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Are We There Yet? Europe’s Nagging Call for Sustainable Mobility

Submitted by on May 16, 2018 – 4:45 pmNo Comment

by Michael Eggleston* (Advanced Biofuels USA)  When it comes to getting from point A to point B, getting to our destination has unfortunately overshadowed the process of how we should get there. As a result, resolving issues such as resource management, population growth and climate change are found at the core of what many experts call, ‘the digital era for transport’.

Digitalization: Incorporating Big Data into Transport

The digital era for transport, also referred to as digitalization is the incorporation of ‘big data’ into the intricacies of the transportation sector to overcome deficiencies in today’s fossil-fuel dominated energy system. By systematically organizing consumer behavior on an individual basis, digitalization is an opportunity for the transportation sector to develop a more resilient and responsive network that is adept to resolving such issues.

This revolutionary era and its implications for society, economy and the environment was the theme of this year’s Transport Research Arena (TRA) conference held in Vienna, Austria from April 16-19th.

TRA 2018 Opening Session Photo: Austria Tech/Zinner

Digitalization, poses a huge opportunity to significantly improve transport management and to develop a low carbon fleet, announced Herald Ruijters, Director of Investments for Innovative and Sustainable Transport at the European Commission. Ruijters welcomed participants with the hope that 2018 would be the year of ‘multimodality’ in which digitalization would play a key role to drive sustainable mobility while ensuring economic strength and social inclusivity.

Climate Change Mitigation and Emission Reduction

Although politicians are hopeful about future possibilities, the public is bitter about the failures of today’s current infrastructure and somehow also want to resolve the issue of climate change by not paying for digitalization, added Matthew Baldwin, Deputy Director General of Mobility and Transport at the European Commission. For Europe to transition successfully, Baldwin asserted that infrastructure needs to be technology neutral and able to incorporate future changes if it is to become ‘digitalized’.

But with today’s dependence on fossil-fuels, a feasible, short-term solution to climate change, with which the transportation sector can move forward, needs to be agreed upon, remarked Stephan Neugebauer, Director Global Research Corporation at the BMW Group.

From an automotive perspective, Neugebauer explained that the cars BMW is drawing up today will be on the roads within the next decade and will remain in the hands of consumers during the time when Europe must show progress made towards meeting its emission reduction targets. Therefore, if automotive companies expect to be successful in this endeavor, a systematic approach needs to be taken which looks beyond the impact of the car itself and into traffic management, logistics and infrastructure, he explained. Taking this approach, it’s clear that even in the most optimistic electrification scenarios, liquid transportation fuels will make up more than half of road transport energy by 2050, summarized Neugebauer.

Moving beyond logistics, the biggest challenge to reducing the transport sector’s emissions is getting the right message across to industry leaders, stated Alan McKinnon, Professor of Logistics at Kühne Logistics University. There is confusion among many stakeholders regarding how urgent the problem is and on what scale emission reductions need to be made, he noted. People think they are just cutting back emissions to a certain target and not that this process is going to fundamentally change the way we do business over the next 30 years, he explained. The reality is that a focus needs to be had on controlling future growth of the transport sector if Europe is to have any chance at reducing their emissions, declared McKinnon.

Political and Technical

Adding to McKinnon’s remarks, Michael Flynn, Programme Director at Transport for London, stated that the digital era for transport is just as much a political issue as it is a technical challenge.  Designing where technology will be applied, how it will be deployed, and on what interface consumers will interact with it is where many people don’t see eye to eye.

From my point of view, the common theme that arose out of the conference discussions was the lack of unity within Europe’s transportation sector. With an incoherent research effort among member states, liquid transport fuels are caught between the cross-fire of industrial practicality and political ignorance. If Europe is to be successful in immediately transitioning to a sustainable transportation network a fundamental conversation regarding the practicality of integrating digital systems into existing infrastructure needs to be had.  

To learn more about TRA and their activities click here.

From its first conference in 2006, the Transport Research Arena (TRA) has brought together European stakeholders in mobility such as policy-makers, researchers, operators and industrial entrepreneurs. It is the only research conference in Europe that covers all modes of transport and their interconnecting activities such as logistics, urban mobility and, for the first time in 2018, aviation and multimodal traffic management. TRA offers the opportunity to highlight the links between research and policy, as well as to showcase the latest results of research activities in transport.

* Michael Eggleston is an aspiring policymaker studying interdisciplinary & intercultural communication with the University of Rhode Island’s International Engineering Program. He is spending a semester abroad at the Technische Universität Darmstadt in Darmstadt, Germany and will be reporting on and representing Advanced Biofuels USA at international conferences surrounding Europe’s energy transition.

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