Towards electric urban transport

Anna Satovuori,
Project Coordinator,
Turku University of Applied Sciences,

Annika Kunnasvirta,
Project Manager,
Turku University of Applied Sciences,

Mitigating climate change requires actions in all sectors of society. CO2 reductions have not, however, been achieved at the needed rate in the transport sector. Within the EU-28, 27% of the greenhouse gas emissions came from transport in 2017.  The need to implement alternative mobility concepts and reduce emissions in the transport sector is recognized by the EU, creating pressure on the member states. For instance, the European Green Deal defines “cleaner, cheaper and healthier forms of private and public transport” as one of the main action fields to reach zero GHG emissions in Europe by 2050.

Urban environments are responsible for a big share of global GHG emissions. Furthermore, local air pollution and noise affect cities in a negative way, especially as transport demands and volumes are increasing. Electric mobility (e-mobility) represents a viable option for greening urban transport in particular, as in a city environment the distances are generally relatively short and, as such, rather easy to cover with electric vehicles (EVs).

From the life-cycle perspective, given the current energy mix in Europe, at this stage EVs are already competitive in terms of CO2 emissions compared with their ICE counterparts. In the future, the net GHG emissions will decrease even further as the share of renewable energy sources in electricity production will increase, the long-term objective of the EU being to reduce these emissions by 80–95% by 2050.

Boosting e-mobility with international cooperation

Despite the clear potential, the know-how about applying e-mobility in an urban context is still fragmented among decision-makers and transport planners. In addition, national strategies towards the electrification of transport often focus on private car use while other electric vehicles have received less attention. The BSR electric – Fostering e-mobility solutions in urban areas in the Baltic Sea Region -project, funded by the INTERREG Baltic Sea Region Programme 2014-2020, essentially aimed to fill these two gaps and enhance the utilization of e-mobility in urban transport systems around the Baltic Sea Region. The project started in October 2017 and ended in September 2020.

The consortium of 15 partners and 28 associated organizations in eight countries demonstrated the potential applications of different types of e-mobility, such as e-logistics, e-bikes, e-buses, and e-ferries, with seven use cases. The aim of the different use cases was to outline the practical implementation of the different modes. Among the themes and aspects covered in the use cases are included issues such as user acceptance, economic viability, and technical barriers to e-mobility integration.

As a project with a wide array of partners ranging from research institutions to cities and NGOs, BSR electric clearly demonstrated its strength in addressing the multifaceted topic of electric mobility. The seven use cases all addressed a particular issue of e-mobility, drawing conclusions on how environmentally friendly transport solutions can be implemented in the varying Baltic Sea climates. The cross-border exchange of experiences managed to grasp the essence of implementing successful sustainable e-mobility solutions in urban environments, providing valuable insights to guide public authorities, companies, planners and transport providers in the process of reaching more sustainable urban mobility systems.  The key learnings from the use cases fed into checklists, an online learning module targeted at decision-makers as well as other urban transport stakeholders, and a roadmap document gathering the experiences from the project.

Drivers and barriers to the transition

Despite the wide array of the use cases, they all highlighted the fact that to ensure a successful transition towards e-mobility, several aspects, including policy, infrastructure, finances and technological issues need to be taken into account. Although the Baltic Sea Region countries are at different stages in their transition, the issues they are facing are essentially the same. Procurement costs of electric vehicles are high, although the life-cycle costs are smaller than those of their internal combustion engine counterparts. A more comprehensive network of charging infrastructure is needed to enable a widespread adoption of e-mobility, and the technological barriers still limit the range of electric vehicles. At the same time, more awareness is needed about the advantages of the EVs.

Also, a perhaps sometimes forgotten user perspective must be acknowledged. The end-user perspective was explored further particularly in the Turku University of Applied Sciences use case and pointed out also by several other use cases of the project. The transition is not just about finding the appropriate technology or providing the infrastructure. If the end-user does not adopt the solutions available – whether due to their discomfort, higher price or some other user-oriented reason – even the finest of technology will not gain the market access needed. People need to be convinced of the safety and usability of the vehicles. In other words, the potential behavioral barriers connected with new technologies need to be addressed in order to succeed with the transition.

It was found that the barriers to e-mobility can be removed by improving the network of charging infrastructure and procurement procedures, as well as working on the image of e-mobility among the public. Political targets, spatial planning and city development plans, strategic partnerships and networks are needed as well. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts, that as the battery technology is developing at a fast pace, by 2030 the average driving range of a battery electric vehicle could be 350-400 km, while the battery costs are also dropping. At the same time, sustainability objectives are driving the policy support for e-mobility at different levels of governance. It could be argued that the momentum for e-mobility is now.

Electrification of urban transport is a complex process, in which cooperation among the stakeholders representing different sectors is essential. The BSR electric project outputs aim to serve to help these stakeholders making informed decisions and navigate their way towards more sustainable transport systems. All material and outputs are found at the project website

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