All indicators are trending towards continued growth in the global demand for mobility. The UN anticipates that the world population will increase from 7.8B to 9.7B in 2050. Urbanization is expected to reach 68% by 2050 vs. 55% today. The number of people who can afford a personal vehicle is constantly increasing. As a result, the global fleet of light vehicles is expected by some to grow from 1.2B today to 1.6B in 2040.
In order to address this existential challenge, the transformation towards sustainable mobility will involve three interconnected pillars: environmental, social and economic. The performance will be measured according to the “triple bottom line,” assessing each pillar. Sustainable mobility solutions must be designed to contribute positively to the communities they serve while respecting their environmental, social and economic objectives.
The 2015 Paris Agreement, which has been signed by 195 countries, has the ambitious — yet absolutely paramount — objective to mitigate global warming. Transportation as a whole represents a big share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and an even bigger proportion of energy consumption. It contributes 27% of total GHG in the EU (2016, 20% excluding air and maritime transportation), and 29% in the USA (2017). In 2017, transportation represented 58% of all the energy consumed on the planet, according to the International Energy Agency. Under the Agency’s “sustainable development scenario,” the amount of energy used by transportation is expected to drop by 39% by 2040 and represent 50% of global energy consumption then. This is still a sizable share.<
Access to mobility is a basic need for all. However, solutions are not available to everyone. Issues include the lack of public transit, or financial or health constraints preventing people from driving their own vehicle. Living in a mobility desert can mean being excluded from society for some. If thoughtfully deployed, shared mobility solutions and extended public transit (and a smart combination thereof), can enable those who don’t have access to a private vehicle to be mobile. This is a critical contribution as it facilitates social inclusiveness, such as finding and holding a job outside one’s neighborhood.
Mobility solutions that deplete very little natural resources and increase social inclusiveness do not have to be less businessworthy. However, we do need to take a society-wide approach to analyze their economic impact. Direct economic benefits include enabling more people to work, thus increasing tax revenue while reducing welfare costs.
The internalization of economic externalities can significantly contribute to making future mobility sustainable. For instance, we take for granted our transportation infrastructure (roads, rail tracks, etc), the “right” to pollute or the “right” to cause congestion, etc. The implementation of congestion charges, carbon permits, EV credits or mobility-related taxes (fuel tax, toll, etc., to invest in our infrastructure) allows for a better representation of the total cost of a given mobility mode, thus enabling for modal decisions to progressively steer mobility towards sustainability.