Climate-friendly transport with bus and rail – also in the future?

The share of transport in Germany’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions already amounts to 20 per cent today. And the trend is clear: transport demand will continue to grow in the future, as will the demands made on the means of transport – a development which constitutes an obstacle to the substantial reduction of national and global GHG emissions. For this reason ambitious measures must be taken which facilitate a high degree of mobility and at the same time do not obstruct the achievement of climate protection targets.

Both the German government and the EU have recognized the particular challenge of making transport environmentally- and climate-friendly: In their Transport White Paper the European Commission set itself the target of reducing transport-related GHG emissions in the EU by 20 % by 2020 compared to 2008 levels. The German government set itself, within the scope of its Energy Concept, the goal of reducing the energy consumption of the German transport sector by 10 per cent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. This is because mobility is also a key pillar of Germany’s overall energy transformation (Energiewende) strategy to increase energy efficien-cy and to ensure security of supply predominantly on the basis of renewable energies by 2050.

Local public passenger transport – with its system of buses, trams and un-dergrounds – is an essential component of local transport and can make an important contribution to achieving climate protection targets. As before the benefit of public transport means is that they are 50 % less harmful to the climate than the passenger car.

Climate benefit dwindles in long term

The slogan “Climate-friendly transport with bus and rail” (“Klimafreundlich unterwegs mit Bus und Bahn”) thus still holds. Oeko-Institut’s latest study shows that a person who takes the bus, tram or underground instead of using a car causes only half as many greenhouse gas emissions.

In terms of climate-friendliness, local public passenger transport will remain far ahead of the passenger car in the medium term – in spite of more and more efficient motors and the progress of electric mobility. Nevertheless performing better than passenger cars is, by itself, not an ambitious goal. Calculations in the latest study conducted by Oeko-Institut, Hamburg-Consult and TU Berlin show that the climate benefit of local public passenger transport will dwindle compared to the passenger car. Public transport buses are in danger of losing this climate benefit by 2050. The study “Increasing the share of renewable energies and improving energy efficiency in local public passenger transport”, which was conducted on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development, details possible courses of action for how local public passenger transport can keep pace with passenger cars in future in terms of GHG emissions, and handle rising energy costs.

Energy efficiency as an answer to rising energy costs

The analysis in the study shows that ambitious measures for improving energy efficiency would significantly reduce the specific GHG emissions of local public transport vehicles. In the case of buses, the measures would reduce emissions by 25 %. According to the study local public transport companies would likely save half a billion Euros in energy costs between 2012 and 2030, but high investment costs would also be involved in some cases. Generally the savings in energy costs are important to the transport companies, which are already having to contend with rising costs. Higher energy prices and the energy-intensive demands of customers for air conditioners or board-entertainment are likely to lead to additional energy costs of 1.3 billion Euro in 2030 compared to 2008.

Collectively accepting responsibility

Researchers at Oeko-Institut hope that local public transport companies take more responsibility in this area and make a contribution to increasing the share of renewable energies in Germany’s energy supply and reducing energy consumption overall. To do this, it is necessary that policy, commissioning authorities and companies work together more strongly to reduce GHG emissions in local public transport. There is no lack of ideas: Policy-makers could give local public transport companies a financial hand to en-able investments in efficient technologies. In tenders transport authorities should take sustainability criteria more strongly into account and not only the price.

And the local public transport companies themselves should make the services they offer more customer-orientated. This means, among other things, well-coordinated timetables and making ticket purchase easy. In particular the decision-makers in the field of local public transport should take the right measures today for a green future for buses, undergrounds, and trams. Given that a rail vehicle bought today is usually still in use 30 years later, investments made today have both economic and environmental benefits in the long term.