Why Container Shipping is a Lot Like Farming

Transporting massive amounts of containers across the high seas has much in common with the business of rearing dairy cows or growing wheat – and alternative thinking about agriculture holds lessons for the maritime industry.

By Olaf Merk

Remorkers carrying containers to ships in Hong Kong harbour,

I have not always worked on maritime transport. One of my first assignments at the OECD was to conduct a Rural Policy Review of the Netherlands. This is how I met Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, professor at the agricultural university of Wageningen. I mention this because I think that his insights on agriculture are very relevant for container shipping. I will summarise them here briefly.

Van der Ploeg’s analysis of business models in agriculture goes against the received wisdom that economies of scale are always desirable. Over the past decades, farms have grown bigger through consolidation of land, driven by a race for market shares via cost reduction. This has required big investments in expensive equipment and huge loans to finance these.

In the process, agriculture and the local environment have become decoupled. The farmer’s main inputs (machines, seeds) are bought abroad. Most of the work has become automated. Agricultural land has turned into a space exclusively dedicated to production – it is no longer a multi-functional area where work and leisure, production and consumption can be combined.

Van der Ploeg’s merit lies in his detailed calculations showing that smaller but more diversified firms are more productive and profitable. They are less indebted, less dependent on intermediaries and less affected by price volatility, because they have developed economies of scope. And they provide more added value, jobs and biodiversity for the local community.

A container terminal seen from above

Striking similarities

Container shipping has followed a course strikingly similar to agriculture. The dominant idea: more economies of scale. The way to achieve it: cost reductions, ever larger ships and industry consolidation. The result: the large majority of the goods we consume are now moved by a handful of very large global shipping companies that source their workforce from developing countries and register their ships in tax havens. These companies have accumulated as much debt as a mid-size country they emit as much CO2 as a big country and have difficulties to be profitable except in the most bullish of times.

Container ports follow the same pattern. Completely sealed off from their surrounding communities, highly specialised, continuously trying to catch up with ever-larger ships, today’s container terminals leave no room for the intermingling that once gave port cities their charm.

In both agriculture and container shipping, policies – notably those of the European Union – are designed to pursue economies of scale. In agriculture the tool was subsidies; container shipping’s equivalent is the tonnage tax. Both sectors have special regimes that make them hybrids: market-driven sectors in name, but dependent on public support in practice.

In both, creating local synergies is an afterthought that goes by the name of rural development policies in one case and maritime cluster development in the other. In both sectoral policies, building large firms is more important than guaranteeing competition. In both cases, policy reform has become very difficult considering sunk investments, path dependency and regulatory capture by corporate lobbyists.

Cargo ship entering Singapore harbour, one of the busiest ports in the world.

Where the parallel ends

There are of course differences. Probably the most important is the extent of what economists would call the symmetry between buyers and sellers. Farmers buy from very large companies (seeds, pesticides) and sell to very large companies (food industry and retailers). In this constellation, company size could be a countervailing force to the monopoly power of buyers and sellers: larger farms – or cooperatives of farms – might better able to negotiate with the large multi-national companies in seed production, the food industry and supermarket chains.

In container shipping, liner companies buy from fragmented suppliers (shipyards, ports and port service providers) and sell to fragmented buyers (the companies that import and export), so it is the shipping company itself that is the major source of monopoly power. 

There is of course another major difference: agriculture is vital, in the true sense of the word. Container shipping is essential to the extent that global trade is. With many world leaders pleading for more regional sourcing, long-range containerised transport might be less inevitable than thought – which opens the perspective for possible fundamental change.

A policy choice

Professor Van der Ploeg proposes an alternative to the large-scale industrialised agriculture: smaller, more localised, quickly adapting to demands of clients. It is time to imagine similar alternative perspectives for container shipping, if only because that will make shipping more resilient.

The first step in sketching potential new futures would be to realise that there is nothing self-evident or inevitable about the strategy of economies of scale. It has been stimulated by public policies – and these policies can change.


Olaf Merk is ports and shipping expert at the International Transport Forum. He is the (co-) author of The Impact of Alliances in Container Shipping (2018) andContainer Shipping in Europe: Data for the Evaluation of the EU Consortia Block Exemption Regulation (I2019). Views are are his own.

Put Women In The Driver’s Seat

If you are looking for a user-friendly, safe and accessible mobility system, involve female transport users and workers.

By Emma Latham-Jones

Every step made to improve the experience of women in transport is a win for everyone. When policy makers address gender issues in transport, they increase accessibility for all. What this means is taking a user-centric approach: every single transport user is the focus. We need to rethink transport policies that are biased against certain users, especially vulnerable citizens: children, pregnant women, disabled people, those from poorer backgrounds – they all need to be at the heart of transport policy decision making.

To do that, it is important to look at the data. The evidence should inform transport policies to ensure they reflect real-life situations and solve real-world problems. Rich evidence shows that gender is a significant determinant for the choice of transport modes. Women’s travel habits tend to be more multifaceted than those of men: they tend to take more frequent, mostly short trips; they use different services than men, and at different times of the day.

Women’s trips also more often involve children. To make transport inclusive, we cannot only serve those who make few, direct trips at set times and normally alone. Transport needs to work for everyone. When it does, it has an incredible ability to empower citizens.

Female leadership

Here at the International Transport Forum, we celebrate women who work across the sector and work to amplify women’s voices and visions for improved transport for all. The ITF appreciates the importance of diversity for the quality and value of our transport systems, and we know that women can be powerful agents of change. That is why we have a broad  range of work on Gender in Transport: from consultations on (and with) women in transport, via conferences on how to attract more females to the transport sector, to reports on how to ‘Plan and Design Transport Systems That Will Ensure Safe Travel for Women’.

Female leadership is of critical importance to increase representation of women in the transport sector. At the ITF, we are proud that three members of our staff – Mary Crass, Sharon Masterson and Magdalena Olczak-Rancitelli – have been honoured as “Remarkable Women in Transport” by the Transformative Urban Mobility Initative (TUMI); testament to our commitment advance the mainstreaming of gender perspectives in transport, together with our partners in governments, international organisations, academia and the private sector.

“The transport sector needs more gender diversity”, say argues Magdalena Olczak-Rancitelli, who is Manager of Summit Preparation at the ITF. “One of the most effective way to motivate women to make themselves heard and felt in transport is to tell stories about inspiring women who thrive in the sector.”

Outstanding female researchers

Women already achieve great things on the frontlines of transport, as bus drivers, aircraft pilots, logistics planners, and so on. But they play an equally as important role as researchers, academics and thinkers. When French transport scientist Anne de Bortoli won the ITF’s Young Researcher of the Year Award 2020, with a groundbreaking study on the environmental impact of shared e-scooters in cities, she was only the latest female success story in a long history of female excellence in transport research.

2013 Young Researcher of the Year, Laura Schewel from the United States, won the Award with a fascinating analysis of the history and policies of moving retail goods. Today, Laura is the CEO of Streetlight Data, a start-up that provides transport and urban planners the with an easy and affordable way to incorporate data on mobility behaviour into important decisions – for instance how citizens are using roads, bike lanes and sidewalks. Last year, Schewel’s company created the first ever bike and pedestrian metrics for the urban transport industry. The MIT Technology Review named her one of its “35 Innovators Under 35” in 2013.

Laura Schewel receiving the Young Researcher of the Year Award at the ITF Summit of Transport Ministers in Leipzig, Germany, in May 2013

Women researchers are also making major contributions to better understanding the link between transport and climate change. In 2015, Dr Nihan Akyelken from Turkey won the ITF Young Researcher of the Year Award for developing a conceptual framework for the governance of sustainable freight transport, which the jury honoured for its’ originality and policy relevance. Today, Nihan is an Associate Professor in Sustainable Urban Development at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, where she is teaching students in the Masters and Doctoral programmes in Sustainable Urban Development, she helps to form the next generation of innovative transport leaders, many of them women. Her forthcoming book is, appropriately, titled “Women, Work and Mobilities”.

This year’s award winner Anne der Bortoli also has a clear take on gender and transport: “Women are generally under-represented in expert panels, academia, PhD programs, and industrial leading positions higher education. This is particularly noticeable in some STEM subjects, to the point that it’s almost jarring, she says. “Yet women have proven time and again that we can overcome barriers and smash glass ceilings, and this is exactly what we must do in order to see long-lasting positive change.

We must be confident, we must challenge discrimination, and we must take action for what moves us. Women need a large variety of role models. I urge all female researchers who work in transport-related fields to apply for the next ITF Young Researcher of the Year Award. Why? Because every time you give yourself a chance to win, you’ve made a major step towards gender equality.”

2929 Young Researcher of the Year Award, Anne de Bortoli

Emma Latham-Jones is a Young Associate at the International Transport Forum. You can read more about the 2020 ITF Young Researcher of the Year Award, Anne de Bortoli’s research, and find the recording of the ceremony here.

Scooting Around: Are Shared E-Scooters Good Or Bad For The Environment?

The shared e-scooters floating around Paris may have emitted 12 000 tonnes of additional greenhouse gases over the course of one year, according to a new study. Are the popular micro-vehicles good fun, but not good for the climate?

by Anne de Bortoli

The sudden arrival of massive numbers of shared electric scooters in many cities around the world since 2017 has triggered considerable resentment from other users of our urban space. The skepticism is shared by governments and local authorities – some of whom have banned e-scooters outright, as is the case in London and many university campuses in the United States.

Others have targeted e-scooters with specific regulations. France added a new section to the Code de la route that covers motorised micro-vehicles. The city of Paris will allow only three selected companies to operate in the city, which will be partly chosen on environmental criteria.

But assessing the hoped-for environmental benefits of e-scooters turned out to be a headache for public authorities. The first scientific assessment was not published until the summer of 2019 and was too narrow to draw general conclusions about their environmental effect: it only estimated the environmental impact of using a free-floating e-scooter over an average of one kilometre in US cities.

Change to the system

Yet e-scooters are disrupting the long-established patterns of urban mobility and should not be looked at in isolation. They are not just something additional, they are bringing real change to the system: by replacing trips with cars, bicycles or on foot, but also by inducing people to take an e-scooter when previously they would not have bothered to move.

The environmental question, therefore, should be addressed in these terms: have shared e-scooters reduced the overall environmental impact of human mobility so far? If the answer is yes, how can we exploit these benefits even further? If it is no, should there be any room for e-scooters in a sustainable mobility system?

What’s in a lifetime?

At the University of Patras, we took up the challenge. Using a cutting-edge method developed in-house, we were able to calculate how CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions for the entire mobility system of Paris over a whole year were affected by the usage of shared e-scooters

The model reflects how people switch from other transport options to shared e-scooters as well as the new trips these trigger, information that was gleaned from a dedicated survey. It also uses a so-called life cycle assessment, which takes account not only of direct emissions during operation but the entirety of emissions over the life cycle of the elements that make up the transport system, including infrastructure and vehicles.

This is crucial. The operation of shared vehicles is comparatively energy efficient, and much of the environmental impact stems from manufacturing, maintenance, and disposal. The model also anticipates changes that are likely to occur in relevant industries – for instance a change in the carbon intensity of the electricity consumed – to calculate environmental performance.

In the (carbon) balance

The result of the modelling exercise was perhaps unexpected: Parisian e-scooters (shared ones, that is) generated 12 000 tonnes of additional greenhouse gases in the city over one year ─ that is equivalent to the annual emissions produced by a French town of 15 000 inhabitants.

Three reasons lie behind this negative carbon balance.

First, the production of e-scooters is not very environmentally-friendly. Production accounts for a full third of the Parisian e-scooters’ marginal environmental impact, that is to say of the absolute values of the GHG savings and extra-emissions due to shared e-scooters. This is notably due to the carbon-intensive production of the aluminum used for the vehicle frame and because of the lithium-ion battery.

Second, servicing the e-scooters causes considerable emissions. Standard vans with internal combustion engines are used to collect the e-scooters, charge them and then drop them again across the city. This support also makes up one third of the Parisian e-scooters’ marginal emissions due to shared e-scooters.

Finally, e-scooter trips often replace low-carbon trips. This is due to 60% of modal shifts coming from massive electrified public transport – the Metro, the RER light trains, the trams, 13% from walking, and 9% from cycling. These transport modes present a lower carbon footprint than the shared e-scooter: respectively 8, 9, 20, 2 and 36 gCO2eq per passenger-kilometre traveled, compared to 108 g for the e-scooter.

Strike ‘em?

So should e-scooters be struck from the list of solutions for green mobility? In fact, things are not quite that simple. Their environmental impact depends on three factors: firstly, their entire life cycle emissions (and how operators manage these), the specific mobility patterns of the cities in which they operate (and the shares of transport modes e-scooters replace); and, finally, the carbon intensity of the electricity they consume.

The carbon footprint for a shared e-scooter roaming Paris is 50 grams of CO2eq per kilometre, if servicing impacts are excluded – which is about as much as that of a shared bicycle. And if the e-scooter’s lifetime mileage increases to 5 200 kilometres instead of 3 750 (our base case scenario in the model), the emissions fall to 30 gCO2eq per kilometre traveled: in Paris, this is one quarter of a diesel bus, one seventh of a private car, and one tenth of a taxi’s emissions per passenger-kilometre traveled.

Operators thus have their work cut out: they need to simultaneously green manufacture of e-scooters, improve their durability and recyclability, and drastically enhance their servicing process. In the case of Paris, the last point is necessary to get a positive impact of the shared e-scooters.

Each city has a unique mobility system with specific environmental impacts and different user behaviors, and these factors shape the impact e-scooters have on the overall system. The results of our analysis thus cannot be simply transferred to other cities, and even less to other countries. But  an extra analysis we did on the impact of the electricity carbon intensity does suggest that, beyond the case of Paris or similar cities, shared e-scooters have a good potential to make urban mobility greener, once the three main factors that make their current carbon balance negative – at least in Paris – have been addressed. Whether that promise materialises in different contexts will need to be examined in well-tailored, case-by-case studies.

Watch the life cycle

What are our conclusions and recommendations? First, the environmental performance of transport options must be assessed for the complete life cycle to ensure shared vehicles are really green(er). Conventional wisdom assumes that using more shared vehicles reduces the environmental footprint, but our somewhat counter-intuitive results show that servicing and shorter lifespans can in fact lead to higher overall emissions.

Secondly, proper assessments of transport modes needs (good) data. Operators should therefore be required, as a licensing condition, to share their data with the public authorities ─ vehicle components and energy consumption, as well as statistics on servicing, lifetime mileage, maintenance schemes and recycling. For our study, we contacted the thirteen e-scooter operators in Paris in the summer of 2019 ─ only one answered, and finally did not share any data.

Finally, e-scooters and other micro-vehicles have a role to play in a green mobility system ─ even  where their eco-balance is less good than other modes. E-scooters can help overcome the first/last mile problem that keeps many people from using public transport because the closest metro station is too far to walk to.

The availability of shared e-scooters can also trigger a ripple effect: the experience could nudge people to buy their own personal e-scooter, which will likely be used much longer and thus with a much lower life cycle emissions ─ we estimate them as low as 12 gCO2eq/km for a life-cycle use of 15 000 km.

Let’s not forget that mobility systems are dynamic. Thus, environmental assessments need to be updated regularly, especially when new services enter the mix and change somewhat established patterns. And it is a safe bet that the current pandemic is changing mobility habits drastically, possibly for good.

Anne de Bortoli is the ITF Young Researcher of the Year 2020. This blog summarises the findings of her winning paper, which she wrote while at the University of Patras, Greece, and currently under peer review for an international journal. Anne is now an eco-design researcher with Eurovia, the road construction subsidiary of the VINCI Group.

Paris: Managing the Shared Mobility Révolution

Shared Mobility in Practice

In Paris, the shared mobility revolution is well underway. We examine how Hôtel de Ville, Paris’ town hall, is trying to get a grip on the situation.

By Emma Latham-Jones and Will Duncan

Over 20,000 dockless trottinettes eléctrique, or electric scooters, have sprung up around the French capital since June 2018, quickly becoming a common sight on the city’s Haussmannian streets. Renting one is as simple as downloading an app and punching in your credit card details. With the scooters seemingly available everywhere – on sidewalks, squares, and by the banks of the Seine – it’s become easy to whizz around the city at a silent speed.

Parisians have been quick to recognise the potential of these new shared vehicles. The novelty of the electric e-scooter has swiftly given way to it being seen as a mainstream and significant mode of transport. As James Tapper wrote in The Guardian, “they’re cheaper than cabs, less effort than a bike and more convenient than buses.” They have a lot going for them.

Never have their benefits been more apparent than during December’s period of grèves – transport strikes – across the capital city. Zipping past tense car drivers stuck in traffic stretching out miles down Paris’ boulevards at rush hour, e-scooters defy both the public transport strikes and the increase in car traffic that’s accompanied it. For those otherwise stranded during the public transport turmoil, these e-scooters seem to be an early Christmas blessing.

But the sudden success of these new networks of scooters has created a dilemma for the city government. Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, ran on an especially green platform and has implemented a number of reforms to combat the city’s pollution levels and traffic congestion. While these new scooters appear to offer Parisians a greener way to get around the City of Light, their sudden arrival has been chaotic, prompting critics to label it an “invasion”.

From Bolt to Lime, the takeover of one-syllable brand names running e-scooter fleets is causing some serious problems. Tourists fly by silently through busy pedestrian areas. Disorganised clusters of scooters block sidewalks and doorways. The less-fortunate can be seen vandalised or discarded in an ugly heap. Tragically, Paris saw its first electric scooter-related death in June 2019, after a truck collided with a rider in the city’s 18th arrondissement.

The transport revolution is taking hold, but it’s causing some serious headaches.

Photo: martin_vmorris (CC), Flickr

Taking back control

In June 2019, Hidalgo declared an “end to the anarchy”. Her government established a new set of rules for shared electric scooters operating with Paris city limits, necessary “to assure road safety and to calm the streets, pavements, and neighbourhoods of our city.”

Riders were banned from rolling along the footpaths or through parks and gardens. Speeds were capped to 25km/h. The number of service operators would be reduced from twelve to an approved (and more manageable) three, and operators have been requested not to increase the number of scooters in circulation while the new national mobility law creates a more appropriate legal framework.

Perhaps the most significant intervention: scooters can no longer be abandoned on the sidewalks – possibly the biggest gripe amongst Parisians towards the new vehicles. E-scooters must be parked in legitimate parking spaces, the same used by cars or bikes. Paris will soon experiment with dedicated shared scooter and bicycle parking spots around the city.

The official Twitter account of the city of Paris

While Paris is in some sense, “cracking down” — these actions don’t really represent the big blow to shared mobility innovation that some may have expected, or feared. Free-floating scooters are in no way banned from operating in the city (like they are in London and Barcelona, for example). Clearly, Paris recognises the potential of free-floating shared vehicles. In fact, by calling for an end of the anarchy, the Parisian government has elected to take a leading role in the responsible management of shared mobility in its city.

“Under no circumstances should this mode of transport be pilloried,” assures a city press release. “[E-scooters] represent a new form of transport mobility and contribute to reducing the use of polluting cars. However, the City of Paris wishes to regulate this mode of transport more effectively to ensure road safety and calm streets and pavements.” 

According to Philippe Crist, Innovation Policy Analyst at the International Transport Forum, “Paris has established an ambitious regulatory framework in less than twelve months.” And in only 16 months, e-scooters were added to the Code de la Route. As a result, they are subject to the rules of the road, and there is now a ban on more than one person per scooter.

With the tender process well under way, the contracts for the three wining e-scooter service operators will be awarded from January 2020. This has prompted scooter companies to share more ambitious approaches to sustainability, declaring the creation of extra scooter repair facilities to extend the notoriously short lifespan. As they race to win the favour of Hôtel de Ville, they also rush to ditch gig workers and instead hire staff on permanent contracts.

Re-imagining the city street

“Why do these scooters often feel so anarchic? Because they’re whizzing down roads that aren’t designed for them,” says Crist.

“We devote a very large part of the road to a wall of steel — parked automobiles. If we managed public space better — if we adapted it to the needs and possibilities of today — it could be quite different,” he says.

Cities must look at how they can effectively regulate — and also benefit from — this kind of innovation. Like other city halls, Paris’ Hôtel de Ville recognises the extraordinary potential of shared mobility to reduce congestion and pollution, by encouraging the idea that owning a private vehicle is not necessary to have high-quality access to the city.

Disruptions like this invite us to imagine how cities could be. According to Crist, “we’re living in a very interesting time — something of a crossroads. We suddenly have so many more options in how we can get around, with an even greater promise for the future. But we haven’t yet thought about re-allocating space in the city to fit these modes.”

“Today’s roads are based off a 100-year-old model,” he points out. “How can governments adapt and lead to re-think the model for the next 100 years?”

ITF work has indicated that if widely adopted, some forms of shared mobility could halve the number of vehicle-kilometres travelled in urban areas, and reduce urban transport CO2 emissions by 30%. Free-floating e-scooters and other forms of micro-mobility can help achieve these outcomes, but it’s crucial that governments take them seriously and recognise the potential they represent.

Cities such as Paris are well-placed to imagine and invest in the future of transport at this exciting time.

This article is part of a series on Shared Mobility in Practice, which looks at how cities around the world are incorporating innovative transport solutions in real life, today. See also: Los Angeles: Harnessing Data for Transport Innovation, and: China: Explaining Ride-Hailing’s Rapid Rise. Shared mobility is one of the transport disruptions explored in the 2019 ITF Transport Outlook.

China: Explaining Ride-Hailing’s Rapid Rise

Shared Mobility in Practice

How ride-hailing has gone from nonexistence to a mammoth industry in the space of a few years in the People’s Republic of China

By Emma Latham-Jones and Will Duncan

Along the Champs-Élysées of Shanghai, Huaihai Road, a woman is hovering on the pavement’s edge with her smartphone in hand, as she glances from her screen to the road and back again. Suddenly an anonymous car pulls up. A name is shouted out from the driver’s seat, which is received with a nod and a smile. The passenger seat door opens and closes again, and the car seamlessly continues on its journey.

Only a decade ago, no one had heard of app-based ride services. Today, ride-hailing is valued at USD 61.3 billion globally. By 2025, that number is expected to almost quadruple. So what’s causing this explosive growth in shared mobility?

The place to start looking for an answer is the giant of Asia, China. A stunning 62% of Chinese regularly hail a ride with their smartphone, according to a recent survey by Bain & Co (PDF). China’s operator DiDi alone carried out 10 billion rides with 550 million users in 2018.

No surprise, then, that the People’s Republic is the world’s largest ride-hailing market. Valued at USD 23 billion, its market is bigger than those of the rest of the world combined. America’s Uber counted a comparatively modest 95 million users worldwide in 2018 and is valued at just over USD 40 billion – DiDi’s global operations are now worth roughly USD 58 billion.

So what is it about China that makes it such fertile ground for app-based ride-hailing?

Firstly, Chinese city dwellers are rapidly changing their attitude to cars. Once thought of as a status symbol, less than half of China’s urban residents now see owning a car as a form of social progress, according to the Bain & Co survey.

China still has comparatively few cars. Only 118 cars per 1 000 inhabitants were registered in 2016. With car penetration in China at roughly 12%, compared to 74% in North America, or 53% in Europe, China has not developed the same culture of private car ownership as in the West.

The taxi features more heavily in the transport systems of big Chinese cities than in most Western agglomerations, making empty passenger seats less common. Car occupancy is significantly higher in China than in Europe: On average, 2.3 Chinese share a car ride, while the figure is only 1.6 in Europe (and as low as 1.2 passengers in some Western cities).

“China already had a culture of carpooling. With higher than average occupancy rates and lower vehicle ownership, Chinese users are more open to ride-hailing services or car sharing,” explains Jari Kauppila, Head of Quantitative Policy Analysis and Foresight at the International Transport Forum.

Incomes in China have risen steadily over the past decades. The emerging middle class is adaptable and very open to new services and products – which helped ride-hailing to quickly become mainstream.

The wild popularity of app-based payments also helped. WeChat Pay, a service offered by China’s internet giant Tencent is used by a striking 900 million people each month – a different league from Apple Pay’s 127 million users worldwide. Growth in e-hailing is, therefore, part of a broader trend across China’s cities.

A third factor is the cost of a private car in China. From taxes and insurance to parking fees, owning a car in China has become increasingly expensive, putting off many of China’s urban residents from buying their own vehicle.

Critically, the authorities have put a cap on the number of new cars that can hit the streets of Shanghai, Beijing and other cities. To own a car, you need a license. These are allocated via auctions, putting a heavy price tag even on the right to ownership.

“Car ownership in many Chinese cities is very restrictive”, explains Wei-Shiuen Ng, Advisor for Sustainable Transport and Global Outreach at the International Transport Forum.

“The price and quota associated with getting a license to own a car have quite significantly reduced vehicle growth and congestion levels, especially in the short term.”

Nevertheless, ten Chinese cities make the list of the 25 most congested cities in the world, according to the 2017 TomTom Traffic Index. Many Chinese urbanites can think of better ways to spend time than waste it in traffic jams. Hence the car is rarely their first choice for running errands and commuting to work. Instead, they order a car when conditions make that a good choice and let someone else do the actual driving, look after maintenance and bear the fixed costs.

A further element is the changing landscape for investments. China’s mobility market is strikingly dynamic. It’s full to the brim of eager-eyed competitors looking to experiment with new ride-hailing ventures: from delivery app, Meituan Dianping, and mapping service, Gaode, to traditional carmakers, such as GAC. During the three years from 2014 to 2017, this market was powered by an astounding USD 50 billion in investments. It didn’t take long for DiDi, China’s biggest ride-hailing company, to raise staggering amounts of money: indeed, in just six years DiDi has managed to raise a total of USD 20.6 billion in funding over 17 rounds.

Everyone wants a piece of the pie. Manufacturers in particular are looking to find new revenue models as car sales decline. They are setting their sights on the emerging high-end ride-hailing market, which is not yet as crowded as mainstream ride-hailing. In December 2017, BMW launched its ReachNow service in Chengdu showing that it is ready to take on the Premium ride-hailing service segment.

But European car manufacturers have Shenzhou, Shouqi, and DiDi Premium to compete with. Western companies battling it out in China’s tier-one cities somewhat resembles the Uber versus DiDi struggle of 2016, which ended in DiDi acquiring Uber China in August 2016 in a USD 35 billion deal.

“Part of DiDi’s success was that it was so familiar with the domestic market, the culture and local consumer preferences,” explains Wei-Shiuen Ng.

This article is part of a series on Shared Mobility in Practice, which looks at how cities around the world are incorporating innovative transport solutions in real life, today. See also: Los Angeles: Harnessing Data for Transport Innovation, and: Paris: Managing the Shared Mobility Révolution. Shared mobility is one of the transport disruptions explored in the 2019 ITF Transport Outlook.

Los Angeles: Harnessing Data for Transport Innovation

Shared Mobility in Practice

By Emma Latham-Jones and Will Duncan

An urban transport revolution is underway in Los Angeles, the epitome of a car-reliant city – and it revolves around data.

Los Angeles, California’s largest city, has long been infamous for its traffic. But now app-based services revolving around shared vehicles are taking off. The city government is embracing these new services as a way to reduce the number of polluting cars clogging its gridded streets. To regulate — and benefit from — shared mobility, L.A. has found that data transparency and data management are essential. 

The way in which Los Angeles was planned and built has made it a car-dependent city. Throughout the 20th century, L.A. grew outwards rather than upwards; residents preferred suburban-style neighbourhoods to tall apartment buildings – and urban sprawl with low population density has precipitated a car-centred lifestyle.

“The city layout is very challenging,” says Wei-Shiuen Ng, Sustainable Transport Advisor at the International Transport Forum. “It’s just not planned in a way that public transport can thrive.”

Eighty-four per cent of Los Angeles’ commuters drive – that is double San Francisco’s percentage. Meanwhile, only 5% walk or cycle. This car dependency is causing serious problems: poor air quality, constant traffic congestion, and increasing obesity. The government estimates that owning and operating a car in L.A. costs its citizens an average of USD 9 122 per year.

The promise of shared mobility

But it’s not all bad news. Los Angeles is rising to the challenge and has quickly become a North American leader in rethinking urban mobility. Mobility options enabled by new technologies are reshaping how people navigate L.A.’s 7 500 miles of streets— whether they use free-floating shared bicycles and e-scooters or ride-sharing apps like Uber Pool or Lyft. L.A. is one of three US cities to earn the perfect score on the Shared Mobility City Index (SMCI), which evaluated 20 cities. This reflects the wide range of new shared vehicles and on-demand transport services available.

“New shared mobility tools are helping our residents realise that they have choices about how they move around our city,” explains Seleta Reynolds, General Manager of L.A.’s Department of Transportation (LADoT).

The L.A.’s Department of Transportation recogonises the potential of shared mobility to reduce congestion, improve the city’s environment and enhance access to jobs and services for its less well-off citizens. In 2016, L.A. released Urban Mobility in a Digital Age: a ground-breaking playbook for transport in the digital age that charted specific strategies to be implemented by the city (available here with its implementation plan here). In 2018, it teamed up with environmental organisation NRDC and with the input from transport, technology and other experts, released the Los Angeles Shared-Mobility Climate and Equity Action Plan (available here). Another L.A. first, the Action Plan aims to leverage shared mobility as a tool to address climate change and inequitable access to transport.

Data management: cities’ new toolkit

So how can L.A.’s elected leaders stay in control while novel shared mobility services enter its transport market? The city government has found that the answer lies in data. On the one hand, access to the data generated by the service providers enables LADoT to gain a comprehensive picture of how shared mobility is used in L.A.. On the other hand, the technical capacity to handle data enables authorities to communicate with service providers in real time and use digital language to enforce rules and regulations. 

“We’re leveraging the innovative spirit that has defined our city for generations,” says Ms. Reynolds. “We’re using it to plan 21st century streets for all Angelenos, with a focus on creating more options and more access.”

In 2018, L.A. unveiled the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), a data and API standard that allows the city to gather, analyse, and compare real-time data from shared mobility operators. Realising the need to go beyond L.A., MDS is now governed by the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF), a multi-city-led governance body. MDS has now been taken up by more than 80 cities around the world.

“The genius of MDS is that it allows cities to put out machine-readable regulations,” says Philippe Crist, Innovation and Foresight Advisor at the International Transport Forum. “This allows much better control of these app-based platforms by public authorities. Imagine it like information from a street sign but in a more instant digital form.”

Using algorithms to manage mobility services has a lot of potential to improve cities’ ability to better enforce rules. For example, digitally-coded instructions can help ensure that e-scooters are parked properly and do not become obstacles. They can also declare certain roads off-limits to vehicles in the event of road works, a demonstration, or an on-going emergency.

“We have to create a digital set of management tools,” Marcel Porras, Chief Sustainability Officer at LADoT, told Smart Cities Drive in a recent interview: “Our Mobility Data Specification provides the foundation for [it].”

Shared mobility can do more than take pressure off the city’s roads, the L.A. Department of Transportation believes. It can also bring meaningful equity benefits. Porras describes this as a critical question for cities when it comes to managing shared mobility: “How do we equitably distribute resources?”

Access to data is the first step, as it can make the needs of citizens more transparent. The second step involves ensuring innovative transport services are not only made available to customers with deeper pockets than others. Again, algorithmic regulation may be able to help ensure that ride-hailing operators serve all of the city’s neighbourhoods, not just the more prosperous or safer ones. For example, a city government of the – perhaps not so distant – future could require a specified minimum number of automated shared vehicles to serve select geographic areas.

ITF’s Philippe Crist thinks it is likely that “machine-readable regulations could require operators to meet certain equity-based key performance indicators”. This kind of regulatory environment “requires different, and digital, building blocks than those we are used to,” Crist explains. “And all of this is ultimately in the hands of cities.” 

This article is part of a series on Shared Mobility in Practice, which looks at how cities around the world are incorporating innovative transport solutions in real life, today. See also: China: Explaining Ride-Hailing’s Rapid Rise, and: Paris: Managing the Shared Mobility Révolution. Shared mobility is one of the transport disruptions explored in the 2019 ITF Transport Outlook.

Why Flight Shaming Will Not Take Off

Exploding demand for air travel, low ticket prices and the simple ease of flying make it hard for the flight shaming movement to develop truly global momentum

By Emma Latham-Jones

Since 2017, there has been a surge in the number of northern European campaigners boycotting air travel for leisure. But this so-called flygskam (“flight shaming”) movement is up against the lure of low prices for air tickets, the sheer convenience of flying and a rapidly growing number of air travelers particularly in the newly prosperous Asian countries.

Flygskam has arisen from a broader concern that man-made climate change poses a serious threat to people’s livelihoods around the globe. Rising temperatures cause droughts, rising sea levels threaten low-lying regions, and ever more extreme weather leads to severe disruptions.

International aviation is responsible for only 2% of all man-made CO2 emissions. But this does not take into account the warming impact of aircrafts’ non-CO2 emissions. Planes also emit other substances such as contrails, aerosols, nitrogen oxides and particle emissions that are a major contributor to the warming impact of aircraft. Scientists have shown that non-CO2 emissions occurring at high altitudes have a much stronger climate impact than those produced by other modes of transport.

A record number or air travellers

Since 2010, international flights (measured in passenger-kilometres) have increased by 61%.  In 2018, a record 4.3 billion airline passengers were counted, up 6.1% from the year before. Between now and 2050, demand for air travel could again triple, according to the most recent projections by the International Transport Forum.

Global demand for air travel is set to quadruple over the next 30 years

If airlines were treated as a country, they would already now be among the ten biggest greenhouse gas emitters ahead of Brazil, Mexico and the UK, the Union of Concerned Scientists notes. “Even trying to stabilise aviation CO2 emissions at today’s level is challenging”, explains Andreas W. Schäfer, Professor of Energy and Transport at University College London and Director of the Air Transportation Systems Laboratory. “This is due to the strong growth of the sector, its capital intensity, the comparatively limited number of mitigation options and longtime constants—half of the aircraft introduced today will still be operating at mid-century.”

Of all transport-related CO2 emissions, aviation contributes over 10%. And transport’s carbon footprint has grown faster than that of any other sector over the past 50 years. The main reason is the rapidly growing demand for mobility – not least for air travel. In 2017, an average person flew once every 22 months – twice as frequently as in the year 2000.

Flygskam gains momentum

Flygskam was originally championed by Swedish singer Staffan Lindberg and Olympic athlete Bjorn Ferry and gained momentum thanks to social media and the so-called “Greta Thunberg effect”: The Swedish teenage climate activist made her – widely publicised – trip to the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos entirely by train.

Rather than flying, climate activist Greta Thunberg took a train to Davos and a boat to New York

This gave birth to tagskryt (“train-bragging”), soon popularised by a Facebook group in which Swedes share stories of, and tips from, their journeys via train. The group now has 14.6K followers. Greta Thunberg has since moved to on to another emissions-free transport mode, sailing across the Atlantic to New York for the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit on a sleek hydrofoil yacht, the Malizia II.

Could Flygskam kick-start change in behavior on a scale big enough to counteract the predicted boom in global air travel?  Three main reasons make this seem doubtful.

Lack of alternatives

First, the lack of more sustainable alternatives for many flight routes. Europe and East Asia have well-developed high speed rail network. All bar two of the 20 countries with the best high-speed rail links are in Europe and East Asia. Among the extensive high-speed rail networks in Europe there are now many international links across orders. In these regions, travellers can fairly easily switch from air to rail, certainly for shorter flights. Indeed, Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen train has a greater market share than air transport on domestic routes under 600 kilometres.

Europe has a densely-woven network of high-speed rail lines

The picture in other parts of the world looks much less positive. In North America, the United States have no train line that is entirely high speed. The Acela Express that links New York and Washington, D.C., has an average speed of 106 km/h, less than half the speed of most high-speed trains. California is building a high-speed rail system, but its first phase won’t be completed until 2029.

The fastest train from San Francisco to Los Angeles takes 9 hours and 18 minutes. Any of more than one dozen airlines gets you there in 90 minutes. And “even where there is good alternative infrastructure, high-speed rail often simply cannot compete with the low prices and convenience of short-haul flights,” explains Jagoda Egeland, Aviation Policy Lead at the International Transport Forum.

No Chinese word for flygskam

A second reason why flight shaming may not take off is the soaring demand for air travel in Asia. There simply is no sign that newly prosperous Chinese, Indonesians or Uzbeks intend to forgo the pleasures of flying to Paris or Phuket.

The Asia-Pacific recorded the biggest numbers of overall aviation passengers in 2017, with 1.5 billion passengers and a 36.3% market share. The region also saw the highest year-over-year increase in traffic and had the five busiest international airline routes.  The Asia-Pacific region “will account for up to half of total annual increase in air traffic by 2020,” predicted Shukor Yusof, an aviation expert at Endau Analytics, in a conversation with Deutsche Welle.

China is the engine of much of this demand growth. The 400 million members of its relatively new middle class have an increasing thirst for exploring the world. Within the next decade, China will overtake the USA as the largest aviation market in the world. But currently there isn’t a word for flygskam in Chinese.

Passengers check in at an airport in China

Biofuels against flight shaming

A final factor that may contain flygskam are biofuels. Significantly, Northern Europe, where flight shaming originated, is now pushing hard towards making the fuel mix used for air travel less objectionable. The Swedish government has set a tax on avfuel – previously untaxed – and is contemplating to require 30% biofuels to be blended into kerosene by 2030.

Norway already requires 0.5% biofuel for airlines operating in the country and also targets 30% by 2030. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) also calls for a significant proportion of conventional aviation fuels to be substituted with sustainable aviation fuels by 2050 in its  2050 Vision for Sustainable Aviation Fuels

The problem is that scaling up the production of biofuels may be difficult, and that growing more of the organic matter required for biofuels can actually increase greenhouse gas emissions. Which is why offsetting emissions is important. The ICAO’s 192 member countries agreed a global deal called CORSIA in 2016 that committed aviation to achieving carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and to halve net emissions levels by 2050 compared to 2005. Any rise in international aviation emissions above 2020 levels will be offset, mostly through planting trees. While some of the largest environmental NGOs argue that the carbon stored in trees or biological carbon is not equivalent to fossil carbon, this may still help travellers to feel less guilt about flying.

Will short-haul flights be electric a couple of decades from now?

Electricity plus efficiency

Electrification of aircraft is another hotly pursued aviation innovation since explorers Bertrand Picard and André Borschberg demonstrated the viability of the concept with their circumnavigation of the globe in their solar-powered “Solar Impulse 2” aircraft in 2016. Electric aircraft are now being introduced by airlines in the US and in Canada. Norway has made the electrification of short-haul aviation by 2040 its official policy target.

This would have a truly drastic effect: Electrification of short-haul flights and more stringent carbon pricing would cut  CO2 emissions from domestic aviation by as much as 81% and those of (mostly longer-haul) international aviation by 19% by 2050, according to the ITF’s Transport Outlook 2019.

In the meantime, upgrades that increase the efficiency of conventional engines will likely continue, and the question of life-cycle emissions is also being addressed: The Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe has set itself some challenging environmental goals that include ensuring all aircraft are designed and manufactured to be recyclable.

Cancelled out

Ultimately, flight shaming remains a concept that has traction mostly in European countries with already environmentally engaged citizens. The idea is unlikely to make a difference to consumers’ travel behaviour across the globe, as it is not catching on in some of the world’s largest aviation markets and is easily cancelled out by exploding demand for air travel.

However, the aviation industry is taking note of the movement. Airlines fear reputational damage and are keen to find ways to ensure their services will be less obvious targets for being branded as “shameful” by climate activists – and they are even willing to forgo some business: In reaction to flygskam, Dutch airline KLM recently launched a platform called “Fly Responsibly”: The website invites passengers to compensate for their travel CO2 – and also highlights that getting to Brussels from Amsterdam is faster by train than by plane.


Emma Latham-Jones is a Young Associate at the International Transport Forum at the OECD.

“The Paris Agreement Can’t Save the Planet Without Transport”

More than 190 governments will meet in Santiago de Chile in December 2019 to agree how to make the objectives of the seminal 2015 Paris Climate Agreement a reality. More than ever, transport will be the focus of attention: it contributes nearly a quarter of man-made CO2 and its share is still rising. Emma Latham-Jones talked to Pierpaolo Cazzola, a renowned expert on the links between energy and mobility, on what needs to happen to clean up transport.

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Climate change is threatening the fundamentals for human life on earth

If we don’t prevent runaway climate change, what will be the effect on lives around the world?

Pierpaolo Cazzola: There is a broad consensus that human activities are causing changes in the climate that lead to major risks. These include droughts, rising sea levels that threaten low-lying regions, extreme and less predictable weather, and loss of biodiversity with potential impacts on human health, food security, water supply and economic development.

Transport is a major contributor to CO2 emissions. How can we accelerate the transition to carbon-neutral mobility?

PC: That is a major undertaking. We can only achieve it through joint actions targeting several areas at the same time. And we must not forget to the human side in order to ensure that the transition is fair and equitable for everyone.

What are the main areas of action?

PC: I would say that there are six pillars upon which the decarbonisation of transport will have to build.

Firstly, we need to better manage travel demand. Policies that favour the development of compact cities with mixed-use buildings, for instance, reduce travel distances by cutting trip lengths and allowing more trip chaining.

Secondly, what experts call “modal shift”: Creating incentives for people to use transport modes that use less energy for the same service, such as public transport, and ensuring that it can be provided at affordable costs, promoting transit-oriented urban developments.

Thirdly, we need to maximise the capacity utilisation of vehicles. This reduces the energy needed to move each passenger or each unit of goods. Digital technologies can help to achieve this, and the right policy actions can do a lot to reduce the use of single-occupancy vehicles.

Fourthly, vehicles need to become much more energy-efficient. It is crucial that policies support the deployment of technologies that use less energy per kilometre. Policies must also seek to accelerate the transition towards technologies that produce zero emissions, in particular electric mobility.

Fifthly, the so-called energy vectors for transport need to be decarbonised. Energy vectors are the technologies that store energy and make it available for transport – e.g. liquid fuels, electricity, or hydrogen. If their generation cause emissions, not much is gained.

Finally, emissions from vehicle manufacturing and infrastructure construction also need to be minimised. This requires improvements in the design and usage phases to minimise the use of materials. It also requires greater recycling rates, along with the use of recycled inputs and a growing reliance on materials that can be manufactured through processes with low energy and greenhouse gas emission intensity.

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Charging of Electric Vehicle

Let me also add that the transition of transport towards zero emissions does not only need to go hand-in-hand with the decarbonisation of the rest of the energy system, but it can even contribute to foster it, through sector coupling. The latter creates mutual benefits by linking energy consuming sectors such as transport, housing or manufacturing with the power production when thinking about decarbonisation.

And how could that work?

PC: For example electric vehicles could be used as distributed energy storage for the power system. This in turn would help the energy providers to better deal with the supply imponderables associated with wind or solar power and thus encourage them to embrace renewable energy. Similar opportunities exist if hydrogen became part of the transport fuel mix. Digitalisation can be a powerful enabler for sector coupling – if policy creates the right conditions in time.

You mentioned improving energy efficiency of vehicles. But what’s the point if cars keep getting bigger and heavier?

PC: That’s a good point. We should also pay attention to resource efficiency. From a climate change perspective there is no point in making engines more energy efficient if the gain is used to propel heavier vehicles – emissions won’t fall. So the growth of vehicle size should be managed, as should the material requirements. A lot can be gained by choosing the powertrain technologies that is optimal for the use of the vehicle. Full electrification, for example, is best suited to vehicles that operate within a defined range and are used intensively, for instance taxis or urban buses.

Can we stop climate change without addressing transport emissions?

PC: Honestly, no.

So how much of an impact does the transport sector have on global carbon emissions?

PC: Transport is almost entirely dependent on oil and emits between 20 and 25% of the direct CO2 emissions due to fuel combustion, which is the bulk of all emissions from greenhouse gases. Without immediate action, its share could reach 40% by 2030.

Transport’s contribution to CO2 emissions is even larger from a life cycle perspective. We mustn’t overlook the emissions stemming from the production and distribution of transport fuels, resulting from the manufacturing of vehicles, and finally those caused by the construction of transport infrastructure. To give an example, this could be the cement used for roads, railways, ports and airports.

To put it bluntly, the Paris agreement can’t save the planet without the transport sector making major changes.

Will transport be a topic of discussion at COP25, the follow-up to the 2015 conference that resulted in the Paris Climate Agreement?

PC: Yes. The Chilean presidency of COP25 is organising a high-level event to bring together transport ministers at the conference in Santiago in December. This will be the first time transport ministers are invited to participate, and that is a significant, symbolic and important step. They have discussed transport and climate change at their own Summits, most recently in Leipzig in May 2019, where a group of ministers led by Sweden’s Thomas Eneroth and Chile’s Gloria Hutt agreed a statement on transport and climate change. But they have so far not been included in the wider climate change negotiations.

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Gloria Hutt Hesse (Minister of Transport and Telecommunications, Chile) and Tomas Eneroth (Minister for Infrastructure, Sweden) present a joint declaration of several ministers on “Transport and Climate Change” at the International Transport Forum’s Summit 2019

Do you think the debate around mitigation policies for transport is sufficiently grounded in empirical evidence?

PC: The policy debate on climate is well informed. In particular the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has provided politicians with a solid factual basis for decision-making.

At the ITF, we also support policy action through the work of our Decarbonising Transport initiative. We provide quantitative evidence, through data analysis and advanced modelling that makes detailed projections on future transport activity and calculates the impact on transport CO2 emissions, among many other things.

If we have the evidence, why isn’t transport already carbon-free?

PC: Liquid fuels for use in combustion engines have a high energy density. They are also cheap. Competing with these characteristics proved to be very hard. As a result, transport today relies on oil for 92% of its energy, and that makes the sector particularly hard to decarbonise. Other energy sources have only managed to establish themselves in some niches, for example electricity in rail.

But the negative side effects of fossil fuel use such as pollution were fairly evident right from the outset, weren’t they? Why did that not help to push alternatives?

PC: Problems that could have questioned the dominance of combustion technologies and fossil fuels, were addressed by treating the symptoms, rather than the causes. The local pollution generated by exhausts, for instance, was tackled by developing exhaust after-treatment technologies.

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Oil pumpjack in Texas

Now there are new constraints on fossil fuel use that won’t be so easily overcome, notably the CO2 emissions from the combustion process. The availability of oil and our capacity to extract more capital-intensive oil resources fast enough will further contribute to diminishing benefits.

What opportunities are there for us to move away from fossil fuel use in transport?

PC: A good example is the combination of batteries electric motors and renewable electricity. Bioenergy presents another opportunity. Low-carbon biofuels are especially relevant for long-distance travel, where batteries are less well suited. Hydrogen could emerge as a climate-friendly transport fuel, or as an important element in the production of other climate-friendly fuels, for example ammonia or synthetic fuels. In parallel, digital technologies make it easier to share assets and use resources more efficiently – think about ride sharing.

So what exactly can decision-makers do at the national level to make the most of these opportunities?

PC: They should use fiscal levers such as carbon pricing and differentiated taxes on new vehicles. Distance-based charges will also be an important tool for steering mobility behaviour. Then, standards for fuel economy of vehicles and for the carbon-content of fuel are needed. Urban planning should favour compact cities and make using public transport easy. Providing a clear framework for shared mobility solutions will ensure that these services complement public transport and do not compete with it. If governments take action on these fronts now, we can shift transport emissions onto a solid downward path.

We talked about the COP25 conference in Chile in December. What is the host country doing to encourage greener transport?

PC: Chile has the largest fleet of electric buses in Latin America. There are more than 200 electric buses on the roads of the capital Santiago today.

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People waiting for their bus in Santiago de Chile

All 6 000 buses of the capital’s network will be successively replaced. President Sebastian Pinera has in fact pledged to electrify the public transport system across the country by 2040 – and, importantly, also set the goal of sourcing all of Chile’s electricity from renewable energy by that date.

Thank you so much for your time, Pierpaolo.

Pierpaolo Cazzola is Advisor for Energy, Technology and Environmental Sustainability at the International Transport Forum (ITF). His interests include creating synergies between the transport and energy expert communities, life cycle emissions of urban mobility options, and the global fuel economy. Currently he is investigating how India is mitigating transport CO2 emissions as part of the ITF project “Decarbonising Transport in Emerging Economies”. Pierpaolo is the author of numerous reports, including most recently the 2019 Global EV Outlook. He has worked at the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United Nations, the European Commission and the OECD.

”We should design cities for active mobility”

Philippe Crist is one of the world’s leading experts on cycling and urban mobility. He sat down with Emma Latham-Jones to talk about cycling culture in emerging countries, infrastructure improvements, and what mayors can do to promote cycling.

At the world’s largest conference on cycling and urban mobility, Velo-City, politicians, city officials, transport experts, advocacy groups and researchers gather to discuss how cycling, and active mobility in general, can complement and replace non-sustainable transport options. At this year’s Velo-City conference in Dublin in Ireland, the keynoter was Philippe Crist of the International Transport Forum, an intergovernmental think tank for transport policy linked to the OECD. I sat down with Philippe to understand more about the role of cycling in modern societies and what cities around the world are doing – or not – to embrace it.


Velo-City is the Mekka of the cycling community. This year in Dublin you roused the audience with your opening speech on “The City of the Future”. What is the main value of events like this one?

Philippe Crist: I think they bring a lot of value! They’re a great opportunity for cross-fertilisation of ideas. It is a good way for public authorities and activists to get inspiration from their peers and to share best practices. Events like Velo-City encourage city officials to talk among themselves to scrutinise policies and work out how to improve them. I think that everyday examples are really important in these discussions. Often the small things can make a big difference. Take for example how the the Dutch and the Danes angle or lower the curbstones next to cycle tracks to make cyclists feel safer and allow easy on-off access to these protected spaces.. These are small touches but they make cycling a more attractive and compelling option for all.

Are cities doing enough for cycling safety?

PC: Some are, some aren’t. Since the 1980s and 1990s, we’ve seen some real leaders emerging from the Netherlands and Denmark. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are constant leaders here, although Rotterdam has significantly redesigned a lot of their city to improve cycling and public transport use.   But we shouldn’t overlook other cities. London, for example, has seen some pretty impressive results and has managed to double the number of cyclists in the past ten years. Bicycles now represent up to 16% of all trips in central London at peak hours.

Cities need to make it inviting for people of all ages and backgrounds to get on a bike. In cities where not much has been done to make cycling a compelling and safe option, the cycling population is not at all representative of the overall population. Instead it is largely skewed to young, male, risk-takers who generally feel comfortable breaking traffic rules they feel are not designed for them. When I see a lot of such cyclists – or a lot of cyclists in lycra — I see that as a symptom of bad cycling policies. Cycling should be made a feasible and attractive option for all – especially those that do not cycle now.

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Cyclist in car traffic in Sao Paulo, Brazil

What are the most noteworthy future trends in active mobility?

PC: There is a kind of tension in what the future holds. On the one hand, citizens want to be more active. Their commute is an obvious, and easy, way to include physical exercise into their day. On the other hand, there is a counter trend to more and more immobility. We’re witnessing a rise in transport that makes things as convenient as possible, which translates into minimising movement – it means moving the least amount possible door-to-door. You see this with ride sourcing and electric push-scooters. These forms of mobility mean you don’t even have to walk down the road to your bus stop or train station. Hence, activity is reduced. We know that the greatest benefits of active mobility are the health benefits and so we should be thinking about building cities to ensure activity mobility. If you make it easier to cross the city by bike than by car, you’ll soon see a rise in the uptake and convenience of active mobility.

Can you list your top three things a city official can do to promote cycling?

PC: Yes! First is managing speed. They need to implement speed limits, while redesigning streets for slower speeds. Where the speed limits have already been put in place, they then must be properly enforced. The second is space! They need to give cyclists more space on our roads. And this space needs to be properly separated. The final thing I’d recommend is making sure that cycling safety is built into the education system. In fact, not just the education system, it should also be a part of the drivers’ licensing system… But these changes must be made at the national level.

Cycling seniors

You mentioned Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and London as pacemakers. All four are in Europe. Are there other cities that stand out to you as cycling pioneers and from which city officials and citizens draw inspiration?

PC: To answer this question fairly, I think you have to take into account where the cities have started from. Mexico City and Los Angeles are now doing a lot, despite little preexisting cycling infrastructure. Taipei is rolling out an impressive bike-sharing system. Rotterdam is known as a cycling leader, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the situation was very different only ten years ago. Back then, they were entirely car-centric. In just two years Seville built an entire city-wide cycling path network. Berlin is looking now to integrate cycling with public transport. Cities are working around the world to rapidly scale-up cycling infrastructure.

Not everyone is keen on cycling. And some, frankly, just aren’t very good at it. What are some of the best low-carbon alternatives for these individuals?

PC: There are all sorts of human-powered vehicles out there. A lot of older people have tricycles to help with balance issues. Children, of course, often use them too. Companies are increasingly using cargo bikes to deliver their products, as they are much more reliable and are able to navigate dense and congested conditions more easily. This translates into high rates of on-time delivery, and so happier customers! Individuals can also use cargo-bikes. They are great for carrying people that are less mobile or incapable of walking.

It seems that mostly young people use bicycles. Is cycling something that is also accessible for older generations and for the less physically fit?

PC: In a city that has done enough to encourage cycling, there should be no difference in terms of the demographic using bicycles. There should be children on a bike, the elderly, fathers with their babies, young women – you name it. We see this when city design has made cycling the most compelling and convenient option. Technology can also help. E-bikes are making cycling investment possible even in cities with low population density, because they extend the range of cycling and overcome some of the topographical challenges.

Cyclists in Vietnam

Is cycling an option to increase mobility in cities in the developing world?

PC: There is a lot of cycling taking place in the developing world – but it’s often viewed as an “imposed” mobility option rather than a positive one. Cycling is something that poor households do, as it’s the cheapest option. But it is also done in horrible traffic conditions and street spaces that are not at all designed for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians – as soon as households gain income, they typically move away from active modes of travel.  In the developing world too much space is allocated to vehicles that only a minority of the population can afford. Investment in cycling infrastructure is one of the best ways to increase the safety and attractiveness of active mobility. This includes the “hidden infrastructure” that is speed management. Such cycling infrastructure in turn enhances a city’s accessibility and inclusiveness.

Thank you so much for your time, Philippe.


Philippe Crist is Advisor for Innovation and Foresight at the International Transport Forum (ITF). His interests include how to use new data sources to improve transport decision-making. Currently he is investigating how policy and regulation might adapt to an increasingly algorithmically-driven world. Philippe won the Leadership Award for Cycling Promotion of the Danish Cycling Embassy’s in 2016. He is the author of “The Shared-Use City: Managing the Curb” (ITF, 2018)

Cover of the report "The Shared-use City: Managing the Curb" (International Transport Forum, 2018)

Can Electric Cars Drive Global Decarbonisation?

nancy-vandyckeBy Nancy L. Vandycke, Program Manager, Sustainable Mobility for All Initiative, World Bank

Can one plus one be more than two? I believe that it can. In fact, I would wager that we must find opportunities to do so if we are serious about delivering our goals for the Paris Climate Agreement. The transport-energy nexus is precisely a place where we can find such opportunities; more specifically, I am talking about the possibility of global decarbonisation through the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). That said, we must always be aware of potential pitfalls. Allow me to share my experience.

The promise of global emission reduction

In 2017, transport accounted for 24 per cent of total CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. To reduce emissions, many countries have been promoting the electrification of transport. For many, adopting the trend for EVs is a way to transition passenger fleet away from conventional gasoline and diesel-fuelled cars. In fact, last year, global sales of EV surpassed a million units. Under the current trend, EV production could almost quadruple by 2020, with China leading the way.

34851733984_ef336560fa_kAs more and more EVs replace internal combustion vehicles, the energy burden for transport will eventually shift from oil to electricity. This is good news for the power sector. By riding on the trend of increased EVs, it can become part of a solution for global decarbonisation.

There is an added bonus for the power sector. For years, its profitability has been in decline. Charging EVs will add some load to the power grid, which is a welcome development for utilities against the continued decline in electricity prices.

Such a scenario seems promising, but there are potential pitfalls along the way.

The pitfalls

For a long time now, the transport and energy sectors have been talking about decarbonisation in their own circles.

As I sat in conversations with industry leaders from each sector—both in my role as the lead for Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) and as a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) global council on advanced energy technologies—I came to realise how disconnected the conversations about decarbonisation are. If we were to connect the two sectors, we must bring them to sit at the same table.

Accordingly, SuM4All invited experts in the energy sector to the table at our last consortium meeting in January 2019. However, it soon became clear that each side is speaking about decarbonisation in their own language and neither side could understand the other. Until both sides find a common language and tie their conversations together, it is unlikely that developments in these respective industries will succeed at decarbonising the global economy.

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Even if both sides manage to come to an agreement on a common language and approach, one must be thoughtful about the way both sectors collaborate.

As of today, renewable energy accounts for merely a quarter of total global power generation. Without greening the power grid, a wholesale adoption of EVs will not result in true decarbonisation in either sector. Half of the G20 countries have made progress in expanding renewable electricity generation in the years leading up to 2015, but, alarmingly, nine saw declines in 2015 and the preceding years. Reducing the carbon intensity of power generation is what matters in the end.

But this transformation will not happen overnight. As the share of renewables increases in the energy mix, the carbon intensity of energy production will also increase. In fact, in the short term, one expects an overall increase in carbon emissions with the EV deployment, simply because of the EV battery manufacturing.

The way forward

The good news is that if we manage to co-ordinate policy interventions within the transport and energy sectors, we can make great strides towards decarbonisation. For example, policy support measures that target electrification in the transport sector should be linked to renewable requirements on the energy side.  For this reason, I plan to bring a clear and simple message to the Electric and Digital Mobility event ahead of the upcoming ITF Summit: to fully leverage the power of mobility, we need to concurrently clean up the grid.

If we manage to do so, one plus one can indeed be more than two, and the Paris Climate Agreement goals will be very much within our reach.

Nancy L. Vandycke is a speaker at the TUMIVolt Conference on 21 May 2019 in Leipzig, Germany. The ITF Summit follows from 22-24 May.