In the past weeks, millions of people around the globe have been taking the streets to demand “the end of the age of fossil fuels”. Whether we like it or not, the word is out, and environmental challenges are now pressing more than ever. From our side, we can’t help but think what each of us can do to contribute to reach the ambitious goals that would take us towards a cleaner, greener society.

But climate concerns are not a stand-alone topic. Worries matter for a more sustainable society that would safeguard the natural environment. However, at the same time, they also call for one that lifts those who are most affected by the downsides of urbanization. Environmental and social changes are connected phenomena, at whose intersection there’s relevant space for impactful policy action.

Ridango stands by the propositions of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), advocating a renewed commitment for PT operators to become the backbone of all mobility services in urban areas. Cities account, today, for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions. In a recently published manifesto, the organization highlights how efficient, integrated, accessible public transport nodes are a service not only to commuters, but to our planet as well. We know the challenges lying ahead, but where do things stand at the current moment?

The high costs of unsustainable mobility

Though the mainstreaming of climate change debates has mostly taken place only in recent years, we are facing a consolidated problem. Same can be said for the widening inequalities in urban areas. Modern transport systems have evolved throughout the decades (if not centuries) almost hand-in-hand with our cityscapes, pushing the contemporary requirement for an increasing hyper-mobility.

One of the most insightful accounts of the steps and consequences of this trend is given by Anne Power, now Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics (LSE). With evidence from Europe and the United Kingdom, she shows the high social and environmental costs of the widespread reliance on private cars in dispersed cities.

Transport arrangements are often crucial in defining the way individuals and households live. But in our dispersed cities, the costs of unsustainable traffic patterns are today more evident than ever. We see:

  • The cost of subsidising car ownership, particularly in energy and environmental terms, which the whole society bears;
  • The cost of sustaining public transport while designing urban spaces to favour car driving, with the added burden of providing insufficient bus services to suburban and rural areas;
  • The social costs of dispersal, mobility and traffic, which compound each other and disproportionately affect low income communities.

Transport is of utmost importance in favouring access to secondary schools and career opportunities, as well as in fostering social relations and decrease segregation. It is for these reasons that sustainable mobility needs to be promoted, to tackle issues equally pertaining to the environmental, the social, and the economic spheres.

Making public transport work for everyone

The environmental impact of increasing car use has been massive in terms of production, fuel consumption, air quality and infrastructure. But the social costs connected to it are unevenly distributed, limiting people’s chances to benefit from services and opportunities dispersed in the urban area. It is clear that the high costs of the status quo require a shift towards more accessible and collective forms of movement.

Once got to this point, readers’ concerns would be understandable. How could we possibly face such mammoth task when so many factors contribute to the problem? Cities are already there and as they are, we can’t just end private car use. However, taking a closer look, we would see that even just prioritizing public transport over getting stuck at an intersection in a car could make a big difference.

The Climate Action Manifesto of the UITP pushes for the implementation of solutions aiming to reduce transport emissions in cities. Improving urban mobility can have a huge impact on the fight against climate change. Strenghtening the role of PT, operators and policy makers together can turn it into the go-to mobility service in urban areas, favouring the general shift to more sustainable modes of transport.

Enhancing collective transport nodes, we can reduce the damage on the urban and natural environment. Also, we can provide more people with more direct links between residential areas and economic and educational opportunities. For this to happen, investments and incentives should be channelled into developing an efficient, practical approach to mobility. And in terms of network accessibility, technology can do its part too.

Ridango is a precious ally to those who support public transport development. In such a framework, smart planning and innovation can come together for a better quality of movement. Making public transport work for everyone means not only caring for the environment, but for an increased and distributed wellbeing in our cities too.