In British Columbia transportation is the single largest source of the greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution which is destabilizing our climate, accounting for 42% of total emissions.
Transportation is also the fastest growing source of the greenhouse gas pollution and consumer of fossil fuels.
The graph to the right shows the projected trend for the Fraser Valley. This increase in GHG pollution must be reversed in order to address the climate crisis we face.
Graph: GVRD Forecast and Backcast of the 2000 Emission Inventory for the Lower Fraser Valley Airshed 1985 - 2025, p. S-6
What we can do:
1. Stop Making Things Worse
You can't build your way out of congestion, as the experiences of cities such as Toronto, Los Angeles and Atlanta shows. Expanding freeways and roads for single occupant vehicles in urban areas causes more congestion and pollution, and puts sustainable transportation modes at a disadvantage.
The money we now spend expanding roads for single occupant vehicles should be re-allocated to real solutions, such as those below:
2. Public Transit
It's just common sense. We must upgrade our transit systems so that they are pleasant, friendly, affordable, and easy to use. This needs a major re-allocation of road space to transit vehicles, and innovations such as signal priority so that buses and rail vehicles do not have to stop at traffic signals.
A study released in April 2004 by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute showed that good quality rail transit systems can significantly improve transportation system performance. It found that cities with large rail transit systems have on average:
- 400% higher per capita transit ridership
- 390% higher transit commute mode split
- 36% lower per-capita traffic fatalities
- 14% lower per capita consumer transportation expenditures
- 19% smaller portion of household budgets devoted to transportation
- 21% less per capita motor vehicle mileage
- 33% lower transit operating costs per passenger-mile
- 58% higher transit service cost recovery
Cities such as Ottawa, Canada and Curitiba Brazil have shown that quality transit systems can also be created using bus rapid transit (BRT). Good quality BRT systems can attract nearly as many riders as rail systems at a much lower initial cost.
Even simple, inexpensive measures can have big benefits in public transit. The U-pass (student transit pass for all students) at the University of British Columbia accompanied by increased frequency of bus service, resulted in a 20% decrease in automobile traffic to campus and a reduction of 16,000 tonnes of GHG pollution per year (CO2 EQ).
Bus and train transportation between communities must also be improved to allow people to travel without always depending on private automobiles. Like public transit in cities, it must be comfortable, affordable and have convenient schedules.
Also see Electric Vehicles below for information on the advantages of electric powered transit vehicles.
Photo: The drivers of a whole block of cars fits easily in one bus
BC Transit; Photo illustration Eric Doherty
Every trip starts by walking, and public transit cannot function effectively without a good pedestrian environment. However, walking can satisfy many access needs that are now met by driving, if our cities and towns are well designed with stores and services nearby. Unfortunately, many of our neighbourhoods do not even have sidewalks on every street.
We must redesign our cities to ensure that as well as being healthy, walking is also pleasant, friendly, and safe. Copenhagen is leading the way. Bogotá, Columbia's capital, is following. Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon, are right in there. All across Europe, cities are working to make themselves more pedestrian friendly.
Photo: Many BC neighbourhoods lack sidewalks, even on routes to schools
Eric Doherty 2006
- America Walks
- Car-Free Cities
- International Home Zones
- International Walk To School Day
- Living Streets
- National Centre for Bicycling and Walking
- Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center
- Walkable Communities
- Walking In The City: Copenhagen's Ten Step Program
"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."
- H.G. Wells
We must redesign our cities to ensure that as well as being healthy, cycling too is also pleasant, friendly, and safe. Facilities for bicycles on public transit can add speed and flexibility to transit trips, and replace the need for automobile trips - and automobile ownership.
Also see electric assist bicycles under Electric Vehicles.
1st Photo: Bicycle travel can work well with public transit
Complements of Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC)
- BC Cycling Coalition
- Better Environmentally Sound Transport (BEST)
- Greater Nanaimo Cycling Coalition
- Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition
- Island Pathways (Salt Spring)
- National Bicycle Greenway (US)
- North American cycling links
- Sustrans (UK)
- Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition
5. Electric Vehicles
Electric vehicles come in many types and have a long history of service in BC.
Electric trolleybuses are a familiar sight on the streets of Vancouver and Burnaby, but few people are aware that electric streetcars and Interurban passenger trains was the primary mode of personal mobility in the Lower Mainland (along with walking and bicycling) until the late 1940s.
Electric transit vehicles (both buses and rail vehicles) are very energy efficient and offer the advantages of quiet operation, zero in-street emissions, and quick acceleration when carrying heavy loads.
Of course, the electricity can be generated from near zero GHG emission sources such as wind.
Electric trolley buses have traditionally been used in busy frequent-stop routes where their quick acceleration, even when heavily loaded, gives a significant advantage over diesel powered buses. Trolleybuses are particularly advantageous in hilly cities, as they climb steep hills quicker and generate electricity through recumbent braking on the way down, and trolleybuses' rubber tires have better adhesion than streetcars' steel wheels upon steel rails. San Francisco and Seattle, USA, both very hilly cities, use trolleybuses. Most modern trolleybuses have a battery backup system so they can re-route around traffic accidents or road construction without needing to be connected to overhead wires.
Trolley buses can also be used for high speed service; Mexico City and Zurich Switzerland both use trolley buses on express routes with dedicated bus lanes. Boston's incomplete Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system uses dual-mode buses that run on electricity for part of the route and on diesel for other sections. Merida Venezuela is now building the world's first all-electric trolleybus BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system.
Most rail-based public transit vehicles are grid-tied like trolley buses and have most of the same advantages. Electric rail vehicles range from streetcars not much bigger than a standard bus to full scale metros lines which can carry over 30, 000 passengers per hour.
1st Photo: New trolley bus during testing in Vancouver
Gordon Price 2006
2nd Photo: Calgary's C-Train is run on 100% wind generated electricity
3rd Photo: Four wheel drive - double articulated trolley bus in a dedicated bus lane
Railway locomotives have been running off grid-tied overhead wires for decades in many parts of the world. Electric trains greatly reduce the noise and air pollution associated with railways.
Grid tied electric railways are the most efficient form of long distance motorized transportation that exists. The technology is reliable, cost effective and includes recumbent braking where the electric motor is used as a generator to feed electricity back into the grid when trains are going down hill. One study estimates that electrifying main rail lines in B.C. would reduce GHG emissions by 660, 000 tonnes per year.
1st Photo: Interurban Electric Train in Surrey BC (about 1915)
2nd Photo: A Pendolino electric passenger train with a design speed of 225 Km/h (England 2006).
Public Domain Photo from Wikipedia - G-Man 2006
Electric assist bikes provide many of the advantages of a regular bicycle with quiet electric power assist. They extend the distances that ordinary (non-superjock) people can ride without breaking a sweat, and can eliminate the need to shower once you get to work. Trip times with an electric bike are usually about 20-30% faster than a regular bicycle.
In BC there is no need for either a license or insurance to use an electric bike on public roads, and therefore electric bikes are one of the least expensive forms of transportation available. Prices for conversion kits start at around $700.00 with good quality electric bikes available from about $1200.00.
Electric Cars & Plug-in Hybrids
Battery electric vehicles are much more efficient than internal combustion engine vehicles or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, although not as efficient as grid tied vehicles. Earlier electric vehicles (EVs) had a limited range, but this is steadily improving. When you consider that most trips are short, EVs can work just fine for many purposes, especially if they are part of a car-sharing fleet.
If you take a hybrid electric such as the Toyota Prius or the Honda Insight and modify it to allow recharging the battery from the grid it becomes a very efficient EV that uses gas to top up its range, increasing its fuel efficiency considerably. Plug in hybrid vehicles may soon be available direct from the manufacturer, and are suitable for taxis and other high mileage users.
Photo: Prius Hybrid Taxi in front of Empress Hotel, Victoria BC
- Edmonton Trolley Coalition
- VEVA: Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association
- EV World
- Electric Vehicle conversions:
Canadian Electric Vehicles Ltd.
1184 Middlegate Rd,
Errington, BC V0R1V0
It's popular, it's growing, and it's coming your way. Why own car that cost an average of seven thousand dollars a year when for many people, it's easier to share one?
The Victoria Car Share Co-operative has been providing transportation alternatives to the Greater Victoria Area since 1996 as a proud part of the rapidly-growing worldwide car sharing movement.
Modo The Car Co-op is the first English-speaking carsharing organization in the world. The co-op started in Vancouver and now has thousands of members sharing vehicles in Metro Vancouver. Modo has helped carsharing start up on five continents.
In Europe, some 130,000 people belong to car-share groups. In Berkeley, San Francisco, a 2004 study showed that car-sharing reduces driving by 47%, as members use other means for trips that they would have previously driven.
Car-sharing already involves the ability to choose the right vehicle for the job - small cars for most uses; with vans, station wagons and pick-up trucks available when needed. In the future electric cars could make up the majority of the fleet (for shorter trips), with hybrid vehicles available for longer trips.
- North American Car Sharing Network
- Modo The Car Co-op
- Victoria Car Share Cooperative
- Commuter Connections
7. Efficient Automobiles
We can no longer afford to drive the monster cars, trucks and SUVs that North America has fallen in love with; and without the abundance of oil, we won't be able to, either.
The cars of the future will be small and very efficient. But the future is already here. The Mercedes Smart CDI can do 3.4 litres per 100 km (83 mpg). The Prius hybrid is rated at 4.0 litres per 100 Km (71 mpg). For all cars, whatever the fuel they use, we should plan for a future mileage in the 60 to 100 mpg range (4.7 to 2.8 litres per 100 km), requiring a 3-fold increase in vehicle efficiency compared to today's average.
- Mercedes Smart CDI
- Toyota's Personal Mobility Vehicles
- The Prius (60 mpg)
- The Plug-In Hybrid (120 mpg)
8. Efficient Trucking
FedEx Express, working in partnership with the Alliance for Environmental Innovation, has commissioned a new fleet of hybrid-electric trucks which are 50% more fuel efficient. If all future trucks are hybrid-electric, that allows for a 50% reduction in the fuel needed.
Other changes that are needed include more localized production, better driver training, speed restrictions, and more use of railways and barges.
9. Smart Growth
Smart growth means designing our cities and communities so that they are close and friendly, instead of sprawling and lonely. It means designing cities and suburbs where you can walk around easily, with their own neighbourhood centres, and where communities are clustered, protecting green space, forests, and farms, and linked by good quality public transit.
Transport Demand Management (TDM) is an essential part of Smart Growth, a general term for policies and strategies that result in the more efficient use of transport resources. An example of a TDM measure is increasing the price of parking, and using the revenue to make public transit more affordable.
Redesigning communities is a slow process, which can not deliver an immediate alternative to oil. But once built communities last for hundreds of years. Oil will be very scarce long before communities get rebuilt, so it makes sense to design now for the future.
Teleworking means not having to travel in the first place, thanks to email, tele-conferences, and local telecommuting centres where there can be a spirit of community while you work. Imagine every computer having a high-grade teleconferencing set-up as a matter of course, and you'll begin to get the picture. When spend two hours or more a day commuting, when you could be gardening, or playing with your children?
11. Biofuel Vehicles
Biofuels produced from materials that would otherwise be thrown away have the potential to be a significant source of transportation fuel. Vehicles can run on biodiesel, which can be obtained from waste vegetable oils. Biodiesel from waste oil has obvious environmental benefits and some people run diesel vehicles on used vegetable oil from restaurant deep fryers. Some municipalities already recover oils from grease traps to run city trucks. Many more sources of waste bio-oils are not being utilized yet.
Vehicles can also run on Methane, obtained by processing organic wastes such as animal manure or kitchen scraps in an anaerobic digester. In Zurich, 1200 city vehicles run on Methane. This may be the fuel of the future for many farm vehicles where there are lagre quantities of manure and other organic material available on site.
However, the benefits of growing crops to produce biofuels is uncertain since a large amount of petroleum products are used for fertilizer, pesticides and for transportation in industrial agriculture sector. Farm land is also a scarce resource; fuel crops could end up competing for farmland with food crops.
Vehicles can also run on ethanol, which can be obtained from crops, or from agricultural or forestry wastes. However, at present ethanol production uses large amounts of energy which is sometimes derived from burning coal leading to high levels of GHG pollution. In some cases, burning biofuels such as ethanol may even result in greater total greenhouse gas emissions than just burning gasoline.
However, the supply of biofuels is unlikely to ever supply more than a small fraction of the fuel energy now used in our automobile dominated transportation system.
- Biodiesel Veggie Van
- Canadian Renewable Fuels Association
- Changing World Technologies
- Compost Gas
- Journey to Forever
12. Hydrogen Vehicles
And then there's hydrogen. Presently most hydrogen is obtained from petroleum gas. To obtain sustainable, renewable hydrogen, you need renewable electricity to split water through electrolysis. The technical problems involved in compressing, transporting and using hydrogen in transportation are significant, and progress so far has been disappointing.
The big advantage that a hydrogen car has over a battery electric vehicle is range, which is why people want to use electricity or biomass to make hydrogen to run a fuel cell that drives an electric vehicle. However, hydrogen is not a very efficient way of storing, transporting and using energy even if used in fuel cells rather than being burned in internal combustion engines.
Hydrogen might play a big role in transportation in the future, or it might only have a specialized niche alongside other technologies. In any case, we don't have time to wait for more research. Big changes are needed NOW.
- FreedomCAR and Light Truck
- Hydrogen vehicles
- International Clearing House for Hydrogen-Based Commerce
Written by Guy Dauncey, for the BC Sustainable Energy Association, 2005.
Expanded and updated by Eric Doherty.