The top 5 transport stories in 2014

Year in Review: The global transport sector saw sustainability gains in 2014, including a growing electric vehicle market, a surge among cities in the popularity of walking and cycling, and a pledge by the aviation industry to cut emissions significantly.

The global transport sector is responsible for 22 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and this is increasing at a faster rate than any other sectors, according to the International Energy Agency.

In May at the International Transport Forum, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) called on governments to address the staggering human and monetary cost incurred by road transport by developing more stringent standards for vehicle emissions, removing tax and regulatory incentives that support the use of diesel vehicles, and by actively promoting lower-emission modes of transport. 

Its new report ‘The cost of air pollution: health impacts of road transport‘’, revealed that air pollution caused health problems that costs OECD, India and China some US$3.5 trillion a year and killed 3.5 million people annually. Air pollution, said OECD, has now overtaken lack of sanitation and clean water as a cause of death worldwide.

It is encouraging, then, that the sector has been taking steps to improve its sustainability in several areas.

Here’s our pick of the top 5 developments in transport:

1. Elon Musk opens up Tesla’s patents

Elon Musk, chief executive of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors, did the unthinkable in June when he released Tesla’s patents to all his competitors. Driven by a frustration at the slow growth of electric vehicle markets globally, Musk explained in a widely-circulated post titled ‘All Our Patents Are Belong To You’ that “it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis”, and hoped a common technology platform would help accelerate the adoption of sustainable transport.

2. Electric vehicle markets grow in Asia

Chinese car makers produced 11 times as many electric vehicles (EVs) in August 2014 as they did a year ago, with over 31,000 EVs produced in the first eight months of the year. To boost these numbers even further and meet the Chinese government’s goal of having 5 million EVs on the country’s roads by 2020, the government is considering providing as much as 100 billion yuan in government funding to build electric-vehicle charging facilities. Car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW also announced plans to launch fleets of EVs in China.

In Singapore, luxury automobile makers BMW launched the i3, a fully electric sedan, in August, making it the country’s first commercially available electric vehicle. The company also launched the hybrid sports model, the i8, even as it ceased EV manufacturing operations in Malaysia due to low demand.

EV innovations also flourished in Asia, with Sri Lankan auto manufacturer Code Gen International revealing its first fully electric vehicle in November.

3. Active mobility on the rise in cities  

Cities all over Asia - which are often associated with high levels of congestion and pollution - saw successes in promoting a stronger culture of sustainable transport alternatives to cars, like walking and cycling, also called ‘active mobility’. A shift away from car transport to non-motorised modes could make cities more liveable and even improve business prospects, said experts.

Taiwan’s bike-sharing scheme YouBike reported in September that it enjoyed the highest usage rate in the world, at an average of 10 to 12 bicycle trips per day. This closely followed an announcement by the Taiwanese government that a nationwide bicycle path network would be complete by the end of 2015.  

India also announced plans support a “cycle-friendly” culture in its cities. Akhilesh Yadav, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, announced in August that facilities such as cycling corridors, parking stands, shelters, and bicycle hire shops would be expanded across cities such as Noida, Greater Noida, Lucknow and Agra, although critics pointed out that the existing US$3.1 million infrastructure existing in Noida has been underused due to poor maintenance.

The Philippines also announced in December that all new roads would have to include sidewalks and bicycle lanes, in a bid to promote non-motorised transport across the country. This move was welcomed by sustainable transport advocates, who said that the regulation would ease traffic congestion and air pollution, as well as reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Singapore, also built on its existing National Cycling Plan, a S$43 million national initiative to improve and expand its cycling infrastructure, by embarking on a study with Danish architect Jan Gehl on ways to make walking and cycling a reality in the city state’s hot and humid climate. Recommendations from the study included building more shaded walkways and making amenities such as showers and laundry facilities more easily available to cyclists. 

4. Car sharing grows in 2014

The year also saw an explosion of car sharing schemes – a business model which allows individuals to rent cars from businesses or other car owners – across the globe. In India, car-sharing start-ups such as Zoomcar, Carzonrent and MiCar Sharing technologies, have won over consumers and rapidly expanded their fleets. In the United States, car-sharing scheme Car2Go, operated by Daimler, clinched the title of world’s largest carsharing service and announced possible plans to expand into Asia.

In the United Kingdon, BMW started it’s own car sharing scheme, DriveNow in London in December. The scheme currently operates in an area of 65 square kilometers, but plans to expand its reach and offer the i3 to users as well. Singapore, having just concluded a test-bed study for EV use in January, announced plans to embark on an electric car sharing trial in December. This trial could last up to 10 years and involve up to 1,000 EVs.

5. Aviation industry pledges to stabilise emissions

At the UN Climate Summit in September, the global aviation industry, which accounts for two per cent of global emissions today, pledged to stop the growth of its carbon emissions by 2020 and cut net emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050. Among the signatories to this pledge were the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organistaion and International Air Transport Association, which includes 240 airlines worldwide. Strategies to do so included developing more energy efficient fuel alternatives, improving flight operations, and managing air traffic better.

This story is part of our Year in Review series, which looks at the top stories that shaped the business and sustainability scene in each of our 11 categories.

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