Transport currently accounts for half of global oil consumption and nearly 20% of world energy use, of which approximately 40% is used in urban transport alone. The IEA expects urban transport energy consumption to double by 2050, despite ongoing vehicle technology and fuel-economy improvements. While increased mobility brings many benefits, the staggering rate of this increase creates new challenges. Urgent energy-efficiency policy attention will be needed to mitigate associated negative noise, air pollution, congestion, climate and economic impacts, all of which can cost countries billions of dollars per year.
This report highlights lessons learned and examples of good practice from countries with experience implementing a wide range of measures to improve energy efficiency in urban transport systems.
Part of the IEA Policy Pathway series, A Tale of Renewed Cities sets out key steps in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation to achieve improved energy efficiency in urban transport systems. The Policy Pathway series aims to help policy makers implement the IEA 25 Energy Efficiency Policy Recommendations.
See also: Policy pathways series
The world is moving - rapidly. Since 2000, total global passenger and freight movements have increased by an average of 4% per year, and as a result, global transport energy use increased 30% during the past decade. People and freight have also changed how they move. In 2000, there were roughly 625 million passenger light-duty vehicles (PLDVs) around the world. By 2010, that number had reached nearly 850 million PLDVs. The effects of growing travel demand and increasing shifts to private motorisation are particularly evident in urban areas. Throughout the world, urban roadway congestion threatens the ability of cities to sustain long-term economic growth. Congestion alone costs countries billions of dollars in wasted time. Motorised vehicle traffic also has significant adverse effects on environmental quality and health and safety in cities. These issues are unlikely to diminish in a “business-as-usual” future. In fact, they are likely to worsen. The IEA expects global travel (in terms of passenger and freight-tonne km) to double by 2050 and corresponding transport energy use and emissions to increase 70% between 2010 and 2050, despite expected vehicle technology improvements. Global motorised vehicle stock is expected to double, and subsequent roadway occupancy levels are projected to increase as much as six-fold in some countries (IEA, 2013).
In effect, the world has reached a turning point. The 19th and 20th centuries changed how we move through rapid transit and private motorisation. The 21st century now must address how to move people and goods most efficiently in an energy-, budget-, time- and space-constrained world.
Achieving energy efficiency improvements in urban transport systems is not always easy. Yet, already many cities across the globe are tackling the urban challenge head on. This policy pathway describes the broad policy measures designed to address urban transport issues in more than 30 cities. In-depth case studies are included for three cities – Belgrade, New York City and Seoul – to demonstrate how common responses can be applied in very different local contexts to achieve transport system improvements. Based on these case studies and the experiences from other cities highlighted in this report, the pathway proposes ten critical steps that local and national governments can take to develop, implement and evaluate key urban transport system policies. Urban transport energy efficiency policies can be grouped into three broad categories: those that allow travel to be “avoided”; those that “shift” travel to more efficient modes; and those that “improve” the efficiency of vehicle and fuel technologies. This package of policies contributes to what is known collectively as an “avoid, shift and improve” approach (GTZ, 2004).
The IEA estimates that between now and 2050, the “avoid, shift and improve” approach could lower total global expenditures on vehicles, fuels and transport infrastructure by as much as USD 70 trillion (IEA, 2012b). These savings come both from reduced spending on oil in the transport sector, as well as from reduced capital and operational expenses on vehicles and the world’s rapidly growing roadway infrastructure.
Which policies to put in place to improve the energy efficiency of an urban transport system depends on the city context and its transport needs. To assist policy makers, this policy pathway has devised a typology of four common city transport contexts within the land-use and travel framework. The four contexts (developing, sprawled, congested and multi-modal cities) describe some of the general travel trends and transport system issues facing cities across the globe. Variations to each of the four contexts exist, but the framework outlined in this pathway is a useful typology of common transport issues and corresponding policy measures for cities across the globe.
Context: Rapidly developing cities are experiencing increasing demand for transport services and rapid growth in private motorisation. Developing cities can have relatively low densities and often have inadequate travel infrastructure, especially for non-motorised transport modes (e.g. walking and bicycling), and weak public transit services (e.g. unregulated, poor quality bus operators). Combinations of convenience, inexpensive and subsidised fuels, poor public transit services, and increasing distances due to urban sprawl encourage growth in private motorisation. As a result, developing cities generally experience increasing roadway congestion, rising travel injuries and fatalities, more local air pollution and large disparities in access to transport, employment and social services.
Solutions: Developing cities often still have a rare opportunity to direct land use and travel growth toward energy efficient transport systems before urban form and transport network development are strongly established. Target policies include regulations that discourage or penalise sprawling development (e.g. minimum density thresholds and urban zoning laws) and land-use initiatives that prioritise dense urban cores, such as transit-oriented development. Transport infrastructure development (e.g. dedicated spaces for pedestrians and public transit networks) can help to steer growth in travel demand toward more energy efficient modes while improving access to destinations and travel choice.
At the same time, infrastructure development and land-use policies should be paired with well co-ordinated, complementary travel demand management policies to ensure that improvements are accessible, affordable and attractive (i.e. competitive with private motorisation). Policies include formalising and regulating public transport operations, increasing service quality and frequency on public transport networks, and discouraging private motorised travel (e.g. removal of fuel subsidies and implementing vehicle registration fees). Additional tools to combat growing motorisation include policies such as road pricing and eco-driving programmes. Improve policies (e.g. fuel-economy and emissions standards enforced through mandatory inspections) should help to increase energy efficiency of motorised transport while improving local air quality.
Context: Sprawling cities tend to have low densities and high urban and suburban sprawl. They often have poorly-defined urban cores with commercial and business hubs spread intermittently throughout the urban and metropolitan areas. Public transit use and non-motorised transport shares tend to be low, while private motorised transport tends to be the primary means of travel. These cities may have difficulty providing efficient and cost-effective public transit services because of long distances between destinations. Local congestion, especially during commuting hours, is high in sprawling cities, and road infrastructure often requires heavy investments and maintenance as a result of extensive, highly travelled networks. Local air pollution and road safety are also common issues of concern.
Solutions: Low densities, urban sprawl and heavy traffic in sprawling cities require strategic, comprehensive planning and policy actions. Transitioning to a denser urban environment that supports more efficient transport generally requires years of planning and development, especially in cities where urban form is well established. For this reason, medium- and long-term development goals are critical in addressing travel demand. Land-use policies that address denser development, such as density credits and unified regional planning guidelines, can help to discourage continued sprawl and increase urban core development. Long-term zoning strategies, builder incentives and tax credits for business relocation are examples of policies that encourage urban densification.
In the shorter term, policies that improve existing transport and prioritise shifts away from private motorised travel are important. These policies can include travel demand management programmes, such as parking reform and road pricing, as well as tools that focus on improving transport and travel flow (e.g. advanced traffic signal control and buyer incentives for alternative vehicle technologies). At the same time, policies that improve roadway travel can have rebound effects (i.e. increased motorisation due to improved travel flow). Short-term system improvements, therefore, should seek to serve or at least complement long-term objectives rather than temporarily relieve existing transport problems. These improvements include supporting travel choice (e.g. park-and-ride stations), addressing shortcomings in existing public transport networks (e.g. redesigning bus routes and frequencies) and building more efficient travel infrastructure, such as BRT and light rail. Additional policies include incentives that encourage shifts away from private vehicles (e.g. employer tax credits for providing public transit passes).
Context: Heavy roadway traffic, especially during peak travel hours, is common in congested cities. Congested cities generally have medium to high densities and strong urban cores, although urban sprawl may exist in surrounding metropolitan areas. Congested cities can have extensive transit systems and high public transport modal shares. However, heavy traffic levels, often paired with increasing motorisation, can lead to daily gridlock throughout these cities. Numerous causes, including poor or diminishing public transport, fuel subsidies, free or subsidised parking, and high levels of funding for roadway networks, all can contribute to the preference to use private motor vehicles. Zoning policies (e.g. housing and employment mismatches) can also encourage private vehicle use. Local air pollution, road injuries and travel fatalities can be major issues in these cities.
Solutions: Heavy traffic makes getting around in congested cities very difficult. Travel demand management policies are useful tools to improve and facilitate shifts to more energy efficient travel while improving existing travel movements. Policies that discourage vehicle ownership (e.g. vehicle quotas and vehicle registration taxes) and private motorised travel (e.g. road pricing and parking fees) can help to reduce or stabilise increasing traffic levels. Improved travel-management technologies, such as advance traffic signalisation and real-time travel information, can help to improve mobility and system flow, while incentives (e.g. rideshare incentives) can encourage additional shifts to more efficient travel.
In the short term, policies and programmes that respond to existing gaps in travel networks (e.g. seamless connections between travel modes) can help to improve passenger travel and encourage shifts away from private motorised vehicles. The policy tools are even more effective when paired with travel demand management measures. Medium- to long-term policies that address transport system development (e.g. increased funding streams to develop and improve public transport services) and an improved land-use transport interface (i.e. improved match between travel demand and destination) will encourage longer-term shifts to more efficient travel.
Context: These cities typically have high densities, strong urban cores, and high public transit and NMT shares. Multi-modal cities generally have strongly interconnected, well-developed travel networks, which facilitate and encourage more efficient travel. Mixed land-use development paired with a high level of public transport services means that travellers generally have good access to energy efficient modes and a choice of different modes depending on their preferences and needs. Many multi-modal cities have dedicated spaces for more energy efficient travel modes, such as bus and cycling lanes. A key feature of these cities is also public transport terminals (e.g. train stations, or bus terminals) where several modes of public transport can be seamlessly accessed by users. In addition, these cities often have implemented policies that discourage driving, such as caps on parking (i.e. limitations on parking development), road pricing schemes and car-free zones.
Solutions: They often have strong public transit systems and dense urban cores, but they can still achieve additional efficiency improvements. Policies that improve traffic flows and travel options can encourage greater shifts to more efficient modes and increase efficiency of the entire transport system. These efforts include development of dedicated facilities for energy efficient modes (e.g. bus and cycling lanes) and investments in vehicle technology improvements for both public and private vehicle fleets (e.g. CNG buses and “green” taxi programmes).
Travel demand management policies are particularly useful in multi-modal cities to maintain or improve travel shares by more efficient transport modes. Examples of policies used to achieve additional improvements in transport system efficiency include transit-incentive programmes, car-free zones, parking levies and road pricing schemes. Cities are increasingly turning to technology to improve urban travel and transport efficiency. This technology includes “real-time” updates of road conditions and transit arrivals, smart-phone travel applications and online journey calculators. Other practical tools, such as geospatial analysis software, can help cities to identify gaps in transport services and infrastructure (e.g. proximity to transit and sidewalk access to bus stops).
The pathway to improving energy efficiency in the urban transport system includes four stages – plan, implement, monitor and evaluate – with ten critical steps. The steps were developed from experiences drawn from successful policy implementations and expert input from practitioners. The examples represent a wide variety of transport systems, as well as a broad range of urban environments, local travel needs and economic contexts. Throughout the text, real-life examples are also given to demonstrate policy responses and lessons learned from cities across the globe.
This policy pathway is divided into four sections. The first section introduces why improving the energy efficiency of urban transport systems is important.
The second section provides illustrative “real-life” case studies of urban transport policies implemented in Belgrade, New York City and Seoul and distils learning that can be applied to other city contexts.
The third section analyses barriers to improving urban transport energy efficiency and the key polices (including interventions and measures) to overcome them. These barriers include policy and market failures; lack of access to financing; and other challenges, such as political resistance and institutional capacity.
The fourth section sets out ten detailed steps for supporting the development, financing, implementation and evaluation of policies to improve the energy efficiency of urban transport systems. These steps follow the plan, implement, monitor and evaluate approach applied in all the IEA Energy Efficiency Policy Pathways series.
To assist planners and policy makers, this report includes the following list of transport policy references, practitioners’ guides and project examples. Although the list is by no means exhaustive, it can serve as a useful reference tool for decision makers seeking more information on specific sustainable transport policy measures and project examples.
Bus rapid transit
Non-motorised transport facilities