Canada’s major cities, facing rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, could learn valuable lessons from New York City, London and Paris where concerted efforts by municipal governments have successfully reduced passenger car traffic and improved the quality of life for residents, according to a policy brief published today by Sustainable Prosperity, a national research and policy network based at the University of Ottawa and focused on market-based approaches to build a greener economy.

Co-author of the policy brief, Stephanie Cairns says transportation accounts for about 25 per cent of Canada’s GHGs and emissions from passenger vehicles are the fastest growing source in the transportation sector.

Passenger vehicles in Canada emitted more than 50 per cent of all transportation emissions in 2011 and were the major contributor to the 40 per cent increase in emissions between 1990 and 2011. While emissions from passenger vehicles are expected to decline slightly by 2020, they will continue to be a major source of transportation emissions.

Urban sprawl and an absence of policies and measures to accurately price the cost of passenger transportation on the one hand, and a lack of viable alternatives to commuters on the other have underpinned a rapid expansion of passenger vehicle use and resulted in emissions from private vehicles increasing at nearly twice the rate of population growth between 1990 and 2007.

“In seeking ways to address the challenges facing Canada’s major cities, we looked at the experiences of New York, London and Paris,” says Cairns. “Each of those cities has used regulation, services and market-based instruments (MBIs) in different combinations to induce behavioural change and make alternative modes of transportation, like bike lanes and buses, more accessible.”

For example, policy measures and incentives in New York contributed to a citywide decline in road transportation emissions from 23 per cent in 1995 to 18 per cent in 2010 in spite of a population increase of just over 11 per cent.

In London, CO2 emissions from transportation have remained constant at roughly 21 per cent of the citywide total over the past two decades even though the population has increased by nearly 13 per cent over the same period. Road traffic in the city as measured by distance travelled declined by 6.5 per cent between 2000 and 2009 while trips on public transport as a share of all trips in the city increased from 34 per cent to 41 per cent.

In Paris, emissions from passenger vehicles declined by 16 per cent between 2004 and 2009 in spite of a population increase of approximately 3 per cent.

“Each city has received international recognition for its sustainable transportation policies and each has had success in driving down transportation sector emissions,” says Cairns. “Canadian policy makers can learn from these international experiences. Our paper identifies the importance of co-ordinated multi-level government strategies to support the shift towards sustainable transportation.”

While the costs associated with transportation-generated GHGs are difficult to quantify, The Council of Ministers’ Urban Transportation Task Force believes traffic congestion alone costs Canadian cities between $3.1 billion and $4.6 billion annually.

“Municipal government policies should be addressing this type of challenge in ways that reduce individual demand for transportation by influencing options about where individuals live, work, and play,” says Cairns. “For example, land use zoning can increase densification, and the clustering of residential, working and entertainment activities in closer proximity to public transit makes zero carbon active transportation modes such as cycling and walking both plausible and appealing. At the same time, parking and road pricing and zoning can make private vehicle use less appealing.”

About Sustainable Prosperity

Made up of business, environment, policy and academic leaders Sustainable Prosperity is a national green economy think tank/do tank. We harness leading-edge thinking to advance innovation in policy and markets in the pursuit of a greener, more competitive Canadian economy. At the same time, we actively help broker real-world solutions by bringing public and private sector decision-makers to the table with expert researchers to both design and apply innovative policies and programs.




For more information please contact: 
Jennifer Wesanko 604.347.5988 
Stephanie Cairns 250.360.0456