Take your photos now, London’s iconic red double-decker buses are going green. Luckily not literally. Transport for London (TfL), the government body responsible for transportation in Greater London, is investing heavily in reducing the environmental impact of its operations and encouraging Londoners to rely on sustainable methods of transport. Are their efforts sufficient to meet the Mayor’s target and reduce London’s carbon dioxide emission by 60% of their 1990 level by 2025 ?
Transport and climate change
Transport accounts for 14% of greenhouse gas emissions globally . The World Bank recommends comprehensive approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emission from transport focusing on:
- the reduction of demand by appropriately designing cities;
- the use of most energy-efficient technology possible for all trips; and
- the promotion of walking, cycling and public transport .
While TfL has limited influence on urban design, its investments combine the second two recommended approaches.
Investing in greener operations
TfL is attempting to use the most energy-efficient technology for as many of its trips as possible with significant investments both in its bus and underground networks.
The first diesel-electric hybrid bus was introduced in London in 2006. Since then, about a quarter of London’s bus fleet has been replaced by hybrid options. These hybrid buses reduce carbon dioxide emission by approximately 30% compared to conventional buses . An even more efficient alternative is a hydrogen fuel cell powered bus, which only emits water. TfL is currently experimenting with a small fleet of eight single-decker versions of these. Broader adoption may be limited as the majority of London’s bus routes operate double-deckers. To drive a material reduction in carbon dioxide emission across the bus network, the transition to hybrid buses should be accelerated in the years leading up to 2025.
Green buses are a great start, but by no means sufficient in a city where roughly 40% percent of journeys are taken by the underground . Last year, TfL introduced two new initiatives to reduce emissions in the tube network as well. Regenerative braking technology recycles energy from train brakes to power stations. A 2015 trial showed enough energy can be saved to operate even larger underground stations for two days per week – saving about 25% of electricity used at the station . A separate initiative will revamp the Greenwich Power Station into a low carbon power generator for the underground network . As opportunities to change the trains themselves on the underground network are limited due to physical constraints, TfL focuses on reducing the energy consumption of its underground stations. The widespread implementation of these initiatives could bring significant benefits in the long run.
Promoting sustainable transport choices
The second pillar of TfL’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relies on encouraging Londoners to switch to sustainable transport options.
London introduced the biggest congestion charge theme in any major city in 2003, charging £5 then, £11.50 now daily for cars entering Central London between 7am and 6pm on weekdays. Though it faced resistance initially, traffic levels decreased by about 10% since the introduction of the congestion charge . In fact, car ownership started to slowly decrease in the capital after 2003 .
In more recent years, the focus shifted to developing London’s bicycle routes. The East-West and North-South cycle superhighways are visibly busy with commuters during rush hours. These routes reserved for cyclists provide safer and faster options to cross the city. The latest statistics suggest a 5% increase in cycling journeys to about 23 million a year . The constant roadworks improving the cycle road network have increased journey times in the city for those travelling by car. This may convince further travelers to take public transport – especially the underground – instead of driving.
Enough progress against the target?
The investments of TfL reduce the environmental impact of its operations and successfully encourage Londoners to rely on the public transport network. They have also sparked discussions about sustainability in the city. The biggest challenge ahead of TfL is scaling these green initiatives. Assuming the same conversion rate from conventional to hybrid buses, about half of London’s bus fleet will be low emission by 2025. This would translate to a 15% reduction in emission across the bus network only. Implementing the regenerative braking program for all underground stations will take years and will lead to a 25% emission reduction in total. Even if these initiatives were implemented much faster, TfL would need another set of innovative solutions to meet the 60% emission reduction target by 2025.
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