Sustainable transport needs to help meet real human needs in effective ways.
Almost daily we hear about the launch of a new electric vehicle or advances in battery technology. Yet are all these innovations getting us closer to a truly sustainable transport system?
A new paper in the Journal for Cleaner Production addresses this question, looking at the progress in research made over the past 20 years. The study aimed to identify key achievements, as well as gaps that need to be addressed in the future.
By analyzing over 800 publications, the researchers suggest that a strategic perspective on transport sustainability is emerging, with a focus on indicators, policies, and supply chains. Factors like stakeholder involvement and traveler behaviors are also increasingly considered.
For example, we know that whether a person will choose a sustainable mode of transport depends on variables such as type of car, age, cultural preferences, weather conditions and more. Thus, besides promoting EVs, researchers are increasingly interested in measures that make sustainable options more appealing and convenient in fulfilling our mobility needs.
Despite current achievements, there is a need for a more holistic approach to sustainable transport, the researchers say. Transport policies often focus on everyday options while missing out on leisure travel, which can increase emissions. Likewise, not enough attention is usually given to social factors and transport resilience to climate change and cybersecurity.
Considering those risks, it is particularly important to address future risks in transport such as the vulnerabilities of AI-based systems and the large-scale accessibility of enabling infrastructure. New policies need to consider their distributional impacts while research is also needed on how transport contributes to human wellbeing.
Transport accounts for approximately 25% of emissions globally and social innovation is required to move away from unsustainable patterns. Crucially, we should not reduce transport only to matters of technology. Success will greatly depend on a proper mix of physical, social and knowledge policies integrating needs and preferences of various users.
The researchers emphasize that we should keep our eyes on the broader role of mobility in our society and make sure that transport helps to meet real human needs.