Building Back Better

Building Back Better: Transport Is Part Of The Process

14th July 2021

As vaccinations proceed, the world is looking to move forward, past the pandemic crisis, into a future which is closer to the wellbeing of humanity. What better means to use for this physical and intellectual movement than transport? The sector, which has suffered tremendously during this period of uncertainty and doubt, has now proven to be an indispensable tool towards the ‘Building Back Better’ process through its role as a connector of most aspects of life with associations again being in the centre of it all.

Words Vicky Koffa

Risk of contagion, social distancing, reduced demand of certain goods and overly increased demand of others, restrictions in the main manufacturing countries, are just some of the reasons transport has demonstrated its central part in smooth daily functions. Additionally, when trying to restore the supply chain and rebuild passenger trust, sustainability needs to be factored in. How can governments revive the economy maximizing the efficiency of transport while creating an attractive sustainable environment?

Europe’s Green Deal is an effort to tackle the issue, but action needs to be taken universally; the world must be brought to the same level of sustainability standards for the initiative to work. Extensive use of green public transport, sustainable ways of individual transport and eco-friendly circulation of goods through distribution networks will ensure global homogeneity in sustainability. Associations in sectors such as aviation, shipping, railways and public transport are working towards this end, putting pressure on policy-makers for further research and investment. 

Public Transport Provides Mobility for Life

Mobility within cities has started booming once again and the conversation around recovery cannot but focus on public transport. “As the backbone of sustainable urban mobility, public transport is the beating heart of our cities, and you cannot consider the recovery process without it. We know that public transport provides access to employment, education, leisure, culture and more… and is a vital component to the conversation on climate action by helping to bring cleaner air to our cities. If we are looking towards rebuilding out of the pandemic, we must invest in public transport to encourage active mobility,” says Mohamed Mezghani, Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP).

More efficient access to jobs and services leads to broader usage of public transport and to cleaner healthier cities with less car usage. The way to achieve this is by receiving the necessary attention and investment from decision-makers in order to improve infrastructure and mobility vehicles. Eco-friendly electric buses, trams and metro systems encourage the idea of active mobility. Transit companies should apply artificial intelligence on passenger movement to collect and leverage real time data about their operations, address the primary concerns of their customers and adapt their timetables and routes to improve accessibility, enhance capacity and reduce overcrowding, hence providing more safety. 

“An investment in public transport returns four times that to our cities. Every day is another step in our journey, and how we choose to get there is key. Counting on public transport to provide daily mobility is what our cities should be built around. Mobility is for life. This will become an important working topic at UITP this year and next, visible throughout our output with events, publications and content. By placing a focus on the idea of mobility being for life, we need to keep investing, developing and innovating,” continues Mezghani.

Individual Transport Goes Beyond Cars

UITP suggests that we must make sure that cities and countries discourage individual car use as people’s mobility increases. Undoubtedly, we cannot eliminate individual transport altogether. But the pandemic demonstrated that people like emptier cities. A shift towards fully electric cars is self-evident, but not ideal; costs are still high, efficiency is still tricky and city congestion would still be created. Electric car and scooter sharing is a solution that has been in place for some time, now joined by the rediscovered walking and cycling as options for active mobility. 

“There is significant evidence that cycling grew far more in cities where local governments intervened to create new cycling infrastructure and walking has done well where cities have created new car-free public spaces for people to get better access to outdoor space while maintaining social distances,” says Kevin Mayne, Chief Executive of Cycling Industries Europe (CIE). Cities around the world have already invested in cycle lanes as the benefits of cycling around a city spread and are looking to find more permanent policies to facilitate a transition towards a greener individual mobility. 

Such opportunities do not go unnoticed by associations like CIE, which provides actual solutions for the Building Back Better process. Part of this regenerated means of transport is also bike sharing. “The benefits of bike sharing are important to the overall development of active travel. CIE’s Bike-Sharing Expert Group is campaigning for every city in Europe to have a bike-sharing scheme because it gives access to bikes for people who cannot afford to purchase bikes (especially more expensive e-bikes), it helps people whose home or work circumstances don’t give adequate cycle storage and it facilitates multi-modal trips,” continues Mayne. 

Transport in the Center of the Supply Chain

The sector was challenged the most when trucking services, air cargo and passenger transfer came to a halt. The world experienced shortages in all kinds of goods as production and handling are both connected to transport creating a ripple effect and leading to the disruption of the entire supply chain. As restrictions are gradually lifted and demand is increasing, there is a clear opportunity for improved transport services where the environment is considered equally with on-time delivery and profit. 

“For many years now, the whole aviation sector has worked collaboratively to set long-term climate goals and the building blocks to underpin those targets; the Covid-19 crisis has actually led to an acceleration of these efforts. Alongside improvements in operational measures and airspace will be action in two key areas: first, a continuation of new technology improvements beyond those already in place including the potential for hydrogen and electric propulsion in aircraft. And a shift away from fossil fuels to sustainable aviation fuel is possible with the right policy environment. Already, over 300,000 flights using a blend of SAF have taken off, we need to work with governments and the energy sector to make this a reality,” says Haldane Dodd, Head of Communications of Air Transport Action Group.

However, when all else was counting losses, seaports were allowed to remain operational and deliver their freight. If anything, they had the opposite problem of over demand, which created lack of synchronization between all stakeholders involved due to infrastructure and digital insufficiencies. “In the container liner industry, the strong increase of consumer demand, together with disruptions in supply chains on land, lead to huge challenges in the daily operations. The lack of spare capacity also led to strong price increases for transporting containers globally,” says Martin Dorsman, Secretary General of the European Community Shipowners’ Associations.

When aiming at decarbonization and alignment with the EU’s Green Deal requirements, ports can be part of the solution suggests Isabelle Ryckbost, Secretary General of the European Sea Ports Organization (ESPO)“Synergies can be created among the industries in the port, bringing production and labor closer to the urban agglomerations and centers of consumption. Ports are also becoming important centers of circularity. The search for the most effective measures and most cost-effective investments to deliver the Green Deal ambitions will be important. Moreover, ports need to create additional capacity to serve the new responsibilities of circularity, sustainability and energy provision.”

Advanced ports must be combined with advanced shipping. Shipping can and must become more sustainable in the recovery process, not only for ethical reasons but also because its smart for business. There is a very real risk that some ships in the worlds fleet will become ‘stranded assets’ as demands for zero-emission ships outstrip the innovation needed to create them. That’s why the sector needs heavy investment into research and development, and fast. It is why ICS has proposed a $5 billion, industry paid for, research and development fund to develop ocean-going zero-emission ships,” says Stuart Neil, Communications Director of International Chamber of Shipping.

Dorsman agrees with this: The strong and positive market conditions in many shipping segments will stimulate the already ongoing actions by shipowners even further, together with other stakeholders in the maritime domain. The aims are to increase the energy efficiency of existing and new ships and to find as quickly as possible the zero carbon fuels that can keep the global fleet going in a sustainable way.”

All in all, the sector has a hard road lying ahead. The already existing challenges transport was facing are now added to passengers’ Covid-born demands for safety and to cargo needs for smoother collaboration among all parties involved. Sustainability also has a major role to play in the whole recovery process. Relevant associations are, not only seizing, but also jointly creating opportunities and finding solutions to these challenges. The sector seems to have the right approach and the right means to achieve its goals as associations take action to promote the needs of the communities they represent for the new improved version of normality.

This article is graciously sponsored by Madrid Convention Bureau, whose values align with the Building Back Better concept.

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