From mindless high-carbon transport to intelligent low-carbon transport

Nils-Olof Nylund Galleria

Travel and transport in Finland won’t be finishing any time soon. Society functions on the basis of movement of people and goods. One thing is clear, though: in future this will have to be handled in a smarter way, and with less burden on the environment. Intelligent transport and electric cars are one part of this reasoning.  In construction we are closing in on all new houses being zero energy. Zero energy for cars, though, is sadly out of reach; anybody claiming otherwise will need to have invented the perpetual motion machine.

Intelligent low-carbon transport

This is a highly topical theme.  In the second week of June the Ministry of Employment and the Economy organised a seminar in connection with preparation for the “Energy and Climate Roadmap 2050”. The following week a sizeable group of intelligent transport experts gathered in Helsinki for the 10th ITS European Congress (2014 ITS Europe).

The background material to the ministry’s energy and climate roadmap sets a target for emission reduction of 80–95% by 2050. Where transport is concerned, this is some challenge.  Here we need to make special mention of sustainable biofuels and the shift to more efficient modes of mobility and transport. Any further growth in the number of private cars in urban areas is also out.  People in areas covered by public transport will have to be tempted out of their cars and into public vehicles. Bicycles spring to mind as an obvious alternative, either in traditional or electrically aided high-tech mode.

How are climate targets linked to intelligent transport then? In many ways, as a matter of fact. Intelligent transport and logistics services allow the mobility machine to work at maximum efficiency. Intelligent services also increase the appeal of public transport, and simplify the planning  of travel chains and ticket purchase. Little by little, we begin to acquire real-time information on traffic. No longer are we tied to information on printed timetables: our mobile device tells us when the bus we want will actually arrive.

TransSmart vision

In 2013, VTT launched the TransSmart spearhead programme on intelligent transport. TransSmart is a free-flowing, cost-efficient and environmentally friendly cooperation and development platform for transport systems. We launched a publication for the programme at the beginning of 2014 concerning the vision and roadmap Finnish only). This is accompanied by the Visions publication in which we spread the good news on intelligent low-carbon transport to a wide audience in an informal and approachable manner, while at the same time illustrating its potential to Finnish actors.

Electric cars and the intelligent transport system

I would argue that where an intelligent transport system might manage without electric cars, electric cars will certainly need to be supported by an intelligent transport system. If nothing else, drivers of electric cars will need up-to-date information on where they can recharge.

VTT’s primary development focus concerning electric vehicles is on the electrification of bus traffic, in cooperation with the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority (HRT). HRT is responsible for over 60% of Finland’s public transport. Both the promotion of public transport and the path to sustainability are closely synchronised with energy and climate roadmap policies. I’m nevertheless a little surprised why the electric car should generally be favoured as private transport. Also, why we should encourage the purchase of electric cars, among other things by allowing them to use bus lanes.

And all this while the roadmap is saying there should be an end to growth of private transport in urban areas. The electric car will no doubt have its place, but this can’t be at the expense of public transport.  And tell me this, if you can, where’s the sense in the latest incentive for electric cars that appeared just last week: “electric cars should be allowed to reach 160 km/h in Finland”. At that rate we’ll end up either with batteries flattened mid-journey or the terminal crash of all electric motoring.


Nils-Olof Nylund

Research Professor and Programme Manager of the TransSmart spearhead programme

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