Pink profile of a person crossing street against a teal background
Pink profile of a person crossing street against a teal background

Dissecting Mobility’s Impact: The Environment

To understand mobility’s sustainable development, experts look to the UN’s ESG framework, which examines sustainable impact based on its relationship to environmental, social and governmental factors. Mobility’s impact on the environment is often dissected first, as its effects are very palpable. We’re all faced with the consequences of a changing climate on a daily basis – when we’re walking our dog on a tiny strip of a sidewalk next to a loud, busy street, when we go for a jog to get some “fresh air” and end up having to brush a thick layer of dust off our Nikes afterwards, or even when we reluctantly press play on the third podcast in a row while stuck in an hour-long traffic jam. These occurrences might still be mere annoyances to most of us, but when you put the real environmental impact of mobility in numbers, the results are shocking. 

Mobility‘s Footprint

Transport is accountable for over 16% of the world’s GHG and almost a quarter of Europe’s emissions. In 2019, transport in Europe emitted 1103 megatons of CO2. To offset that, we need to grow 165 million trees for ten years. 

CO2-polluted air causes tremendous health issues. In Europe alone, 1 out of 8 deaths are caused by polluted air. (Poor air quality causes strokes, lung cancer, asthma and heart disease.) A total of 630,000 premature deaths – almost the entire population of Las Vegas – were attributable to environmental factors in Europe in 2012, and if you’ve ever been to the streets of Delhi, Jakarta or Mexico City, you can imagine how their pollution problems dwarf those in Europe.

Breathing in isn’t the only way that our bodies can be harmed by pollution. Noise distractions cause another sizable chunk of our health issues. Noise is responsible for 72,000 hospital admissions and 16,600 premature deaths every year in Europe alone. Urbanites may think they’re used to high noise levels, but sometimes visualizing the damage done to our ears can help put it into perspective: This real-time noise map of Berlin points out the different noise levels across the city. Noise doesn’t only affect humans, either – all types of animals suffer from the effects of man-made noise. LIDO, the Listen to the Deep Ocean Environment project, is currently analyzing the effects of underwater noise on marine fauna. 

The negative effects of polluted air, emissions and noise are the most well-established examples of mobility’s impact on the environment. After all, they’re exactly the issues the industry is trying to help solve by providing viable alternatives to private cars. 

E-Cars to the Rescue?

One such alternative – and one frequently promoted as being sustainable – is making the switch from gas-powered to battery-powered vehicles. It’s true that EVs do check a lot of the sustainable mobility boxes: they’re cleaner, quieter and generally more eco-friendly than traditional cars. However, the reality is that e-cars and EVs in general have their own sustainability issues to deal with. For example: 

  • Pollution isn’t only caused by engines: dust from car breaks is as harmful to our immune system as diesel fumes.  
  • Waste management is a real problem: batteries pose a serious challenge to the world’s (ill-equipped) recycling infrastructure. The one million EVs sold around the world in 2017 will eventually create 250,000 tons of battery pack waste.
  • Manufacturing batteries is expensive: producing and transporting lithium-ion batteries is costly and often inefficient to boot.
  • Charging infrastructure is lacking: if we expect e-powered cars to truly replace all the gas-powered cars on the roads, charging station infrastructure will have to expand massively.

So while electric vehicles are definitely laying the groundwork for getting us closer to a fossil-free future on a global scale, they don’t necessarily tackle other environmental issues (and in some cases, they might even worsen them). Although e-cars don’t run on expendable resources, purchasing and driving a privately owned e-car doesn’t help to reduce the number of cars on the streets, which is still the ultimate goal of Mobility-as-a-Service. E-cars may simply not reduce mobility’s impact on the environment as much as they should.

Understanding the Big Picture

The “E” in ESGs often gets the most attention when discussing reducing urban car-centricity. After all, the climate crisis is an acute issue plaguing our modern world. The mobility industry has a huge role to play in either mitigating or unwittingly aggravating climate concerns. Nevertheless, by unintentionally ignoring social and governmental factors, we’re forgetting the big picture. 

As mobility is concerned with the movement of people, rather than goods, it’s distinctly different from the transportation industry. Mobility is innately social. And where there are people, there is also governance: creating sustainable MaaS solutions that work for the benefit of everyone couldn’t be remotely viable without governmental policy and involvement. All three criteria of the ESG framework are clearly intertwined with each other.

Tune in to our blog and social channels in the next couple of weeks as we explore the “S” and “G” of the ESGs in detail! Next time, we’ll be discussing the social factor. Because it’s people, after all, who are at the heart of every successful MaaS network.

Learn more about how Trafi is empowering cities with MaaS.

Introducing: The Mobility Impact Series

We’re very excited to announce the launch of our Mobility Impact Series! 

The words “sustainability” and “mobility” are often mentioned in the same breath. As an industry, mobility is defined by innovations that claim to be based on the common goal of creating a more sustainable and healthier future for our cities and our planet.

But these “green” future visions often leave watchers of the mobility space scratching their heads: what does the term sustainable mobility really mean, anyway?

At Trafi, we’ve been helping cities build and enhance their mobility systems for over 10 years. We’re often approached about the sustainable impact of shared mobility, which is why we’ve decided to delve deeper into the topic with our new Mobility Impact Series.

In upcoming articles, we’ll be discussing “car-topias”, pedestrian-friendly cities, travel patterns and a variety of other subjects. Stay tuned to our LinkedIn channel and check our blog regularly for updates.

Without further ado, read on to learn more the roots of car-centric societies – and why the mobility landscape today is in need of an update.

We’re suffering from an acute car problem

If anyone still has doubts about cars being a hurdle on the road to sustainable mobility, there are numerous shocking statistics in circulation that could change their mind, as seen below.

There are plenty more:

  • There are already 1.4 billion automobiles on the planet today, and forecasts suggest this number will climb to 2 billion in 2030.
  • Road accidents cause 1.3 million deaths and 50 million serious injuries per year – more than the entire population of Spain.  
  • Road transport accounts for 11.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than the emissions caused by airplanes and buildings combined. 
  • The world’s parking lots take up a total space of 161 billion square meters, which is equivalent to the size of Beijing. 

These numbers aren’t new – scientists, activists and some industry players mention them frequently. However, sustainable mobility is rarely considered in its historical context. Seven decades ago, car manufacturers were selling the cutting-edge dream of a convenient, liberating and comfortable life, finally available to the middle classes for the reasonable price of one automobile; today, digital mobility innovators are disrupting old mobility habits with promises of greener, safer, friendlier cities. 

In essence, the core of their sales strategies are very similar: new, exciting mobility solutions have the power to transform our lives for the better. A myriad of solutions on the market today are aimed at improving bits and pieces of the system, but rarely tackle the root of the issue itself. Which of these promises are truly constructive waypoints on the road to liveable cities, and which are just bells and whistles distracting from bigger issues at hand?

Small thinking, big changes

Back when the VW Lemon (recognizable as the VW Beetle today) hit the American market in 1960, the advertising campaign surrounding its launch caused an incredible stir. “Think small”, the campaign’s slogan, was revolutionary, changing advertising forever and helping the tiny and somewhat odd-looking VW Lemon cruise its way into the luxury car market in the US – and permanently changing the way people perceived cars in the process. 

A tiny car that caused a huge change

Up until that point, cars were shiny, large, and loud; the compact, rounder Lemon offered a stark contrast to American muscle cars and appealed to an entirely new segment of car owners. It made simpler cars fashionable, democratizing cars and making them accessible to everyone. 

Of course, advertising agencies aren’t the only ones responsible for societies and cities designed around cars. The entire urban planning system in the US encouraged car ownership and viewed automobiles as a convenient, modern transport solution. In the meantime, however, the American transit system was being rebuilt with the goal of linking suburbs to city centers, rather than linking suburbs with other suburbs or more rural areas.

Add cheap gasoline, large investments in highways and a whole range of car-friendly consumer services like drive-in cinemas and drive-through restaurants to the mix, and you end up with an obvious conclusion: cars were practically destined to become the ultimate symbols of a comfortable, modern, convenience-driven lifestyle. The rest, as they say, was history. 

The American dream on wheels

Next stop: “Carification”

Between the end of WWII and 1955, the number of cars on US roads doubled from 25 million to over 50 million. The trend quickly shifted to Europe, where new industry needs and changing economy led to skyrocketing mass production of individual vehicles. During the decade of 1950 to 1960, European car manufacturers launched some of their now-legendary models – Citroen’s 2CV stayed in production until 1990! – and the streets of the continent were quickly filled with motorized status symbols.

Transport demand is expected to grow all across the world in the coming decades as the global population increases, incomes rise, and more people can afford cars.The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that global transport (measured in passenger kilometers) will double and car ownership rates will increase by 60%.

Even as everyone from impassioned teenagers to conservative politicians are demanding more sustainable solutions, further construction on the “car-topia” we’re living in continues unchecked. Hollow value propositions promote electrification and autonomous technology as the path to a better, sustainable future, without telling consumers and investors what that means in explicit terms. 

Car density per 1000 Europeans over the years

We believe MaaS works – but we can’t change the industry alone 

At Trafi, we believe in cities without privately owned cars. We have a different approach to mobility, and we think that genuinely effective and accessible mobility should be viewed as a service and a system that gets its strength from a diverse group of collaborators, leaders and city planners. The good news is that there are plenty of cities who have also pledged to work towards more cohesive and comprehensive mobility services for their citizens, and many have already implemented groundbreaking strategies – Berlin, Zurich, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Paris come to mind, but the market for Mobility-as-a-Service is growing in Latin America and Asia as well. 

This vitally important shift to sustainable mobility – one based on concrete data rather than shiny new technology – simply can’t be achieved without the help of multiple mobility actors and particularly without the collaboration of the private and public mobility sectors. Governments, corporations, innovators and architects, and to a lesser degree consumers all have an important role to play. If we unite under the banner of protecting our planet, our cities and the people living in them, sustainable travel habits and a new way of thinking about mobility will become the norm.

Learn about how the Trafi MaaS Suite is enabling global sustainable solutions here or contact us for more info.