Sustainable transport is a concept born from the broader concept of sustainability and in response to the negative impacts of traditional transportation. It refers to specific modes of transportation and systems that are considered sustainable in terms of their social, economic, and environmental impacts.
The concept has also been integrated with different models of sustainable cities. However, there are challenges and hurdles to its implementation. Sustainable transport is still considered important because of its numerous advantages and benefits.
Advantages and Benefits of Sustainable Transport: The Importance of Sustainability in Transportation
Transportation produces several problems and issues. These include but are not limited to traffic congestion, mobility barriers, damages due to accidents, costs of building and maintaining roads, resource depletion, human health impacts, community livability, aesthetics, air and water pollution, loss of habitat, and hydrologic impact among others. Each of these issues correlates to correlates to economic, social, and environmental problems.
Furthermore, transportation consumes and exploits limited natural resources such as petroleum, raw materials such as metal parts and materials for traffic facilities, and space or land areas. It also generates negative offshoots including air, water, and noise pollution.
Modern transportation is fundamentally unsustainability because it is energy-dependent, resource-intensive, and pollution-generating. Hence, from these, it can be considered that sustainable transport can be described as a sustainable solution that is less dependent on energy, less resource intensive, and generates minimal to zero pollution and other offshoots.
Remember that the concept is based on the broader concept of sustainability. It is also attuned with the principle of a circular economy which is a model of production and consumption that aims to reduce or eliminate waste output through the continual use of finite resources. Sustainability in transportation can also be a part of regenerative design that involves a whole systems approach to design aimed at repairing natural and human systems.
The advantages and benefits of sustainable transport fundamentally address the problems and issues of traditional transportation. Take note of the following:
1. Address Key Environmental Problems
Traditional transportation pollutes the environment and endangers the ecosystem. It accounts for 27 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and 14 percent of the total global emissions. Almost 95 percent of energy input used in transport systems comes from petroleum-based fuels. Petroleum has been blamed for the ongoing climate emergency.
Furthermore, aside from emissions, transport systems also affect the environment through multiple direct and indirect interactions. Noise pollution is rampant in major thoroughfares and areas near rail tracks and airports. The same is true for light pollution. Both noise and light pollution affect human communities and the natural habitats of animals
The need to accommodate vehicles has also resulted in land conversions. Even the production and transportation of vehicles have notable environmental impacts that include the exploitation of limited resources or extraction of raw materials as part of production inputs, as well as the consumption of energy and release of production byproducts.
Nevertheless, because sustainable transport falls within the broader concept of sustainability, it aims to promote transportation and the use of different modes of transportation that have less or zero negative impacts on the environment. Examples include the electrification of mass transit systems, the use of electric vehicles, and the promotion of cycling and walking.
2. Improves Public Health and Safety
The United Nations Environment Programme in 2014 estimated that 2.4 premature deaths from outdoor air pollution could be avoided each year. Vehicles running on fossil fuels are the main source of pollution in urban cities. These modes of transportation emit black carbon and other particulate matter that have been linked to respiratory diseases and cancer.
Furthermore, traditional transportation also creates problems related to public health and safety. Consider road crashes as an example. Over 1.2 million people die while more than 50 million are either injured or left permanently disabled each year due to road accidents according to a report by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development.
Another example is the link between car ownership and lifestyle diseases such as obesity and cardiovascular problems. Researchers D. A. Shoham et al. concluded that not owning a car in the United States is associated with high levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity while M. J. Douglas et al. likened prevalent car ownership to tobacco smoking.
One advantage of sustainable transport is that it aims to address not only the environmental dimension of sustainability but also its human dimension. It aims to promote the use of novel modes of transportation and transportation systems that are beneficial to both the environment and the health or well-being of individuals and their families.
3. Reduces Social and Economic Costs
The goal of transportation is to improve the mobility of people within a particular city or among different cities and areas and support different socioeconomic activities. Its more specific objectives are to make movement comfortable and convenient. The transportation system of a particular country is a determinant of its economic status.
However, traditional transportation has become inefficient due to its social and economic costs. Inefficient systems found in dense urban settlements and cities of developing countries have been criticized due to the time it takes for a person from one point to another. Long commute hours impact business activities while consuming the personal time of commuters.
Researchers M. A. Fattah, S. R. Morshed, and A. A. Kafy identified the specific economic costs of traffic congestion. These include opportunity costs associated with delay, higher fuel costs, and costs due to the impacts of transportation on public health. Traditional transportation has also been linked to reduced quality of life and degraded communities.
A sustainable solution to transportation involves factoring in the impact of mobility or the importance of transportation to economic growth and other socioeconomic aspects. Hence, as part of the benefits of sustainable transport, the concept has been positioned as an efficient and economical alternative to old and tired modes and systems of transportation.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Douglas, M. J., Watkins, S. J., Gorman, D. R., and Higgins, M. 2011. “Are Cars the New Tobacco?” Journal of Public Health. 33(2): 160-169. DOI: 1093/pubmed/fdr032
- Fattah, Md. A., Morshed, S. R., and Kafy, A. A. 2022. “Insights Into the Socio-Economic Impacts of Traffic Congestion in the Port and Industrial Areas of Chittagong City, Bangladesh.” Transportation Engineering. 9(100122). DOI: 1016/j.treng.2022.100122
- Shoham, D. A., Dugas, L. R., Bovet, P., Forrester, T. E., Lambert, E. V., Plange-Rhule, J., Schoeller, D. A., Brage, S., Ekelund, U., Durazo-Arvizu, R. A., Cooper, R. S., and Luke, A. 2015. “Association of Car Ownership and Physical Activity Across the Spectrum of Human Development: Modeling the Epidemiologic Transition Study.” BMC Public Health. 15(1). DOI: 1186/s12889-015-1435-9
- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 2017. Road Safety: Considerations in Support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. United Nations. Available via PDF
- United Nations Environment Programme. 2014. Air Pollution: World’s Worst Environmental Health Risk. United Nations
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2022. “Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Greenhouse Gas Emissions. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Available online
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2022. “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Greenhouse Gas Emissions. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Available online