Encouraging consumers to make more efficient transport choices

11 May 2016

From left, IEA Energy Markets and Security Director Sadamori, Senior Energy Efficiency Analyst Samuel Thomas, Energy Efficiency Division Head Brian Motherway and Energy Analyst Sara Pasquier

We know what it takes to save energy, especially in transportation, yet we don’t ease up on the accelerator. What exactly prompts us to buy a bigger vehicle instead of taking mass transit? Which policies can steer us towards more sustainable behaviour? And how can we make sure that more energy efficient transport systems and vehicles are not only technologically achievable, but also the most convenient, comfortable and viable options?

To find out, the IEA gathered more than 30 experts from government, industry and research bodies in a dozen nations to brainstorm.

The IEA Transport, Energy Efficiency and Behaviour workshop on 10-11 May 2016 in Paris compared different countries’, cities’ and companies’ experiences with technologies, policies and other carrots and sticks to encourage more efficient transportation, from purchasing less thirsty cars to vehicle-sharing and even walking and cycling more.

“Energy efficiency is the best and easiest way to reduce the transport sector’s energy demand,” IEA Director of Energy Markets and Security Keisuke Sadamori said as he opened the workshop. “The research and experiences shared over the next two days will help the IEA identify the most effective policies to improve efficiency. Then we can share those insights with governments around the world, saving energy, increasing global security and limiting carbon emissions.”

While critical to modern life, transport accounted for 30% of energy consumption worldwide in 2013, with annual global passenger and freight transport volumes since 2000 rising on average by 4.5% and 3.5%, respectively. While greater energy efficiency can address that growth, , the sector’s demand for fossil-derived fuels is otherwise expected to grow by more than one-third by 2050, undermining energy importers’ security and challenging carbon emission pledges countries made ahead of the COP21 Paris Agreement.

In light of the difficulties of transitioning to more energy efficient mobility patterns, the IEA workshop focused on what has worked, and what hasn’t, so far in regulation, education and innovation aimed at overcoming barriers to the take-up of more efficient transport choices.

One way to reduce consumption is by realising greater adoption of public transportation, so participants presented promotional efforts in, among other countries, Canada, China and India, with particular focus on consumers’ priorities and cross-cultural comparisons. Effective tactics range from tickets that work seamlessly across multiple transit systems to transport-focused land-use policies.

Other methods of managing demand include government policies like congestion or parking charges, and the workshop highlighted results with these measures from Stockholm and California, among other places. One potentially transformative innovation being pioneered by Scandinavian cities harnesses the real-time and geographically precise power of information technology to deliver personally tailored “mobility as a service” so users can select from a variety of transport modes while on the go. This and other novel forms of providing transportation, like shared vehicle fleets, promise a wider array of more efficient options – if consumers can be persuaded to adopt them.

In passenger vehicles, innovative technologies, sometimes paired with driver training, aim to encourage or enforce “eco-driving”. Private- and public-sector researchers assessed automated feedback and controls with an emphasis on how to bridge the gap between theoretical results and what actually happens on the road.

Finally, the experts shared their research and experiences with regulations and education campaigns designed to influence vehicle purchases, like labelling programmes, before they examined recent successes in promoting electric and even hydrogen vehicles, including infrastructure policies.

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