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FEATURE STORY

Demand Management and Technology

August 14, 2012

In recent years urban transport professionals globally have largely acquiesced to the view that automobile demand in cities needs to be managed rather than accommodated. Rising incomes inevitability lead to increases in motorization. Even without the imperative of climate change, the physical constraints of densely inhabited cities and the corresponding demands of accessibility, mobility, safety, air pollution, and urban livability all limit the option of expanding road networks purely to accommodate this rising demand.

As a result, as cities develop and their residents become more prosperous, persuading people to choose not to use cars becomes an increasingly key focus of city managers and planners. Improving the quality of alternative options, such as walking, cycling, and public transport, is a central element of this strategy. However, the most direct approach to managing automobile demand is making motorized travel more expensive or restricting it with administrative rules. The contribution of motorized travel to climate change reinforces this imperative.

Technological Options for Reducing Carbon Emissions from Motorized Vehicles

Technology, in the form of better-designed vehicles, alternative fuels, or even improvements in the alternatives to travel, is expected to be an important element of a low-carbon future. This is equally true in China as it is globally. There is a strong focus globally on developing technological solutions that reduce the carbon emissions of vehicle-fuel systems.

Not unexpectedly, most of these efforts are by venture capitalists within the private sector, while major automobile companies are investing significant amounts of money in developing vehicles that they believe will be in demand in a “low-carbon” environment.

In general, government is not a significant player in the area of technology development, and nor is the World Bank. The evolution and adoption of technology are mostly driven by private enterprises with significant investments and risks undertaken in search of commensurate profits.

However, given the global and “public good” imperative underlying climate change, governments across the world have actively started to promote the development and use of potentially low-carbon vehicle-fuel systems. Chapter 12 of the report "Sustainable Low-Carbon City Development in China" summarizes two ongoing initiatives in China—the New Energy Vehicles Program and low-carbon logistics initiatives—that focus on vehicle technologies and fuels. In the future, it is likely that the level of such activities will increase.