The answer to tackling one of the world’s biggest climate problems is right under our noses, and one country is showing how we can get others to see it.
When we hear about the ‘future of transport’, we imagine flying cars and taxi drones. There’s an inbuilt cultural dogma inside us that is rooted in America’s wide open roads, the emotional allure of the road trip, the independent spirit of high-speed cars and of science fiction. A century of culture has embedded the essence of personal travel within us all; there is a romanticism in its freedom.
The thing is, private transport is one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gases. Even in a country as small as the United Kingdom, the last 20 years have seen road traffic increase from 255 billion to 328 billion miles a year, and even with the prominence of low emission vehicles, greenhouse gas emissions have still risen by 6%. In the United States, personal vehicles are the country’s biggest climate problem; low fuel prices and that inherent culture meaning that gas-guzzling SUVs and the iconic American truck make up 63% of car sales.
So how to combat this critical issue? We hear much of self-driving electric cars and monumental new public transport networks such as Elon Musk’s sci-fi concept, the Hyperloop. The answer could be staring us right in the face. It’s just so unfashionable that we can’t see it. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing: the bus.
A typical lane of traffic in a city centre can carry somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 people per hour. Making that lane bus only increases that number to 4,000—8,000; dedicating more of the street to buses can see the figures rocket to upwards of 25,000 people each hour. Musk’s Hyperloop proposal for Chicago? 2,000. A full bus can take 40 cars off the road, but what’s more, they’re already there. Why wait for a billionaire tech giant to conceive an expensive new network when a cheaper alternative already exists?
Which is another point: cost. Looked down upon in many countries as the transport of necessity for those on a low income or from a marginalised corner of society, the bus is a cheap and effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And in some cases, it’s even free.
With 60% of commuters driving to work, versus less than 20% via public transit, Luxembourg holds the unenviable accolade of the EU’s highest rate of car ownership. By 2025, it wants to move 20% more people on public transit. Which is why they’ve made it free. That’s right: from 1 March, all trains, trams and buses are entirely free to ride. What more of an incentive to help the planet does one need?
By following Luxembourg’s lead, other countries and cities could quickly take more cars off the road, battling one of our most pressing climate concerns along the way. Instead of looking to glitzy vanity projects, why not improve what is already there? That’s creative thinking.