3 June 2021
Shifting to Sustainable Transit Systems Post-COVID for Health and Environment
Photo: Andre Furtado | Unsplash
story highlights

As part of its COVID-19 response, Bogotá, established an 84 km emergency bike network for essential workers, and Jakarta has begun work on a 500 km cycling network.

Transforming governments’ approaches to transit systems could solve problems related to vehicular pollution, road deaths, and many economic, social, and environmental challenges, according to a new IISD policy brief.

Revamping transportation and transit systems in the post-COVID-19 era could have positive impacts on emission levels and air quality. A policy brief titled, ‘The Road to Sustainable Transport,’ by Leila Mead, provides recommendations on structural changes to reach this potential.

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” This is the view of Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia. Transforming governments’ approaches to transit systems could solve problems related to vehicular pollution, road deaths, and many economic, social, and environmental challenges. Transport currently accounts for about 64% of global oil consumption, 27% of all energy use, and 23% of the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The need for reliable and sustainable transportation has been on the international agenda for 50 years, beginning with the recognition in the 1972 Stockholm Plan of Action that alternatives were needed to meet rapidly increasing transportation demands. At the 1992 Earth Summit, Agenda 21 emphasized transport’s contribution to atmospheric emissions and the need for “more effective design and management of traffic and transport systems.” The 2012 outcome document from Rio+20, ‘The Future We Want,’ identified the potential benefits of sustainable transport, and expressed governments’ support for development of sustainable transport systems, including public mass transportation, and clean fuels and vehicles.

The 2030 Agenda contains five SDG targets directly related to transport, and in the New Urban Agenda governments commit to strengthening sustainable transport to encourage mobility between urban and rural communities.

Today, responses to COVID-19 could transform transportation systems, Mead explains. If economic stimulus measures are aligned with low-carbon development, both the environment and human health will benefit. Examples from around the world already put this into practice:

  • In Europe, cities have closed streets to cars, created pedestrian malls, and expanded bicycle lanes. Mead reports that since the beginning of the COVID recovery phase, European cities and national governments have allocated at least EUR 823 million to active mobility and announced more than 1,200 km of cycling infrastructure.
  • Bogotá, Colombia, established an 84 kilometer (km) emergency bike network for essential workers.
  • Jakarta, Indonesia has begun work on a 500 km cycling network.

Among her recommendations, Mead suggests that government subsidies should go toward sustainable transport systems instead of fossil fuels. As of January 2021, China has committed five times more money to clean energy than fossil fuels, and the country currently has 99% of the world’s total number of electric buses. The Energy Policy Tracker provides more information about financing and policy responses to COVID-19 from a climate and energy perspective. 

The brief is part of the ‘Still Only One Earth’ series from IISD, being published in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Other briefs in the series focus on biodiversitywildlife tradesustainable energyfinance and technologyclimate changeplastic pollutionpoverty eradicationmeasurement approachesprivate sector actionpublic healthblue economygender equalityextended producer responsibility, regional governance of seas, and biosafety, among other issues. [Still Only One Earth policy brief series] [Publication: The Road to Sustainable Transport]

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