Decarbonizing transport

I’ll be talking on this topic to the Victorian Transport Economic Forum on Wednesday, 10 February 2016 from 5pm at the Public Transport Victoria Corporate Centre, 750 Collins Street, Docklands. I’m still formulating my thoughts, so I’ll be happy to read those of anyone who’d like to comment. Here are a few observations to get started

* The process of decarbonizing electricity supply is well under way and, I think, just about unstoppable. To some extent at least, this process provides a template for an approach to transport. In particular, there’s a close analogy between cars and coal. Both have negative local effects (air pollution, congestion, negative amenity and so on) that haven’t been properly taken into account, in addition to generating CO2 emissions. Focusing on the local effects may be a more effective way of reducing CO2 emissions than attacking the problem directly

* By contrast, although we have the technology to greatly reduce the use of carbon-based fuels in transport, we haven’t made nearly enough progress, and it’s not clear what is the best way to go. Should the focus be on improving existing modes of transport (for example, with electric cars), or in switching modes (public transport instead of private) or in reducing the need for travel (with urban design, telepresence and so on).

* Relatedly, is it better to rely on prices, direct controls such as vehicle fuel efficiency standards, or on some other approach?

78 thoughts on “Decarbonizing transport

  1. Kinetic Energy = 1/2 Mass x Velocity Squared.

    Kinetic energy increases with the square of the speed, so an object doubling its speed has four times as much kinetic energy. The energy in a collision is related to the mass involved and the relative closing speed of the objects. The power of the engine makes no difference at the point of the collision; though the engine’s mass certainly count. So with a speed limited vehicle, the limited top speed will limit the maximum energy it can put into a collision. Of course, if the other vehicle is moving it will put energy into the collision too depending on the vectors of forces.

    The engine’s power, in the case of a speed limited vehicle, will control acceleration and hill-climbing ability but not top speed and thus not the energy available to go into the collision.

    If we took risk assessment, damage and human lives seriously we would speed limit vehicles on our roads. With modern electronics this would be a cinch. It would save fuel too. Fuel consumption rises rapidly at higher speeds. Most private autos on our roads are overpowered compared to practical utility needs.

  2. In other words, Collin, you have run out of substance to support your position.

    Ikonoclast, you will be thrilled to know that vehicles in Japan (all? some? unsure) have an extremely annoying bell in the speedo that sounds when the vehicle exceeds 110 kph. It would be a very good feature if it was adjustable and could be isolated when desired, but not isolatable for P platers.

    Most accidents have only a few key factors: inattention, inexperience, risk taking, random circumstance, or mechanical failure (rare these days). Speed is only a contributing factor. The reason why we have (relatively) so few accidents is that traffic under most circumstances has a safety factor of 2 (2 participants each performing to protect themselves). The deadliest accidents occur when that safety factor reduces to less than 1. Those accidents are where the driver of the accident vehicle becomes unconscious while still moving ie sleep, extreme alcohol consumption, drugs, extreme emotion, medical, etc.

    The arguments about motive power are entirely too simplistic and the fact that they have been the primary basis of legislation limiting the use of low energy transport is entirely regretable.

  3. All transport over land can be done by electric vehicles – trains, buses, trucks.

    This does not occur because we have governments that are beholden to capitalist commercial dogmas. Low emissions transport is more expensive than fossil fuel transport.

    Although there are some boutique examples of electric buses in for example South Australia and developments such as:


    However it is unlikely that the carbon emissions from a world full of electric transport will be less than 1920 levels.

    So what is the benefit – are we not just delaying climate Armageddon.

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