Beyond improvements that can be made to cars, trucks, planes and ships, changes in habits can also be a powerful vehicle of energy efficiency.
Eighty percent of transportation is for short-distance travel. This ratio even tops 94% in South East Asia. Short distances are thus the cornerstone of transportation efficiency. Optimizing short-distance travel will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the sector while improving mobility, in particular in new economies.
Short-distance travel concern mainly daily activities such as commuting (going to and from work), shopping or other personal activities. According to the United Kingdom Department for Transport (2009), 85% of transportation in England is devoted to these activities, which do not exceed 18 km/day. In the United States, these activities represent 91% of total transportation, with mileage below 20 km (US DoT 2009). Commuting alone represents around 30% of total travels. Individual vehicles used for these activities remain unused 90% of the time (CTA 2014).
Travel is highly dependent upon the context. First, rural areas are more difficult to serve with alternative transportation than cities, and distances are often longer, leading to a larger share of cars in total transportation use. In the United States for instance, 92% of travels are done by car in rural areas, against 78% in cities (US DoT 2009). This situation is much different in non-OECD countries, where rural areas still remain remote from large business centers. In China, the overall average distance travelled per year barely reaches 1000 km per individual, compared to 5000 km/year in Chinese cities (JTLU 2010). Chinese rural areas remain therefore extremely isolated. The context also varies a lot with the stage of economic development. OECD countries rely mostly on individual cars for transportation, with almost 60% of car use in Europe and close to 80% in the United
States. There are up to 600 cars for 1000 persons in the United States, and around 500 in most European countries, while only 40 in China and 15 in India (Road Transport 2012). In new economies, bus and rail prevail (around 60%). Most individual travels are done using two-wheelers, or non-motorized transportation (walking or cycling).
From an energy standpoint, transportation inefficiency can be described by the greenhouse gas emissions that an individual travel contributes to. The IPCC (2007) explains that individual cars are five times more polluting on average than bus or rail; two-wheelers are twice more polluting than bus or rail. This difference is essentially due to the load factor. Buses traditionally accommodate around 40 people in a single vehicle, while the average occupancy in individual cars rarely tops two passengers, and even 1.5 on average for commuting, the largest share of short- distance travels (UK DoT 2009).
Transportation efficiency will thus mainly be achieved by limiting the footprint of cars. In OECD countries, this corresponds to a reduction of the share of cars in short-distance travel, notably for commuting. In non-OECD countries, this will rather correspond to preventing this share from growing beyond a certain limit. In China, the number of cars could top 100 million in the coming 10-15 years (JTLU 2010).
The International Energy Agency (2009) lists several directions for reducing the share of cars in short-distance transportation. The first set of solutions consists of constraining their use inside cities and within suburbs. Toll parking and road pricing are solutions that can help limit the circulation of cars efficiently, as proven in several large European cities.
A second set of solutions is to offer new mobility solutions that can serve as efficient alternatives to individual cars. Public transportation networks can be developed to offer better service with a travel time efficiency that can compete (if not supersede) car travel. Metros and trams are already well developed in large cities in Europe, but much less in other parts of the world. Brazil (and then the rest of Latin America) also developed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems which help accelerate travel timing. Buses travel in specific lanes, with prioritization at intersections; they offer higher capacity than traditional buses, with rapid boarding systems. As a result of this success in Latin America, several cities in China have already deployed BRT systems (JTLU 2010). Going further, the development of non-motorized transportation can also be supported. Just over a third of inner-city travel in Amsterdam (in the Netherlands) is done using bicycles. Specific adjustments to the road infrastructure can be made to encourage the development of carbon-free transportation modes. In several cities in Europe, bicycles can already be rented and shared across the population. When cars need to be used, carpooling offers a new solution to limit the number of cars in circulation. Same as for bicycles, this consists of using a given pool of rented cars. The intent is to maximize the usage of individual cars in a city, considering cars are unused 90% of the time (CTA 2014). Car sharing is another solution. Here, the intent is to increase the load factor, the average occupancy rate per vehicle. In the United Kingdom or in the United States, studies have measured that the occupancy rate barely reaches 1.5
passengers per car for commuting (30% of short distance travels). Information and communication technologies strongly enable the development of such new collaborative solutions.
A third set of solutions looks at urban design and land planning. The design of cities is obviously strongly constrained in existing ones, but many new cities rapidly develop in new economies. There were only 10 cities of more than ten million people in 1990. This figure is now 28 and shall go up to 41 by 2030 (UN 2014). At the same time, the number of cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants will grow in the same proportion. There were 560 such cities in 1990. There are today more than 1000 of such cities, with 300 more expected by 2030. The urbanization rate worldwide is projected to reach 70% by 2050, with an additional 2.2 billion people living in cities (ESA 2014). City planners can help minimize transportation by designing road infrastructures which facilitate the use of public transportation or of non-motorized vehicles for small-distance travel. They can also organize the landscape of work offices, homes, shopping and recreation facilities such that there is minimal need to use transport. Several new cities in the world (Masdar in UAE, King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia, Songdo in Korea, Dongtan in China, etc.) are currently being developed following these principles.
Finally, transportation efficiency can also be achieved by simply doing away with travel. Remote work is a good example. Almost a third of short-distance travel is dedicated to commuting; remote work helps cancel the unnecessary travel. In Northern Europe, where remote work is most developed, above 10% of the population regularly works remotely (at least 1 day a month), and 40% of the population uses this possibility occasionally. This new opportunity is developing fast and expanding beyond the borders of this region. ICTs have also been offering for several years increased opportunities for e-business. In such transactions, the delivery of products is done by the supplier directly. This allows the supplier to group deliveries, therefore reducing overall transportation, since each consumer does not have to go to the mall anymore.
Many solutions thus exist to drastically reduce the use of individual cars in OECD countries and to avoid the dramatic rise of congested, polluted and inefficient cities in non-OECD countries.