Creating appropriate transport systems

Designing sustainable transport

A sustainable and environmentally sound transport system is required which promotes the use of public transport, transport by sea, rail, and non-motorized transport. Economic instruments should be used as a way of reducing transport volumes while reflecting environmental costs in transport prices, especially for freight transport.

The principles and approaches of sustainable development beneficial for health and the environment must be encorporated into transport policies, and in particular the following: sustainability; the precautionary principle; prevention; protection and promotion of health and safety; the "polluter pays" principle, including internalization of externalities; multisectoral integration of environment and health requirements and involvement of health authorities in decision-making on transport, land use and infrastructure policies; equity; public participation and public access to information; subsidiarity; efficiency.


Sustainable transportation requires that economic activity be environmentally sustainable. The current dependency on cars, intercity goods movement by truck and the growing impacts of aviation are environmentally unsustainable. This has profound implications for the long term structure of key sectors of national and global industry.

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.

Paragraph 16 of the 1998 UN/ECE Arhus Declaration acknowledges transport as causing problems of air pollution, climate change, noise, congestion and biodiversity/habitat loss. It promotes a sustainable and environmentally sound pattern of transport and the promotion of public transport, transport by sea, rail, and non-motorized transport. It recommends economic instruments should be used as a way of reducing transport volumes while also reflecting environmental costs in transport prices, especially for freight transport.


Vehicle traffic is still continuing to grow in all rich industrial countries. In order to reduce fossil energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in this sector, traffic policy needs to reduce the need for mobility as well as discourage increases in mobility and the reducing CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre. This can be achieved by switching from energy-intensive transport means to energy extensive transport and through improving the efficiency of transport means. Such policy may include: (a) abolishing tax reductions for people who live far way from their workplace; (b) increasing the accessibility of everyday facilities (such as stores, schools, day-care centres, health-care facilities) by shortening distance between the facility and the citizen's home; (c) encouraging people to walk or cycle, not drive, distances under 3 km; (d) a shift from infrastructure investments in roads and parking facilities to railways and public transport; and (e) the promotion of telecommunication techniques to reduce business travel, [eg] video-conferencing and telecommuting.

Telecommuting is an effective component of travel-demand management which will reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, road casualties and energy consumption. Other advanced telecommunications technologies, such as teleshopping, home-banking and videoconferencing will all have an impact on future travel demand. In the nearer term, telematic applications hold much promise in road pricing and traffic management. Hong Kong and Singapore have pioneered electronic road pricing. Zurich has introduced telematic applications in public transport operation and gives priority to public road services.

In a response to the Twentieth Report of the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Transport and the Environment – Developments since 1994,' Transport Minister Dr John Reid acknowledged the similar findings with the government's own White Paper on Integrated Transport, including: (1) recognition that the consequences of future traffic growth are indeed unacceptable; (2) the need to take action to secure more sustainable transport for the future; (3) the need for integration, both within and between transport modes, and of transport policies with other policies; (4) agreement that Government should aim to provide the framework for all those with an interest in transport to play their part; (5) the potential for technology to provide solutions through innovation, amongst other things, in fuel efficiency and emissions; and (6) the need to encourage awareness of transport issues, and to send consistent signals such that we all work to further sustainable development objectives.

The United Kingdom introduced a fuel tax "escalator" that has increased the tax on road fuels by 5% every year since 1993. In the Netherlands, constitutional barriers have been lifted to allow for a national road toll system, which could be operating in a few years. These initiatives could help the economic actors adapt their behaviour and make structural changes that would support a sustainable transport system.


Sustainable modes of transport, especially public transport and goods transport by rail, are losing market share to road transport in many countries. This trend is enhanced by the fact that the majority of transport infrastructure investment is allocated to road infrastructures, not least in the countries in transition.

Type Classification:
C: Cross-sectoral strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal