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Transformative Change in Transport Systems

On Thursday, 3 December 2015 at the Cities & Regions Pavilion, the City of Oslo and KS, the Association of Norwegian Local and Regional Authorities, hosted a session entitled “Transformative Change in Transport Systems” that explored the transition to zero-emissions communities through transformations of transport systems and smart urban planning.

Nick Godfrey, Head of Policy and Urban Development at the New Climate Economy, opened the session with a strong case for the economic benefits of sustainable urban transportation options, citing that a shift toward public transportation and non-motorized transit could unlock USD 11 trillion in economic opportunities by 2050 on energy savings alone. The bottom line is that the business as usual case of urbanization is not working and there is a strong business case for change.

There are a number of barriers along the path toward more sustainable transport systems, including high upfront investment costs, consumer preference toward cars, vested interest groups and fossil fuel subsidies. Despite these barriers, cities across the world are taking steps to reinvent transport systems, improving air quality and many other dimensions of urban life.

The City of Oslo, Norway is one of the fastest growing regions in Europe and recognizes there is a direct link between lowering emissions and making the city a better place to live for its growing number of residents. The new city government aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2020 based on 1990 levels and 95 percent within the next 15 years.

The Vice Mayor for Environment and Transport in Oslo, Lan Marie Nguyen Berg outlined the city’s vision to cut the number of cars, switch to electric vehicles and encourage cycling, walking and use of public transit. The city has established strong incentives to spur this shift, by establishing free parking for electric vehicles and offering more than 1,000 charging stations. Oslo also makes it more difficult to drive fossil-fuel powered cars by increasing parking prices and reducing parking spots. As a result, a high proportion of the 60,000 electric cars in Norway are in the Oslo area.

Bernt Reitan Jenssen, CEO of Ruter AS, the transport authority of Oslo, noted that the city is well on track to meet its target of 100 percent fossil-free public transit in 2020. While traditional transport planning starts with infrastructure, Jenssen stated it is important to start with targets, establish a plan and timetable and then see what infrastructure is needed and how to finance it.

The City of Johannesburg, South Africa has also taken bold steps in the realm of urban transportation, particularly to educate its citizens on sustainable modes of transit. Johannesburg hosted the second EcoMobility World Festival in 2015, in which Sandton, an affluent area of the city, was transformed into a pedestrian haven. Throughout the month-long festival, the city successfully began a conversation with citizens about sustainability and green technology. The event allowed people to take back the streets and say no to a car-dominated environment.

Pierfrancesco Maraner, Deputy Mayor of Mobility and Environment in Milan, Italy explained the transformations happening in a city with 51 cars per 100 inhabitants, a figure that is high but declining. Four years ago, the city held a referendum in which 78 percent of voters said yes to a congestion charge. The rule is that cars pay five euros, with exceptions for mopeds, motorcycles, electric cars, among other low-impact transport options. Certain high-emitting vehicles are banned completely in the area. Milan is also creating new pedestrian areas, reducing private parking and has established sharing systems for cars, electric vehicles and bikes.

The City of San Francisco, USA aims to embolden people to make a difference in urban transport emissions. They use the campaign slogan “0-50-100-roots,” which signifies zero waste, 50 percent of trips in sustainable modes and 100 percent sustainable energy as the root of how we will heal the planet. Debbie Raphael, Director of SF Department of Environment focused her presentation on the 50, explaining their efforts to get people out of single occupancy vehicles and into electric cars. The city is focusing on low-cost solutions to transform the city, painting streets red to bar cars from certain areas and green to encourage cycling along paths that circumvent the hilly terrain.

Local governments have a strong role to play in reducing emission through smart urban planning and innovations in transport, and can work with national governments to share responsibility to this end. Gunn Marit Helgesen, President of KS, the Association of Norwegian Local and Regional Authorities explained the importance of close cooperation between the state and local and regional governments – moving beyond support mechanisms and really striving for joint action where parties pool their resources as equal partners.

The use of transport modeling tools is also important for making smart choices in urban transport planning, facilitating a shift toward sustainability. Rune Ophein, Senior Advisor at Civitas Consultants represented the science community in describing  how traditional transport models could be improved to calculate emission reductions related to measures for walking, cycling, better land use and public transit  in cities and test combinations of future land use and transport systems.

This blog post was developed by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, the City of Oslo and KS, the Association of Norwegian Local and Regional Authorities.