Historically, most transport systems have centered around private car ownership. This is the standard in high-income economies, and car ownership is increasing in some developing countries as people build wealth. Many regions lack viable alternatives to car ownership, and in some areas, the car is viewed as a status symbol. Where public transport has long been neglected, the resulting traffic congestion has been addressed by expanding highways and roads — but this is only a temporary solution until congestion returns due to induced demand.
Reducing the need for travel will make decarbonization easier and improve health outcomes.
Without a fundamental shift in transport systems, there will be 2 billion cars on the road by 2050. By focusing on what makes people choose to drive in the first place, transport demand management can improve mobility and quality of life in a rapidly urbanizing world.
The most cost-effective means of reducing transport emissions is to avoid the need for motorized travel, utilizing city planning to bring opportunities closer to residents and encouraging less carbon-intensive modes of movement, such as public transport, walking and cycling.
Options for managing urban car use include planning for "15-minute cities,” improving quality and access to shared transport, and implementing charges for private vehicle use, such as congestion pricing. These approaches can reduce congestion and inner-city pollution, and funds raised from congestion and parking fees can be reinvested in public transit improvement projects, as seen in London.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that telework for management, tech and administrative support jobs can reduce daily transport demand, just as moving conferences to digital platforms can reduce international business travel.
Electric car sharing offers an affordable, low-emission option. In some places, longer distance trips can be shifted to rail and maritime modes, especially journeys of three to four hours.
Already, France has become the first large economy to ban short-haul flights where a train or bus alternative of 2.5 hours or less exists, effectively reducing emissions by eliminating 12% of domestic flights. Other countries, including all members of the European Union, are taxing commercial aviation and jet fuel in an effort to encourage fewer passengers and more energy-efficient planes.