year, reaching 120.4 g CO2 per kilometre. Petrol cars are overtaking diesel-fuelled 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.

Source: EEA