May 30, 2019

The Road Less Travelled: Reclaiming Public Transport for Climate-Ready Mobility


In this timely publication, authors Sean Sweeney and John Treat do away with some of the more persistent myths around energy and emissions trends related to transport. Focusing their analysis on passenger road transport, they make a strong case that if we want to mitigate climate change, we need to expand public transport options. Theirs is an urgent cause given the fact that, as a result of global land transport, current emissions are several times higher than the 2-3 gigatons by 2050 considered to be compatible with the Paris goal of global net zero emissions.

Looking at various alterations of the public transport system today—from shared car or bicycle systems to on-demand transport options (such as Uber or Lyft)—the authors explain how public transport can make an extremely important contribution to limiting emissions, but they also point out where the challenges lie. While increasing the market share of public transport is financially feasible and would provide better mobility options that can be just as convenient as private cars, the responsibility to make these options a reality lies with policy makers. The failure of existing neoliberal transport policies is intricately tied to a focus on private investment and attacks on public services. Over the last few decades, neoliberal governments across the globe have approved budget cuts and downsizing—or “structural adjustment,” as the equivalent to such policies is called in the Global South—while remaining unable to actually impede the growth of emissions.

Sweeney and Treat show that there are ways to improve and expand public transport in ways that it can fulfill its full social and environmental potential. Resisting neoliberal frameworks requires us to shift gears, literally and metaphorically, in favor of low-carbon public mobility. Trade unions, allies in the environmental movement, and other players in the public sector are essential to making this important change a reality.