OF the many speeches made at the World Economic Forum in January, the words of 16-year-old Swedish environmental campaigner Ms Greta Thunberg cut through the rhetoric and delivered a powerful message to political and business leaders on the imminent threat of climate change. “At Davos, people like to talk about success, but financial success has come with a price tag, and on the climate we have failed,” she said. “And unless we recognise the failures of our system, there will be unspoken suffering.”

Thunberg’s speech and the images of schoolchildren around the world missing lessons to protest political inaction on climate change have thrust the most urgent issue facing humanity into the public spotlight at a time when many policymakers are preoccupied with less pressing matters.

For transport, the future must now be viewed through the prism of urgent and sustained decarbonisation. Transport accounted for 28% of global-final energy demand and 23% of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2014. For the world’s cities, reducing transport emissions takes on added urgency as particulate pollution from petrol and diesel vehicles exacerbate a public health emergency.

"The more cities connect and share experiences and their visions, as well as detailing what isn’t working, then the more we can move the needle and advance the sector." says Pere Calvet

“Climate change impacts everything,” says Mr Pere Calvet, president of the International Union of Public Transport (UITP). “Cities must work with others on climate action in order to promote public transport and to secure networks. Achieving lasting change will most definitely be a collaborative effort. I hope everyone realises that.”

UITP has long advocated a collective approach to fighting climate change by advancing sustainable mobility. “We recognise the need to work with our sectoral colleagues to find industry solutions for the challenges that lie ahead - and play a key role in addressing these issues together,” Calvet says. “Our advocacy and outreach in this area is vitally important. During the climate action activities at the COP24 climate summit in Katowice last December, UITP advocated for public transport and the changes we need to make. Our partnership with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition confirms the important role that public transport can play to protect the health of urban populations, as well as our planet from the effects of air pollution. We also had a partnership with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the International Union of Railways (UIC) at COP24 promoting sustainable public transport options as one of the solutions to reducing emissions. UITP and UIC are in fact the only transport associations to partner in this way with the UNFCCC. Collective voices are needed to advocate for great change, and UITP is proud to be that voice for public transport, alongside our members.”

A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggested transport CO2 emissions could peak in the 2030s with an “aggressive, strategic deployment of rail”. However, this will require a comprehensive policy reversal in many countries to address a long-standing infrastructure deficit which continues to deepen. According to the World Bank, the estimated annual overall global infrastructure investment need is around $US 3.7 trillion, but only around $US 2.7 trillion is being made available for this purpose, creating a $US 1 trillion investment gap which is expected to widen in the coming years.

“In order to bridge this gap, governments will need to use public resources better and mobilise private capital from traditional and new sources,” Calvet says. “The role of the private sector is certainly not new - there has always been strong cooperation, whether we are talking about the development, construction, or operation and maintenance of low carbon mass transit. The private sector can bring expertise and efficiency to projects they are involved with. However, the biggest value added is that they can also be a potential stakeholder with whom they can identify and share risks.”

Calvet notes the growing tendency to tap into financing property developers in the financing of new-build projects where land-value capture and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) can unlock significant value. However, he warns that private sector partners must see reasonable returns and project developers need to clearly define the responsibilities of each party and the risks they are expected to take on.

“There needs to be suitable bankability of the project,” Calvet says. “The project should not only be economically sound, but a value-for-money assessment needs to be made. This will help to anticipate and understand the profitability objectives of private partners. Most urban rail projects need substantial public funding as their high cost cannot be entirely covered by private sources. Previous attempts at implementing purely private urban rail concessions do not have a good track record, and the public sector was subsequently required to bail out unsuccessful projects.

“The topic of funding is closely interlocked with project financing and must not be forgotten, particularly with regards to where revenues are generated and how revenue sources can be diversified to mitigate risk. In that sense, cities and operators must work closely to ensure that the project will benefit from a variety of revenue sources, including public transport users, private car users, employers and businesses. This means cashflow is more resilient and the project is more likely to be bankable.”

Calvet sees the ability to facilitate collaboration between cities and share best practice as one of the strengths of the UITP. “The more cities connect and share experiences and their visions, as well as detailing what isn’t working, then the more we can move the needle and advance the sector,” he says. “It’s about bringing people round the table; making decisions and moving on those decisions. People want to see public transport advance.”

In May 2018, UITP joined forces with United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) to establish the Mobility Champions Community, which brings together mayors, ministers and other public sector leaders from around the globe to share insights and best practice on urban mobility projects.

“We are seeing more direct engagement with mayors and other elected officials throughout the sector,” Calvet says. “Engaging with key decision-makers at a local level is becoming more of a regular occurrence, and that’s to be welcomed. Obviously engaging with any decision maker is important, but often you have mayors making the local decisions on public transport, the environment, infrastructure and more areas with a very visible impact on citizens’ daily lives. Our Mobility Champions Community is all about dealing with mayors and seeing what they can do to work with us to make mobility a leading topic on the agenda.”

Autonomous vehicles

Another key trend for public transport operators is the emergence of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology. Far from competing with buses and rail, Calvet believes AVs could make public transport networks more effective and stimulate multimodal travel, provided they are correctly regulated.
“AVs represent a clear opportunity to improve urban mobility services,” Calvet says. “It’s important that cities prepare well for it, by continuously investing in public transport, which will still be the backbone of urban mobility, especially in dense urban areas. There’s also a need to strongly encourage and support walking, cycling, and shared mobility. Otherwise we will see many more cars in the streets, and cities will not become better places to live in.”

In March 2018, UITP launched its Shared Personalised Automated Connected Vehicles (Space) project with three objectives:

  • assessing the impacts of automated road transport systems
  • develop operational concepts and business models for the best use of AVs in passenger services, and
  • advocating for a harmonised framework to allow the safe operation of AVs in real (mixed) mobility scenarios.

Space is being supported by 45 participants from 20 countries and consists of four working groups. The aim of the initiative is to act as an observatory of AVs based on case studies and trials. UITP says it is essential to ensure autonomous vehicles are shared and that people are prepared for the idea of sharing vehicles and switching between different modes of transport. It also says fleets of shared AVs need to be integrated into a complete mobility solution with high-capacity public transport as a backbone in urban areas.

“Over the last few years the interest of public transport stakeholders towards autonomous vehicles, as a possible contributor to urban mobility services, has grown quite quickly,” Calvet says. “Autonomous vehicles can be a challenge for the public transport sector, but it’s also an opportunity for public transport operators because they offer the quickest development path and are able to capitalise on their experience as fleet operators. Autonomous vehicles can provide personalised, affordable, sustainable and convenient mobility options to all citizens including people with reduced mobility, the elderly, children and people living in suburban or rural areas.”

Calvet also cites Mobility as a Service (MaaS) as another important technological trend with the potential to drive a shift towards greater public transport usage. “MaaS offers an opportunity to give citizens the option to live and work in their city or region without having to own a car,” he says. “Therefore, the main objective is to change travel behaviour towards more sustainable modes and reduce car ownership through a mobility solution that offers the same flexibility and convenience as a car. Once people get rid of their cars, they will change their mobility habits towards more sustainable modes, which will also bring more customers to the transport options within MaaS. From a transport operator’s perspective, MaaS is also about offering its travellers a better service with a wider range of options that will attract more customers.”

Calvet believes public transport will only move forward by collaborating and harnessing new technologies to deliver better services. “When you have spent as long as I have working in the public transport industry, you witness many developments,” he says. “Trains are faster, buses are going electric, digitalisation has made a great and lasting impact, we’re embracing the new mobility players more than ever before, and we’re coming together to realise what impact a voice for public transport can have.

“As for the future landscape, my hopes are for constant development. That may sound obvious, as I hope we all wish to see regular progress, but I don’t believe we should ever rest on our laurels. Public transport is about serving the people and we should never stop making that voice heard. I want lasting change to be an industry achievement - individual car-use won’t just stop overnight. It’s up to the sector to advocate and demonstrate how shared mobility is the best option for moving people around our cities. Let’s all work together to prove that public transport is not only a necessity for our cities - it’s vital for mobility and sustainability.”