question: how can transportation systems be redesigned to improve efficiency?

Too much of anything is a good thing.  Each concept and item has its own place and purpose.  The same can be said about transportation systems.  Currently, too much of the world’s transportation system is based upon cars and although they offer a great deal of mobility and independence – two qualities that many aspire to enjoy – they are bad for the environment and dependent upon resources that are limited in nature.  To remedy this issue while still ensuring the preservation of freedom of movement that has come to be a basic demand in life  and develop solutions that are sustainable in the long-term, transportation systems must be adapted to suit the needs of a changing society.  

In order to fulfill these needs, inclusive of better mobility, low-cost transportation, and a healthier urban environment, urban transport systems should be based on a combination of rail lines, bus lines, bicycle paths and pedestrian walkways in addition to the existing infrastructure that can be optimized for efficiency.  The implementation of such a system will be required to be both interdisciplinary and multi-faceted.  It will also be dependent on efforts made by the various stakeholders present in society, e.g. legislative bodies, citizens and business owners.  Said stakeholders should be comprised of relevant bodies of each group.  Ultimate goals should include two priorities:

  • The internalization of costs imposed by the use of environmentally-unfriendly practices, which may be accomplished with the use of Pigouvian taxes.
  • The propagation of practices that provide the most utility to the widest group of people, something that may be realized with the use of inclusive methodology and foresight exercises.

This can be achieved not only via the introduction of novel approaches but also through the dissemination of various practices which have already been shown to be successful in other locations, albeit it should be noted that there are few if any one-size-fits-all solutions.  Some examples of actual and potential initiatives that can improve the sustainability of transportation networks include:

  • The implementation of surcharges for vehicle use within city limits has been shown to reduce air pollution and reduce congestion.  The greater costs also encourage the use of alternative forms of transportation – something essential in densely populated urban areas.
  • The promotion of a shift from cars to buses where travel by railway is not any option.  Such efforts can be supported by the expansion of express lanes for buses that decrease commute times.  
  • The expansion of bike rental systems that require no additional energy other than that provided by the rider.  
  • The development or improvement of intercity and high-speed railways in order to more efficiently transport greater numbers of people.

In addition to aforementioned strategies, the electrification of the auto transit system will further promote the transition from the fossil-based economy to one adapted to the use of nonrenewable energy sources.  As electric cars are typically more efficient, once the costs of the technology reach a more acceptable point, their use will become less expensive in comparison with petroleum-fueled vehicles. To further encourage the transition from fossil fuel-dependent vehicles to electric cars, fuel efficiency standards should be significantly increased as a way to encourage the public to support and demand transition technologies.

Above all, it is imperative to develop smart urban designs and begin work retrofitting existing infrastructure in order to mitigate existing environmental strains and avoid making costly adjustments in the future, as is the case in many cities in the United States where the infrastructure was almost exclusively designed for auto users. Such a task will be difficult to achieve as it will require an alteration to the status quo.  For uptake to take place, the changes made must benefit the people and be logical in nature.  They should also be tailored to address the challenges of the local environment.  Should such efforts be made, it is possible to reduce the environmental damage caused by transportation systems, effectively working towards a stronger and more sustainable future.