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Mobility solutions for breathable cities, rural connections and mental health

Sensemaking / Mobility solutions for breathable cities, rural connections and mental health

Ashden's Ann Noon explores the transformative potential of sustainable transport solutions.

By Ann Noon / 29 Mar 2017
Nottingham City Council

Over the next twenty years, transportation is expected to be the major driving force behind a growing global demand for energy. It’s a sector that is currently responsible for one quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, with its emissions increasing at a faster rate than any other sector. Road transport is also a major contributor to local air pollution. 

A sustainable and efficient transport infrastructure gives both urban and rural populations the chance to participate in economic opportunities and access essential services. 

Organisations on this year’s 2017 Ashden Awards shortlist are working hard to keep travel as low carbon as possible and their solutions include innovative vehicle technologies and improvements to public transport infrastructure.

Generally, the electric vehicle market is booming and India is no exception. Ampere Vehicles is making electric bikes and scooters affordable for rural consumers as well as manufacturing electric scooters for people who are disabled and waste collection vehicles used in villages.  To date the company has sold more than 14,000 long-life battery vehicles, helping to tackle air pollution and make a real dent in climate change emissions.

According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution is growing worse in urban areas across much of the planet, hitting the poorest city dwellers hardest and contributing to a wide range of potentially life-shortening health problems, from heart disease to severe asthma.

Last year China suffered its worst air pollution ever with more than 70 cities reaching dangerous levels. The city of Hangzhou in the northwest Zhejiang province is taking affirmative action to protect the health of its citizens by encouraging them to use its public bicycle service. Since the Hangzhou Bicycle Service started up in May 2008, thousands of bicycles have been rented for free more than 700 million times thanks to an innovative financial model. 

Photo credit: Paul Starkey/Ashden - Hangzhou Bikes

Funded by the government, the project makes a profit - by selling the advertising rights on over 3000 bicycle sites and renting out the service kiosks – which is then used to cover staff salaries and maintain the service.  The concept of public bicycles has since spread to 30 other provinces in China and some 175 cities nationwide.

The Guardian reported recently that in the UK, the government’s own statistics show 38 out of 43 UK “air quality zones” breach legal limits for air pollution. Recognition of the scale of this crisis has been slow but a group of cross-party MPs named it a “public health emergency” in April last year.  Some local authorities are tackling the issue head on by adopting sustainable travel initiatives with gusto.

Birmingham City Council for example, through Big Birmingham Bikes (BBB), has provided more than four thousand free bikes and cycle training to residents living in deprived areas in order to improve peoples’ mobility, health and wellbeing, as well as to increase access to workplaces, education and training.  The scheme was also designed to bring about behaviour change by encouraging people to travel by bicycle rather than private car, thereby reducing congestion – and pollution – on roads. BBB has linked up with over 50 community groups including homeless and mental health charities, and GPS tracking is used to monitor the effectiveness of the scheme and provide data to guide planning and policy to support cycling.

To tackle traffic congestion and associated air pollution, Nottingham City Council has introduced a Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) which places a modest charge on employers providing 11 or more parking places, and invests the revenue back into sustainable transport measures such as electric buses, cycling, trams and a public transport smartcard.  

It’s the first local authority in the UK to implement such a scheme, which is increasingly being recognised as an innovative solution, especially in the difficult financial environment that public sector organisations operate in. The WPL is already encouraging more sustainable travel behaviour across the city and reducing the number of car journeys, as commuters switch to the efficient public transport that is being paid for by the levy.

Sustainable transport systems make a positive contribution to the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the communities they serve, with poor households benefiting greatly from low carbon transport options. Car pooling and lift sharing, pedal powered businesses, and electric highways are just some of the other ways of reducing transport CO2 emissions.

Find out more about the finalists in the 2017 Ashden Awards which reward pioneering sustainable energy enterprises and programmes globally.  This year’s winners will be announced at the annual Awards Ceremony in London on 15 June 2017.

Ashden is a Forum for the Future partner.


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