Sustainable Transport and ICT – a framework

In terms of sustainability, personal mobility matters. According to the very clear and concise report “One Planet Mobility” by WWF, it accounts for 26% of global CO2 emissions – the comparable figure for the EU is 19.4%, where it also accounts for 31% of final energy consumption. So if we are going to deal with the twin problems of climate change and peak oil, we are going to have to do something about transport.

There are lots of projects about ICT and mobility. It’s a vast subject, and hard for any one person to cover in its entirety. Of course, most of the projects are nothing to do with sustainability. They are driven by other agendas, including road safety, the economic benefits of minimising congestion, and improving the experience of drivers. More recently some of these initiatives have been re-positioned as “green”, some more convincingly than others. More worringly, the area is littered with what I can only call “zombie projects” — initiatives which seem to start but never conclude. The web is littered with many of these; a common tell-tale is a “news” page with nothing on it from the last five years.

Nevertheless, there are also many projects where ICT is genuinely attempting to make mobility more sustainable. I’ve grouped these into six broad categories, and plan to write something about the activities in each. I am aware that not everyone groups things in the same way, and I have had some intelligent push back on the categorisation. Still, I plan to use it for the moment.

My categories are:

  • Reducing demand for travel – primarily about using ICT as a substitute for traveling

  • Influencing travel mode choice towards more sustainable modes – by providing the traveller with information or other resources that make those modes either easier or pleasant to use

  • Changing driver behaviour – so that even those who are using less sustainable modes do so in the best way possible

  • Changing vehicle behaviour – so that vehicles (mainly cars) use less energy and produce less emissions per mile/km than they would otherwise

  • Increasing vehicle loading factors – so that vehicles are used more intensively and have lower emissions per traveller-mile/km as a result

  • Improving the efficiency of the overall network – so that the network as a whole is able to carry more travellers for a given amount of time and resource

For the avoidance of doubt, I am aware that there is lots of inauthentic hype and even more untested assertion about ways in which ICT can help save human civilisation from itself. However, I also think that there are some good tools and tricks out there which deserve wider awareness, and which might be even more helpful given a bit of a hand and a favourable policy environment.

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