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Finland points the Way to the Future of Urban Transportation

IEA Transport Projections through to 2050Finland has set itself a target of becoming a model for sustainable transport by 2020 by using a system which will allow people to choose the most optimum means of travel for each particular journey which they hope will become a viable alternative to buying a private car.

It is expected that the share of public transport and carpooling in densely populated urban areas will increase in most cities as overall efficiency and ease of use become the principles governing transit operations. By 2020 an increasing number of new cars will run on renewable energy.

In Finland itself it is expected that up to 15% of new car sales will be taken up by electric cars with rechargeable hybrids particularly popular. In Helsinki metropolitan area, the electrification of bus traffic has already begun, and by 2020 there should be over 100 electric buses in operation.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT)'s Research Professor and TransSmart Programme Manager Nils-Olof Nylund have issued a mission plan arguing that: "Fine-tuning vehicles or developing renewable fuels will simply not be enough in the long run. The entire system needs revamping. You won't make the world a better place by filling Helsinki with electric cars, for example. They take up just as much room as conventional cars running on petrol or diesel. The ways to achieve change will be through increasing the share of public transport, and rethinking mobility and logistics services to include the views of the people who need the services".

The whole project relies upon intelligent transport services, which, as a sector, are growing at a rate of 20% per year according to VTT. They rely upon in-vehicle communication systems linked to a city-wide network. One early example of an ITS service offered by public authorities improving traffic safety is the eCall in-vehicle emergency call service, based on the European emergency number 112. The service will be introduced in EU Member States no later than 2017, when it will become compulsory for all new car and van models. In the event of a road accident, in-vehicle sensors detect the accident, the eCall system opens an emergency call from the vehicle to the nearest emergency response centre (ERC) and sends the minimum set of data including the vehicle's exact geographic location. After transmitting the minimum set of data, the in-vehicle system opens a voice connection between the vehicle and the emergency response centre.

After safety, logistics is the second area of immediate growth. Requirements for just-in-time deliveries and the need to fill otherwise empty trucks and vans returning to base is driving this development. Also, Local Authority Intelligent Transport Systems use them to tell people when buses will arrive and give buses priority at traffic lights.

VTT, as a major partner in the Finnish project, sees the future as containing a mix of technologies, a combination of electric propulsion and renewable fuels, not in competition but rather complementing each other.

Senior Scientist Raine Hautala, leader of the TransSmart programme's Transport Services theme, explains: "Smart transport solutions create more efficient travel- and logistics chains and an overview of the status of the transport system in real-time. The idea is that the travellers will be able to select several service options and to easily combine them into suitable travel chains: private car, on foot, bicycle, bus, taxi, demand responsive transport, carpooling, car and transport joint use, tram, metro, train or aeroplane. This would lead to a reduced need for car ownership or for the construction of parking spaces and streets. The crux of the idea is to achieve an increase in the fluency, ease of use and accessibility of travel chains. Service accessibility also covers safe and trouble-free payment".

There are three keys to decarbonizing transport:

  1. reducing the need to travel,
  2. reducing the energy consumption of travel by a modal shift to a different form of transport such as cycling or walking, and
  3. reducing the carbon intensity of the remaining power transport through use of renewable energy.

three keys to decarbonizing transport

The diagram below shows the distance travelled on one litre of fuel. Public transport will take you much further than motorised personal transport, while cycling and walking to not require any fuel.

the distance travelled on one litre of fuel

Using electric vehicles alone is not a guarantee of low carbon emissions and depends upon decarbonization of the grid; for example an electric car powered by coal-based electricity creates more carbon dioxide emissions than a conventional petrol or diesel-fuelled car.

The chart below shows the fuel cycle (well-to-wheel) greenhouse gas emissions for different passenger car technologies. It should be noted that not all biofuels are equal: third generation biofuels will be more sustainable.

the fuel cycle (well-to-wheel) greenhouse gas emissions for different passenger car technologies

The concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is gaining traction. People are becoming used to using their smart phones to order taxis and even book bicycles. as well as plan their journeys. It's easy to see how this can develop into a coordinated transport policy, with cities offering apps that offer citizens the chance to plan their journey based on the optimum transport mode, and book or rent a cycle, taxi or take public transport, or use a carpool or hire a car. Emissions and congestion should be reduced as a result.

Here's a visualisation by VTT of how the combined effect of these trends could pan out.

Trends in transportation

Hopefully it should also be cheaper for travellers. It's been estimated that on average in 2005, US households spend approximately one fifth of their income, $8300, on transportation (approximately 95% of this on self-provided transportation). In European terms this is equivalent to €6000. This is a huge amount of money compared with, for example, what people spend on communication expenses.

If people can be persuaded that not having a private vehicle and spending less than this per year on other transport services provides good value for them for the same level of service, then transport providers can see their way to a revenue stream.

Chariot e-bus

Chariot e-bus on the roadOne strong contender for public transit buses might be the Chariot e-bus currently being trialled in Sofia, Bulgaria. This bus uses ultra-capacitor technology which enables it to capture energy from braking and use it to propel the bus forward to reach previously unachievable ranges for electric buses.

Such buses have been used in Shanghai for over seven years but are only just beginning to be used in Europe.

Zwika Zimmerman, Chairman of the Board of Chariot Motors, said: "This is the first electric bus on European streets that does not require traditional battery charging and can cover its whole route on a single charge requiring just a few minutes. Cities across Europe face increased demand for public transportation at the same time as facing increased concerns over air pollution. Electric buses can both meet that demand and address those concerns."

Chariot e-bus charging

The Chariot e-bus charging

Chariot e-bus charging pointThe new bus has the autonomy and payload of a regular bus and is running a 23km round-trip route on a single, few minutes' charge each time upon returning to its terminal. Its average daily energy consumption has been already test-proven in Sofia to be about 0.95kWh/km. The manufacturers say that it is 2.5 times less energy intensive in terms of kWh/km than diesel buses and three times less intensive than compressed natural gas (LPG) buses.

Right: The Chariot e-bus charging point at a terminus.