by Linnea Gregg / The Intelligent Optimist

Greener Transport: Rush hour isn’t fun for anyone, and it’s even worse for the environment. Cars back up the highway, people crowd the metro, and the entire time our machines pump gallons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Surely there must be a better way.

Fortunately for us, there is. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and researchers at UC Davis in Davis, California have released a report that addresses how to effectively change urban transport for the benefit of society as well as the environment. The study, A Global High Shift Scenario, is the first to investigate how major changes in urban transport systems worldwide would affect not just carbon emissions, but passenger mobility and economic growth.

The report examined two possible scenarios. The first is the “Baseline,” in which trends continue as they have been over the past years. Car ownership rises steadily, and alternative transportation methods see little to no increase. The second scenario is the “High Shift,” in which trends switch to more efficient and sustainable modes of transport.

The study found that the “High Shift” scenario could reduce urban carbon dioxide emissions 40 percent by the year 2050, which would eliminate 1.7 gigatons of carbon emission annually.

Cost estimate for both scenarios was determined by calculating the expenses for transit construction, operation, maintenance, and fuel consumption. The car-centric “Baseline” option was projected to cost $500 trillion as a result of the need for roads, parking spaces, and oil.

The “High Shift” option would save over $100 trillion by reducing the demand for roads and parking spaces, and saving on fuel costs. Expenses for constructing and maintaining clean transport options were also predicted to be minimal in the scope of the budget. These savings would mean public transit could be cheaper and more accessible, especially to those with lower incomes.

Due to increasing urban growth, especially in the US, China, and India, urbanites are projected to represent two-thirds of the world population by 2050. The “High Shift” scenario could have the greatest impact on reducing global carbon dioxide emissions in the coming years, while also maintaining a healthy global economy.

And it seems that shift may be already in motion. Volvo’s new hybrid electric bus, which will be officially introduced this week, reduces carbon dioxide emission by 75 percent and can achieve higher passenger miles per gallon than hybrid cars. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Energy has formed the SuperTruck initiative, which aims to develop larger automobiles that will halve the emissions of their predecessors. Finally, commuting by bicycle has more than doubled in the US since 2000. All of these programs are not only sustainable, but can greatly decrease both private and public spending.

Even though the shift is starting at the corporate level, support needs to come individually as well. Walk, bike, or take public transit as often as possible. The more people who make a change, the faster we will be able to move forward—literally.

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The Intelligent Optimist (formerly Ode) is an independent international media platform focused on solutions, possibility and inspiration. We present optimism as the most effective, efficient and by scientific research confirmed strategy to drive the innovation and creativity that are necessary to solve the problems and meet the challenges that people and society face.

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