Transport is key when it comes to creating sustainable, “smart” cities that can withstand the challenges of population growth and rapid urbanisation, while minimising environmental impact.
According to Arcadis Design & Consultancy’s 2017 Sustainable Cities Mobility Index, Hong Kong, Zurich and Paris are leading the way. From fast, reliable metro networks to car-sharing schemes like Zipcar, we look at what’s involved in creating a sustainable transport system—and how London stacks up.
Why is Sustainable Transport Important?
This latest Arcadis report was largely focused on transport, highlighting just how crucial urban mobility is—socially, environmentally and financially. Transport systems get goods and services moving; they help people to connect with each other, and they get people to their workplace or meetings.
“Those that choose to make bold moves in advancing and diversifying their urban transport systems will gain a competitive edge—we see that investing in improved and sustainable mobility will give cities enhanced productivity, attractiveness and overall quality of life,” he adds.
Many of the world’s biggest cities, he points out, are defined by their transport systems, from Amsterdam’s bicycles to the London Underground.
The Cities Leading the Charge
With a large proportion of trips made on public transport and an efficient, well-connected metro train network, Hong Kong takes top spot in the index. The popularity and reliability of its public transport is seen as crucial. Put simply, people are more likely to opt for journeys by bus, train or metro if those systems are affordable, reliable, and pleasant to use.
Hong Kong’s modern metro system is a step ahead when it comes to conducting business on the move, too—its passengers can access 3G Internet, even when zooming through tunnels. Being able to answer emails and communicate with clients while travelling is one way public transport can be made more appealing than driving. You can’t type out a memo while driving, or even sitting in traffic lights (apart from being pretty tricky, it’s also illegal). But on a comfortable, modern train, you could prepare for that last-minute meeting.
Zurich, Paris and Prague—the next three highest-ranking cities after Hong Kong—also have popular, efficient and profitable transport networks.
Cities with developed cycling infrastructures also rank highly when it comes to environmental factors, helping to put Frankfurt top of the list’s Planet sub-index, which also takes into account incentives for electric vehicles.
Moving Towards Change in the Capital
London ranks seventh in the index, with 43 per cent of journeys in the capital made via public transport. The city also incentivises lower-emission and electric vehicles, with lower or free tax and waived congestion charges—part of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s broader ambition for London to become a zero-carbon city by 2050.
One of the challenges in the capital is its past innovation. It was the first city to develop an underground train network, for example. The heritage of London’s transport system could put it at a disadvantage compared to newer cities. But it needn’t mean tearing everything up and starting from scratch. The city’s bike-sharing scheme is an example of how the capital promotes alternative modes of transport. And Khan has also committed to 1,500 new electric vehicle charging points across the city, helping to make the switch from petrol cars more appealing.
The Arcadis report points to developments already underway, including the HS2 high-speed railway, providing super-fast connections between London and Birmingham, the West Midlands, Leeds and Manchester. It’s hoped the new trains will encourage growth in other parts of the country and ease congestion in the capital by encouraging people to live elsewhere and commute.
HS2 also announced plans to develop a “green corridor” along the length of the railway, providing habitat and safe passage for wildlife. The ambitious project will stretch along 216km of the railway’s Phase One route, and involves planting 7 million trees and shrubs as well as creating bat houses and ponds.
Strategies That Drive Change
The experts and analysts who put together the index are under no illusions that cars are set to disappear from our roads. In fact, annual global car sales are forecast to reach 125 million by 2025. By 2030, the global vehicle fleet is on track to rise to a staggering 2 billion (currently, there are 1.2 billion cars), according to the Arcadis report.
New technologies and a steer towards electric vehicles—Goldman Sachs says that, by 2025, a quarter of cars sold will have electric engines, a five-fold increase from today—means this increase needn’t hinder sustainability.
Connected cars that adapt and respond to their environment, communicating with a city’s infrastructure and other vehicles via the Internet of Things (IoT), could also help reduce congestion and make for smoother, faster, and less stressful journeys.
Discouraging use of private vehicles remains an important strategy, however, and one that London has particularly focused on. Take Westminster’s partnership with Zipcar, for example. Having worked together to encourage car-sharing since 2009, they recently announced that Westminster will be the tenth London borough to sign up to Zipcar Flex, where users can take one of the new Volkswagen e-Golfs on a one-way journey.The cars are being rolled out across the capital, with 325 available in London by the end of 2018—another move away from vehicle ownership, and towards a sustainable future.