Have you ever spent more time looking for a parking space than actually running the errand, or worse, sitting in the restaurant? And did you think next time you should leave the car at home and use UberX, Lyft, or even public transit? Have you ever car-pooled? Have you started to ride your bike because it actually moves you around town faster? If you answered yes to any of these questions: Congratulations—you’ve started to build low carbon mobility!
What do I mean by low carbon mobility? Simply this: using less to move more. Low carbon mobility refers to moving people around using less fossil fuel—driving more fuel efficient cars, increasing passengers per vehicle by carpooling, or using buses and trains to commute. Walking and biking, of course, guarantee you the lowest carbon mobility.
This revolutionary concept runs counter to the United States urban tradition of making 75% of daily trips in private motor vehicles. That’s versus only 7% by foot or bike.
U.S. cities base their transportation system on individual car trips, which are incredibly inefficient when it comes to energy, space, and resources. Our roads are filled with heavy, highly sophisticated steel machines carrying just one person. The energy that powers our transit systems comes primarily from oil—it runs everything from cars and buses to planes and ships, everything except our bikes and our feet. And we know burning oil contributes to global warming and respiratory problems.
I visited Mexico City recently, and I enjoyed riding Metrobús, their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. It reminded me of my home city of Bogotá, where we have our own BRT system, Transmilenio. Buses on the BRT run in exclusive lanes, they have their own stations and comprise a network of corridors equivalent to and more flexible than metros. Plus they cost 10 times less to build and maintain. Mexico City residents’ use public transportation at a very high rate—70% of daily trips occur in high capacity vehicles—but maintaining that high usage remains a challenge when more people want to own and drive their own cars.
Despite the increase in motor vehicle ownership and infrastructure, Metrobús has been a great success. The Mexico City government deserves credit for its leadership. And some of our grantees, including Centro Mexicano de Transporte Sustentable, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and El Poder del Consumidor, deserve credit for their support and advocacy. Many organizations are working to implement BRT systems in the United States. But public transit usage overall in the U.S remains very small (In many cities, as few as 2% of all trips occur by public transit—New York (55%) and San Francisco (33%) are the exceptions).
There’s no reason to stop at BRT when it comes to a low carbon mobility future. A more revolutionary concept has now taken hold in many urban centers: shared mobility. One great leader I talked to in Mexico, from the group Fundación Tlaloc, remarked that low carbon mobility necessarily means sharing. Sharing space and sharing vehicles. Even for innovative cities like Mexico City, where the shared bicycle system (eco-bici) has displaced many motorized trips in the more dense areas, there’s still room for more sharing opportunities.
The younger generation—and Millennials in particular—excel at shared mobility. Young people base their decisions about commuting on cost and the quality of their experience. The US is seeing fewer vehicle registrations and drivers’ licenses issued than in previous decades. So how do these young folks move around? By using bicycles and car shares, or by choosing to live closer to work or transit. Technology has enabled new mobility solutions, and young people are making a transformational shift from vehicle ownership to vehicle access.
These solutions offer me hope. Young people and people like me who want to de-carbonize our transportation system share some things in common. We all want to avoid traffic jams. We want to reduce our transportation cost. Find ways to reduce our travel time and at the same time reduce fuel consumption (and emissions). In the end, it doesn’t matter what name you give to these trends—we just need to change the way we move!