Get set for take-off in electric aircraft, the next transport disruption


Jake Whitehead, The University of Queensland and Michael Kane, Curtin University

Move aside electric cars, another disruption set to occur in the next decade is being ignored in current Australian transport infrastructure debates: electric aviation. Electric aircraft technology is rapidly developing locally and overseas, with the aim of potentially reducing emissions and operating costs by over 75%. Other countries are already planning for 100% electric short-haul plane fleets within a couple of decades.

Australia relies heavily on air transport. The country has the most domestic airline seats per person in the world. We have also witnessed flight passenger numbers double over the past 20 years.

Infrastructure projects are typically planned 20 or more years ahead. This makes it more important than ever that we start to adopt a disruptive lens in planning. It’s time to start accounting for electric aviation if we are to capitalise on its potential economic and environmental benefits.




Read more:
Why aren’t there electric airplanes yet?


What can these aircraft do?

There are two main types of electric aircraft: short-haul planes and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles, including drones.

The key issue affecting the uptake of electric aircraft is the need to ensure enough battery energy density to support commercial flights. While some major impediments are still to be overcome, we are likely to see short-haul electric flights locally before 2030. Small, two-to-four-seat, electric planes are already flying in Australia today.

An electric plane service has been launched in Perth.

A scan of global electric aircraft development suggests rapid advancements are likely over the coming decade. By 2022, nine-seat planes could be doing short-haul (500-1,000km) flights. Before 2030, small-to-medium 150-seat planes could be flying up to 500 kilometres. Short-range (100250 km) VTOL aircraft could also become viable in the 2020s.

If these breakthroughs occur, we could see small, commercial, electric aircraft operating on some of Australia’s busiest air routes, including Sydney-Melbourne or Brisbane, as well as opening up new, cost-effective travel routes to and from regional Australia.

Possible short-haul electric aircraft ranges of 500km and 1,000km around Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Author provided

Why go electric?

In addition to new export opportunities, as shown by MagniX, electric aviation could greatly reduce the financial and environmental costs of air transport in Australia.

Two major components of current airline costs
are fuel (27%) and maintenance (11%). Electric aircraft could deliver significant price reductions through reduced energy and maintenance costs.

Short-haul electric aircraft are particularly compelling given the inherent energy efficiency, simplicity and longevity of the battery-powered motor and drivetrain. No alternative fuel sources can deliver the same level of savings.

With conventional planes, a high-passenger, high-frequency model comes with a limiting environmental cost of burning fuel. Smaller electric aircraft can avoid the fuel costs and emissions resulting from high-frequency service models. This can lead to increased competition between airlines and between airports, further lowering costs.




Read more:
Don’t trust the environmental hype about electric vehicles? The economic benefits might convince you


What are the implications of this disruption?

Air transport is generally organised in combinations of hub-and-spoke or point-to-point models. Smaller, more energy-efficient planes encourage point-to-point flights, which can also be the spokes on long-haul hub models. This means electric aircraft could lead to higher-frequency services, enabling more competitive point-to-point flights, and increase the dispersion of air services to smaller airports.

While benefiting smaller airports, electric aircraft could also improve the efficiency of some larger constrained airports.

For example, Australia’s largest airport, Sydney Airport, is efficient in both operations and costs. However, due to noise and pollution, physical and regulatory constraints – mainly aircraft movement caps and a curfew – can lead to congestion. With a significant number of sub-1,000km flights originating from Sydney, low-noise, zero-emission, electric aircraft could overcome some of these constraints, increasing airport efficiency and lowering costs.

The increased availability of short-haul, affordable air travel could actively compete with other transport services, including high-speed rail (HSR). Alternatively, if the planning of HSR projects takes account of electric aviation, these services could improve connectivity at regional rail hubs. This could strengthen the business cases for HSR projects by reducing the number of stops and travel times, and increasing overall network coverage.

Synchronised air and rail services could improve connections for travellers.
Chuyuss/Shutterstock

What about air freight?

Electric aircraft could also help air freight. International air freight volumes have increased by 80% in the last 20 years. Electric aircraft provide an opportunity to efficiently transport high-value products to key regional transport hubs, as well as directly to consumers via VTOL vehicles or drones.

If properly planned, electric aviation could complement existing freight services, including road, sea and air services. This would reduce the overall cost of transporting high-value goods.

Plan now for the coming disruption

Electric aircraft could significantly disrupt short-haul air transport within the next decade. How quickly will this technology affect conventional infrastructure? It is difficult to say given the many unknown factors. The uncertainties include step-change technologies, such as solid-state batteries, that could radically
accelerate the uptake and capabilities of electric aircraft.

What we do know today is that Australia is already struggling with disruptive technological changes in energy, telecommunications and even other transport segments. These challenges highlight the need to start taking account of disruptive technology when planning infrastructure. Where we see billions of dollars being invested in technological transformation, we need to assume disruption is coming.

With electric aircraft we have some time to prepare, so let’s not fall behind the eight ball again – as has happened with electric cars – and start to plan ahead.




Read more:
End of the road for traditional vehicles? Here are the facts


The Conversation


Jake Whitehead, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland and Michael Kane, Research Associate, Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute,, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Going travelling? Don’t forget insurance (and to read the fine print)



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If you don’t have a motorbike license back home, your insurance might not cover you if you have an accident abroad.
Eirik Skarstein

David Beirman, University of Technology Sydney

Over the past year, Australians took almost 11 million international trips. We’re among the world’s leading international travellers on a per-capita basis.

Australians took more than 3.5 million trips to Asia in the past year. Indonesia (especially Bali), Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and Cambodia are the most popular destinations in the region. This is especially the case for young Australian travellers, who are attracted by low prices, the range of activities, and the easy-going lifestyle.

However, all international travel involves risks. You may have an accident or illness that lands you in hospital; you may even need to be repatriated to Australia. So it’s important to take out appropriate insurance for your trip.




Read more:
What to claim for lost, delayed or damaged bags on overseas flights


No, the consulate won’t pay

In the late 1970s, travel insurance companies struggled to convince 50% of Australian international travellers to purchase travel insurance. Now around 90% purchase health insurance.

Travellers aged under 30 are much more likely to travel without insurance cover than any other age group. Around 82% of international travellers aged 18-29 have insurance.

Young men are more likely to refuse travel insurance than women. This is concerning because young men are more likely to engage in risky behaviour, such as riding motorbikes or risky drinking, and the peer pressure to take a dare remains strong. Some men, particularly those travelling in groups, imagine themselves to be bulletproof.

Young Australians are less likely to travel with insurance.
Goh Rhy Yan

Some Australians still naively believe their government will bail them out if they become sick or are injured and aren’t covered by travel insurance.

But while Australian diplomatic legations can provide details of local doctors and hospitals in an emergency, they won’t pay for medical or psychiatric services or medications.

Check the fine print

Some insurance claims run to hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially if the person requires extensive treatment in an intensive care unit.

Most reputable travel insurance companies offer substantial medical coverage.
They generally provide unlimited cover for any illness or accident experienced overseas. This includes covering the costs of treatment, hospitalisation, medication, surgery and, if necessary, evacuation or repatriation.

Some cheaper policies may require travellers to pay an excess on their premium for unlimited medical coverage.

Travellers are covered for tropical diseases such as Malaria, Zika and other conditions which can be contracted while travelling.

Many adventurous travellers engage in high risk activities but these are not necessarily covered by travel insurance policies. Travellers who plan to ski, bungee jump, mountaineer, abseil, trek or engage in other risky activities, should choose your insurance cover carefully.

This Choice guide is a good place to start. It explains traps and exclusions that may apply to insurance cover for loss, injury or illness.




Read more:
Mobile apps might make you feel better about travelling alone, but they won’t necessarily make you safer


Few travel insurance companies will cover policy-holders for treatment related to pre-existing medical conditions, including pregnancy or heart attacks at any age.

Travellers who need medical treatment from injuries incurred while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol may also have their claims rejected.

Australians who are injured in a motorbike accident abroad may find their claims rejected if they don’t have a motorbike licence in Australia and especially if they aren’t wearing a helmet (even if it isn’t required in the country they’re riding in).

If you’re over 75, you might need to shop around for the right policy.
Yichuan Zhan

Insurance companies’ definition of a senior can range from age 50 to over 80, but in many cases premiums will rise from age 75.

Some travel insurance companies have more stringent fitness requirements and require more medical documentation for senior travellers, especially those who have previously had a heart attack.

Reading the fine print of an insurance policy or obtaining expert advice is one of the least glamorous aspects of travel planning but it’s an essential part of minimising risk for your trip.




Read more:
Bali tourism and the Mt Agung volcano: quick dollars or long term reputation


The Conversation


David Beirman, Senior Lecturer, Tourism, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grey nomad lifestyle provides a model for living remotely


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Grey nomads are champions of a radical type of portable urbanism as they travel to far-flung places like Lake Ballard in Western Australia.
Image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia, Author provided

Timothy Moore, Monash University

Every other year, retired couple Jorg and Jan journey some 5,000 kilometres in their campervan from Port Fairy in southeastern Australia to Broome in the far northwest for a change of lifestyle and scenery. There they catch up with other couples from across the nation, who often converge on the beach for communal dinners. Jorg and Jan’s break lasts several weeks.

They are two of tens of thousands of retired adults travelling independently across the continent at any given time in search of adventure, warmer weather and camaraderie after a lifetime of hard work. These part-time nomadic adventurers, or grey nomads, have recast the image of Australia’s ageing population. Rather than being inert and conservative, or in need of care, these older Australians are champions of a radical type of urbanism: dwellings are mobile, infrastructure is portable or pluggable, social networks are sprawled, and adherents are on the move daily or weekly.




Read more:
Grey dawn or the twilight years? Let’s talk about growing old


Nomads driving along Meelup Beach Road near Dunsborough.
Image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia

Grey nomad is a term used to describe Australians over 55 years old who travel for an extended time – from weeks to months – and cover more than 300 kilometres in a day across semi-arid and coastal Australia. The term was popularised following the 1997 Australian documentary Grey Nomads, which captured the phenomenon of older travellers who made their homes wherever they parked.

What is the scale of grey nomadism?

Travellers, including grey nomads, contribute to a “roaming economy”: decentralised dwelling results in decentralised spending. The Western Australian government estimated in its Caravan and Camping Visitor Snapshot 2016 report that 1.54 million domestic visitors spent time in caravans or camping, contributing more than A$1 billion to the state economy.

According to the Campervan & Motorhome Club of Australia, RV drivers spend an average of $770 per week. And their value to a remote place extends beyond economic capital to human capital. Grey nomads often provide labour (such as gardening, house-sitting or their pre-retirement professional skills) in exchange for a place to park or for extra income.

Nomads relax at a caravan site in Esperance.
Image courtesy of Tourism Western
Australia

The availability of caravan parks, campsites and public parking reserves is essential to attract the grey nomad to regional towns. According to a 2012 report for Tourism WA, A Strategic Approach to Caravan & Camping Tourism in Western Australia, the state had a total of 37,369 campsites at 769 locations. In addition, remote private properties are becoming available through apps such as WikiCamps Australia.




Read more:
Grey nomads drive caravan boom but camp spots decline


But while many nomads go off-grid, carrying their solar panels and generators, others are just looking for free reserves to park in. Beyond the site and its amenities – such as power, water, showers or flushing toilets – qualities such as “authenticity” are important to nomads, as highlighted by Mandy Pickering. Sites should feel remote rather than urban.

Will future generations be as fortunate?

The rise of the grey nomad over the past half-century has been made possible through the ability of ageing Australians to fund this retirement lifestyle. They might sell their houses (some may simply benefit from having secure accommodation), withdraw their superannuation or receive government benefits. Nomadism is a reward after a lifetime entangled in an economic and social system that keeps the individual tied to a stable workplace and place to live.

Aerial view of Osprey Campground near Ningaloo Reef.
Image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia

For future generations, the outlook in terms of grey nomadism being a viable retirement lifestyle is not especially bright. Home ownership is sliding out of reach for many younger people. And many are enmeshed in the gig economy, meaning they are not receiving employer superannuation contributions.




Read more:
Renters Beware: how the pension and super could leave you behind


Future generations may be so much in debt or living in such straitened circumstances that they cannot retire to a life of leisurely travel.

While grey nomadism might not be a sustainable model in the future, the lifestyle demonstrates how future generations of nomads – not necessarily grey – can live cheaply while populating regional centres for weeks or months, bringing economic and human capital to these remote places. These nomads will be able to work on their laptops in the public libraries, cafes, share houses and co-working spaces of country towns, accessing work remotely through cloud-based telecommunications.

They might not come in campervans but be dropped off in driverless vehicles; vacant campsites might become sites for small cabins. Or, as these nomads will be looking for temporary accommodation, spare rooms or entire houses might be made available. To find these dwellings, they might use apps that bring great efficiency to managing housing occupancy, enabling the “sharing” (renting) of unoccupied space for days, weeks or months.

Are regional towns ready to embrace these “emerging nomads” who are attracted by affordable living costs, network coverage, fast internet speeds, great weather, temporary housing options and unique regional identities, as the grey nomads were before them?

Grey nomads are recognised as a group that requires distributed infrastructures. They demonstrate a capacity for domesticity and urbanity without boundaries. The grey nomads are the precursor to a new generation that might not only want to travel, but need to in an economic environment that is not static or stable. And that will mean they can no longer afford to stay in one place.


This article was co-authored by Amelia Borg, a director of Sibling Architecture and a Masters of Business student at the University of Melbourne.

The Conversation is co-publishing articles with Future West (Australian Urbanism), produced by the University of Western Australia’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts. These articles look towards the future of urbanism, taking Perth and Western Australia as its reference point, with the latest series focusing on the regions. You can read other articles here.




Read more:
Off the plan: shelter, the future and the problems in between


The Conversation


Timothy Moore, PhD Candidate, Melbourne School of Design, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why our carbon emission policies don’t work on air travel



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The Gillard government’s carbon price had no effect on the aviation industry.
Shutterstock

Francis Markham, Australian National University; Arianne C. Reis, Western Sydney University; James Higham, and Martin Young, Southern Cross University

The federal government’s National Energy Guarantee aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity industry by 26% of 2005 levels. But for Australia to meet its Paris climate change commitments, this 26% reduction will need to be replicated economy-wide.

In sectors such as aviation this is going to be very costly, if not impossible. Our modelling of the carbon price introduced by the Gillard government shows it had no detectable effect on kilometres flown and hence carbon emitted, despite being levied at A$23-$24 per tonne.

If Australia is to meet its Paris climate commitments, the National Energy Guarantee target will need to be raised or radical measures will be required, such as putting a hard cap on emissions in sectors such as aviation.




Read more:
Obituary: Australia’s carbon price


Our analysis of domestic aviation found no correlation between the Gillard government’s carbon price and domestic air travel, even when adjusting statistically for other factors that influence the amount Australians fly.

This is despite the carbon price being very effective at reducing emissions in the energy sector.

To reduce aviation emissions, a carbon price must either make flying less carbon intensive, or make people fly less.

In theory, a carbon tax should improve carbon efficiency by increasing the costs of polluting technologies and systems, relative to less polluting alternatives. If this is not possible, a carbon price might reduce emissions by making air travel more expensive, thereby encouraging people to either travel less or use alternative modes of transport.

Why the carbon price failed to reduce domestic aviation

The cost of air travel has fallen dramatically over the last 25 years. As the chart below shows, economy air fares in Australia in 2018 are just 55% of the average cost in 1992 (after adjusting for inflation).

Given this dramatic reduction in fares, many consumers would not have noticed a small increase in prices due to the carbon tax. Qantas, for example, increased domestic fares by between A$1.82 and A$6.86.

The carbon price may have just been too small to reduce consumer demand – even when passed on to consumers in full.

Consumer demand may have actually been increased by the Clean Energy Future policy, which included household compensation.




Read more:
Carbon pricing is still the best way to cut emissions, if we get it right


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The cost of jet fuel, which accounts for between 30 and 40% of total airline expenses, has fluctuated dramatically over the last decade.

As the chart below shows, oil were around USD$80-$100 per barrel during the period of the carbon price, but had fallen to around USD$50 per barrel just a year later.

Airlines manage these large fluctuations by absorbing the cost or passing them on through levies. Fare segmentation and dynamic pricing also make ticket prices difficult to predict and understand.

Compared to the volatility in the cost of fuel, the carbon price was negligible.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/QssWQ/1/

The carbon price was also unlikely to have been fully passed through to consumers as Virgin and Qantas were engaged in heavy competition at the time, also known as the “capacity wars”.

This saw airlines running flights at well below profitable passenger loads in order to gain market share. It also meant the airlines stopped passing on the carbon price to customers.




Read more:
The Paris climate agreement needs coordinated carbon prices to be successful


A carbon price could incentivise airlines to reduce emissions by improving their management systems or changing plane technology. But such an incentive already existed in 2012-2014, in the form of high fuel prices.

A carbon price would only provide an additional incentive over and above high fuel prices if there is an alternative, non-taxed form of energy to switch to. This is the case for electricity generators, who can switch to solar or wind power.

But more efficient aeroplane materials, engines and biofuels are more myth than reality.

What would meeting Australia’s Paris commitment require?

Given the failure of the carbon price to reduce domestic air travel, there are two possibilities to reduce aviation emissions by 26% on 2005 levels.

The first is to insist on reducing emissions across all industry sectors. In the case of aviation, the modest A$23-$24 per tonne carbon price did not work.

Hard caps on emissions will be needed. Given the difficulty of technological change, this will require that people fly less.

The second option is to put off reducing aviation emissions and take advantage of more viable sources of emissions reduction elsewhere.

By increasing the National Energy Guarantee target to well above 26%, the emission reductions in the energy sector could offset a lack of progress in aviation. This is the most economically efficient way to reduce economy-wide emissions, but does little to reduce carbon pollution from aviation specifically.

The ConversationAirline emissions are likely to remain a difficult problem, but one that needs to be tackled if we’re to stay within habitable climate limits.

Francis Markham, Research Fellow, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University; Arianne C. Reis, Senior lecturer, Western Sydney University; James Higham, Professor of Tourism, and Martin Young, Associate Professor, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Plain sailing: how traditional methods could deliver zero-emission shipping



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The Avontuur recently completed a sail-powered transatlantic cargo voyage.
Timbercoast

Christiaan De Beukelaer, University of Melbourne

On May 10, the 43.5-metre schooner Avontuur arrived in the port of Hamburg. This traditional sailing vessel, built in 1920, transported some 70 tonnes of coffee, cacao and rum across the Atlantic. The shipping company Timbercoast, which owns and operates Avontuur, says it aims to prove that sailing ships can offer an environmentally sustainable alternative to the heavily polluting shipping industry, despite being widely seen as a technology of yesteryear.




Read more:
The urgency of curbing pollution from ships, explained


Similar initiatives exist across the world. In the Netherlands, Fairtransport operates two vessels on European and transatlantic routes. In France, Transoceanic Wind Transport sails multiple vessels across the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean, and along European coasts. The US-based vessel Kwai serves islands in the Pacific. And Sail Cargo, based in Costa Rica, is building Ceiba, a zero-emission cargo sailing ship.

Transporting cargo by sail is both a practical response to climate change and a contribution to a larger debate.

These initiatives have an environmental objective: transporting cargo without generating greenhouse gas emissions. But are they really a viable alternative to today’s huge fossil-fuelled maritime cargo transport industry?

Shipping emission targets?

On April 13, 2018, the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations body that regulates shipping, agreed for the first time to limit the sector’s greenhouse emissions. It’s targeting a 50% reduction by 2050 (relative to 2008 levels), with the aim to phase out emissions entirely.

This was a breakthrough, given that both the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement exclude international shipping (and international aviation) from emissions targets, because these are so hard to attribute to individual countries.

Conventional seaborne cargo transport is relatively energy-efficient. It emits less greenhouse gas per tonne-kilometre (one tonne of goods transported over one kilometre) than transport by train, truck or plane. But because 80-90% of all goods we consume are transported by sea, the total emissions of the shipping industry are immense.

According to figures from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), shipping accounts for 2-3% of global emissions – outstripping the 2% share generated by civil aviation.

As the global demand for goods increases, so does the need for shipping. As a result, the IMO has projected that the sector’s greenhouse emissions will grow by anything between 50% and 250% between 2012 and 2050, despite improvements in fuel composition and efficiency. More worryingly, a commentary on that report in Nature Climate Change warns that “none of the anticipated shipping scenarios even approach what is necessary for the sector to make its ‘fair and proportionate’ contribution to avoiding 2℃ of warming”.

A recent report commissioned by the European Parliament raises further alarm bells, underscoring the fact that the sector’s huge growth is likely to swamp any carbon savings that come from improved operations. On top of this, the significant progress made in other industries means that the relative share of greenhouse gas emissions from cargo shipping is likely to increase from the current 2-3% to 17% by 2050.

Yo ho ho, shipping rum the old-fashioned way aboard the Aventuur.
Timbercoast

Zero-emission vessels?

The OECD International Transport Forum is less pessimistic. It projects a 23% increase in the sector’s emissions between 2015 and 2035 on current trends, but also argues that it will be possible to decarbonise maritime transport altogether by 2035, through the “maximum deployment of currently known technologies”.

These emissions-reducing propulsion technologies include kites, solar electricity, and advanced sail technology. Some of them, such as Flettner rotors, are already in use. But these will not be scaled up and become viable unless there is strict regulation, even if some shipping companies have taken steps to reduce their emissions ahead of a binding IMO target. Electricity-propelled container barges operate in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the IMO faced a tricky balancing act in juggling the priorities of different countries. Climate-vulnerable nations such as the Marshall Islands want shipping emissions to be cut entirely by 2035. The European Union has proposed a reduction of 70-100% by 2050, while emerging economies such as Brazil, Saudi Arabia and India have argued against any emissions target at all. Despite these differences, the IMO did agree on a 50% reduction target by 2050 in April 2018.

Sail cargo

It took Avontuur 126 days to sail from France to Honduras, Mexico, Cuba and home to Germany. But conventional container ships can cross the Atlantic in about a week. Avontuur was carrying more than 70 tonnes of cargo on arrival in Germany. But many cargo vessels now carry more than 20,000 standard shipping containers (TEU), each weighing more than 2 tonnes and able to hold more than 20 tonnes of cargo.

Given the relatively small capacity of sailing ships, it is expensive and labour-intensive to ship cargo this way. But despite these limitations, support for sail cargo initiatives is growing. A consortium of small North Sea ports, for example, will “create sail cargo hubs in small ports and harbours, giving local businesses direct access to ethically transported goods”.

Ceiba, a new sailing vessel builds on traditional skills and incorporates new technologies to help attain global carbon emission targets.

These initiatives signal the revival of sail cargo with an explicit environmental agenda, although this effort is dwarfed by the scale of the global shipping industry. But while they don’t stack up in logistical terms, these voyages can help us see the possibilities for a world without fossil fuels. Sail cargo aims to rethink not only the means of propulsion for cargo vessels, but the entire scale, economy and ethics of cargo transport.

Traditional sailing vessels like Avontuur will not be able to compete with conventional cargo vessels on speed, scale or cost. But they help us focus on the underlying issue. We ship too much, too often and too far. The scale of shipping is unsustainable. That is why we need a change of mindset as much as a change of technology.

The ConversationSail cargo initiatives raise awareness about the devastating environmental effects of conventional cargo shipping. And they do so by showing that an alternative is possible. Indeed, it has been around for thousands of years.

Christiaan De Beukelaer, Lecturer in Cultural Policy, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Too wet? Too cold? Too hot? This is how weather affects the trips we make


Jonathan Corcoran, The University of Queensland; Dorina Pojani, The University of Queensland; Francisco Rowe, University of Liverpool; Jiangping Zhou, University of Hong Kong; Jiwon Kim, The University of Queensland; Ming Wei, The University of Queensland; Sui Tao, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Thomas Sigler, The University of Queensland, and Yan Liu, The University of Queensland

What sorts of weather lead us to change our daily travel behaviour? How do we respond to scorching heatwaves, sapping humidity, snow and frost, strong winds, or torrential rain? International research shows weather is important in shaping our everyday movements.

The research evidence suggests that bad weather can lead to planned journeys being rescheduled, rerouted or cancelled. The consequences of these shifts in daily travel choices can include increases in traffic congestion and accidents, travel delays, mental stress, environmental pollution and general travel dissatisfaction.

Because people who travel by bike or walking are most likely to change travel plans in bad weather, some cities are responding with innovations such as heated bicycle lanes and sheltered walkways.




Read more:
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Why do we care about the weather?

Firstly, how do we explain people’s common obsession with the weather? As Samuel Johnson put it:

It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.

Is this merely a keen (or indeed pathological) interest in the subject?

According to Kate Fox, these conversations are not really about the weather at all: weather-speak is a form of code, evolved to help Anglo-Australian people overcome their natural reserve and actually talk to one another. Weather-speak can be used as a greeting, as an ice-breaker, and/or as a “filler” subject.

But, beyond its use as a conversation prop and social bonding device, weather does play a major role in travel behaviour. And as the impacts of climate change unfold, the severity and frequency of extreme weather conditions are predicted to increase.

Walking across the street calls for caution during an icy winter storm in Chicago.
vonderauvisuals/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

A better understanding of the dynamics of the relationship between weather and travel behaviour is thus essential in helping cities develop transport and planning responses appropriate to their conditions.




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Here’s what bike-sharing programs need to succeed


What do we know about the weather-travel relationship?

It’s complicated. Research on the weather-travel relationship has revealed that effects vary by mode of travel.

Active transport, such as walking and cycling, is the most vulnerable to variations in the weather. Arriving drenched is both uncomfortable and impractical, so we might drive rather than face this prospect. Wet weather forecasts are likely to trigger a travel mode shift as travellers opt for greater comfort and safety.

But the day of the week also affects these decisions. Inclement weather is more likely to reduce weekend and off-peak travel – the so-called discretionary trips – than standard weekday commute trips. Clearly, travel purpose plays a stronger role than weather.

Significant variation exists in the effects of weather on trip-makers with different individual characteristics and household composition. For example, commuters with children are less likely to alter their travel because of the weather. This is possibly due to their household responsibilities.

Geographic variations across the transit network have been observed too. Bad weather has more serious effects in areas with less frequent services and without protected bus and rail stops. Travellers in areas with more frequent services and well-designed shelters appear to be less sensitive to bad weather.

High-density cities appear to reduce the impacts of weather on active transport, with this cyclist braving the rain in Osaka.
Akuppa John Wigham/Flickr, CC BY

In areas with high population densities, the effect of weather also appears to weaken. This is particularly the case for active transportation such as cycling.

How we travel during inclement weather also involves more subtle changes. Trip chaining, or the process of stringing together multiple smaller journeys into a larger one, is reduced in complexity, particularly on rainy days.

In terms of “extreme” weather, not all types have the same effect. Heavy precipitation (snow or rain) and, to a lesser extent, extremely high or low temperatures appear to have a greater effect on travel behaviour than strong winds or high humidity.

Adapting to weather conditions

We cannot change the weather. But we can plan our transport systems to be more resilient and better shield us from the weather when we travel.

If we don’t do this, we will face the same crisis as Transport for London. Since its privatisation, its train services experience delays every autumn and winter due to “leaves on the line” and “the wrong type of snow”.




Read more:
Why does a bit of snow plunge Britain into transport chaos?


Heavy snow can stop traffic altogether, as in New York in winter 2010.
Chris Ford/Flickr, CC BY-NC

What kind of transport adaptations are available and work? The options range from offering passengers a more diverse choice of modes, to improving existing infrastructure. For example, making public transport stations more user-friendly could soften the impact of bad weather.

More seamless interchanges may have a strong effect, as commuters generally find modal transfers stressful. Temperature-controlled, covered or underground transfer stations would protect passengers while between modes of transport.

Active travel infrastructure is particularly important. Cities that are committed to supporting non-motorised transport have implemented or proposed bold policies.

We see examples of this around the world. Increasingly hot Madrid is covering itself in trees to assist pedestrians. Frosty Dutch cities are testing heated bicycle lanes. Arid Doha has floated the idea of cooled bicycle paths. And Singapore plans to expand the city’s network of sheltered walkways.

Projecting roofs and porticoes shield us from the hot sun or precipitation. Vegetation lessens the impacts of both cold wind in temperate and subpolar latitudes and hot sunshine elsewhere.

People out and about in the hot weather of Perth welcome shade and cooling fountains.
Traveller_40/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Beyond these incremental interventions, a fundamental rethink of our urban design approach is necessary. The key to limiting and adapting to the effects of weather on travel may well be the “30-minute city”. But this can only be achieved through high densities and mixed land use – concepts that have so far generated fierce resistance and NIMBYism in Australia.




Read more:
’30-minute city’? Not in my backyard! Smart Cities Plan must let people have their say


The ConversationAnother word of caution. What works in one climate zone might not work in another. This is because human bodies and minds adjust and develop different expectations and tolerance to weather and temperature patterns. For example, the optimal temperature range for cycling is as broad as 4-40°C in continental climates, but as narrow as 15-32°C in subtropical climates.

Jonathan Corcoran, Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland; Dorina Pojani, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, The University of Queensland; Francisco Rowe, Lecturer in Quantitative Human Geography, University of Liverpool; Jiangping Zhou, Associate Professor, Department of Urban Planning and Design, University of Hong Kong; Jiwon Kim, Lecturer in Transport Engineering, The University of Queensland; Ming Wei, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland; Sui Tao, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute of Future Cities, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Thomas Sigler, Lecturer in Human Geography, The University of Queensland, and Yan Liu, Associate Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.