Eco-friendly transportation: what are the options?

Greta Thunberg has crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-carbon emissions boat to arrive at the UN climate summit in New York in order to direct attention to the atmospheric carbon pollution of planes. But what options do we have if we want to choose an eco-friendly form of transport in our daily life?

Generally speaking, public transport is the most efficient and greenest way of transport, as it can carry a large number of people with no significant time loss compared to cars – in some cases it can be even faster due to dedicated lanes and right-of-way tracks. Rail transport, including trains, trams and light rail/metros, is the winner in this category, as it is extremely energy-efficient and has a large capacity, but it requires a proper infrastructure. Buses have a slightly higher level of emissions of greenhouse gases but they are cheap, and require little modification to existing infrastructure (e.g. creation of bus lanes in the city centre) while providing the benefit of carrying a large number of travellers. A well-established public transport system can provide a real and most definitely a greener alternative for cars. Planes are more fuel intensive but their large capacity somewhat balances out this factor, and, while for large distances it is the most time-efficient mode of transportation, there are initiatives to choose buses or trains instead of planes for travel within the borders of a country or for short distance journeys.

While public transport is a great way to get around whether you are a tourist or on business, it is limited by its infrastructure (or the lack thereof), its timetable, or its capacity problems. Thus, there are times when we have to choose a mode of transport that gives us more freedom to move around.

Of course, one of the most immediate modes of transportation is walking – it has practically no environmental impact, it’s free of any infrastructural requirements, and it’s a healthy option. However, it’s a relatively slow form of transport and is mostly applicable for short distances. Bikes are as good for you as walking, with a bit more physical effort. And although it can cover longer distances, it’s not exactly the method one would choose to go to a meeting. Surprisingly, motorbikes can still be considered as an eco-friendly transport option, even though these can be dangerous in heavy traffic. Cars are considered to be the worst offender in this regard; carpooling and carsharing can mitigate their negative effects. There are several apps and initiatives that help people travelling in the same direction to share their cars and carpooling is seen by more and more companies as an efficient alternative for the transport of their employees, providing subsidies and other benefits in exchange.

There is a new trend on the rise: electric scooters provide a quick and fast option for short distance transport. However, there are some uncertainties around these. Their use is not properly regulated, in many places it is undecided about whether they can be used on pavements or only on the road/in bike lanes; and their proper placement is yet to be resolved – now people simply leave them when they get off them, which is not an appealing sight in the cityscape. There are some further environmental issues, for example with the recycling of their batteries or the fact that the scooters left on the streets are collected by cars.

Either way, transport affects the environment, and we cannot always use the most environmentally friendly option. But – as with other forms of environmental protection – being conscious and aware of the problems and trying our best to eliminate or overcome them is a huge step forward, while new technologies and infrastructural developments can also help our collective efforts to save our planet, while not giving up on effective transportation.

Written by Zsolt Beke

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