8. Conclusion

As indicated by analysis from the IPCC, policies leading to transformational pathways can lead to net-zero systems by design and increase the chances of meeting the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal. Identifying such policies is, thus, fundamental.

This report applies the Well-being lens process to the surface transport sector. The process is designed to help policy makers identify transformational policies able to accelerate the transition towards net-zero systems by design, i.e. systems able to improve well-being while requiring less energy and materials and producing fewer emissions.

The Well-being lens process triggers two mind-set shifts, that this report argues are needed to meet net-zero targets on time: i) from means (e.g. GDP) to ends (well-being); and ii) from parts to systems functioning. The first shift allows envisioning an increase in well-being (health, equity, etc.) through low-demand systems (rather than considering high demand as a condition for high life quality). For policy-making, this means that managing or reducing demand becomes a policy lever. The second shift sheds light on the importance of understanding the systems’ dynamics driving unsustainable results. For policy-making, this means focusing climate action on reversing such dynamics and redesigning systems.

For the transport sector the mind-set shifts described above translate into moving: i) from a focus on mobility towards accessibility; and ii) from improving vehicles’ performance in car-dependent systems towards transforming the systems’ functioning (i.e. a systemic mind-set) so that people can access places with ease without the need to travel long distances for every daily need. This shift in thinking expands the scope of climate action, as policies can now focus on reversing car dependency, rather than just improving vehicles’ performance.

Policies with the potential to reverse car dependency include street redesign and improved management of public space, spatial planning focused on creating proximity, and policies to mainstream shared mobility. These are briefly described here below.

The current design of city streets, with excessive and increasing road space granted to cars, fosters induced demand (i.e. increased vehicle ownership and use). Street redesign and improved management of public space can help reverse this trend by reallocating public space and investment to low-carbon and space-efficient modes (e.g. according to Complete Streets’ principles) and balancing space use between transport and other uses (i.e. according to place-making principles); leading to disappearing traffic. Barcelona’s Superblocks are an example of street redesign and reallocation that is planned to transform the whole of the Barcelona Municipality. Parking policy is also crucial to street redesign, and to ensuring public space is managed efficiently and aligned with environmental and social goals (e.g. through parking pricing and regulation). Road pricing can also be a powerful tool, if coupled with street redesign and space reallocation and aimed at the efficient use of space.

Spatial planning aimed at increasing proximity can contain, and eventually reverse, urban sprawl. Most territories are organised around dense inner cities centralising services and job opportunities, surrounded by car-dependent residential areas. New development and urban renewal strategies based on accessibility-based planning frameworks such as the 15-minute city could allow urban areas and their hinterlands to become networks of 15-minute cities in which people can move across the territory, but no longer need to travel long distances to meet their everyday needs. Metropolitan transport authorities provide a strong institutional basis for developing accessibility-based strategic planning at the level of metropolitan areas and regions. Regulations such as minimum parking requirements and traffic-based transport assessments, currently steering new developments towards sprawl, can be substituted by regulation promoting the creation of proximity and compact development (e.g. maximum parking regulations and multimodal assessments).

Policies to accelerate the development of multimodal and sustainable transport networks are fundamental to reverse the erosion of active and shared transport modes. Strengthening public transport networks through increased investment and improved methodologies for determining public transport pricing and planning is key to avoid the often-observed public transport low-cost, low-revenue, low-quality trap. In parallel, support to mainstream shared bicycles and micro-mobility, as well as the expansion of on-demand micro-transit services can significantly increase the attractiveness of these modes (also contributing to providing services that can complement the offer of public transport). This can be done via the use of new technologies and integrated subscription cards (e.g. one account to access all transport services available in the city), regulation that promotes cooperation between government and service providers, and government subsidies in areas where micro-mobility or on-demand services can bring social and environmental benefits but may not be profitable for the private sector. Support to the development of new vehicles (e.g. innovative micro-mobility) and the expansion of services for multipurpose trips (e.g. cargo e-bikes, shared (e-)bikes with baby seats, kids’ bikes) could also contribute to making shared mobility more attractive.

There are numerous synergies between the policies described above, focused on redesigning systems, and market-based instruments, such as carbon pricing. Pricing carbon is fundamental for steering sustainable choices, but its effectiveness is limited in car-dependent systems where such choices are not convenient or available, and where carbon prices can generate negative distributional impacts and thus are publicly difficult to implement. For example, evidence suggests that the impact of fuel prices on people’s choice is low when alternatives to car driving are not available; and that prices’ impact on people’s choice increases when public transport infrastructure is available. Carbon pricing and policies focused on accelerating the transition towards car-independent systems are complementary and can, together, lead to more efficient and publicly acceptable policy packages.

Innovation and technological change – both at the parts and systems levels – play a major role in climate strategies aiming at net-zero systems by design. So far, however, policies and finance have focused on innovation at the parts’ level (e.g. technologies to improve vehicles’ performance or to developing autonomous cars), leaving the potential of systems innovation untapped (including to increase the effectiveness of innovation at the parts’ level).

Systems innovation is innovation aimed at transforming the systems’ functioning. Superblocks in Barcelona are an example of low-tech systems innovation. Superblocks innovate in the way in which public space is allocated and designed, thus modifying the systems’ structure and significantly affecting people’s transport modes choices. Advanced technologies open up enormous opportunities for systems innovation. For example, GPS technologies and apps allow to move from a system which functioning requires each person to own a car, to systems in which a multiplicity of transport modes are available for people to choose and combine according to their needs. Coupled with the policies described above, these technologies can significantly, and in a cost-effective manner, reduce traffic volume and emissions, while significantly improving people’s daily lives.

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