Sustainable Mobility in Swedish Cities

Jeff Kenworthy, K2 Working Papers 2019:1.

This final report presents the results of 124 urban transport related indicators for 2015 for Sweden’s five most populous urban regions and compares them with each other and against cities in the USA, Australia, Canada, Europe and two large cities in Asia (Singapore and Hong Kong). Results indicate that Swedish cities are atypically low in density, and high in roads and freeways compared to most other European cities. Partly resulting from these conditions, Swedish cities on average have much lower public transport boardings than typical European cities (roughly half), but at the same time they are much better than in the more auto-dependent regions in the USA, Australia and Canada where densities are also low. Notwithstanding their moderate public transport use, their normalised farebox and operating costs data are relatively similar to the other cities in the study. Public transport use measured by passenger kilometres is closer to European levels due to the longer distances travelled by public transport in Swedish cities. Modal split of daily trips is also just under 50% for public transport, walking and cycling combined, meaning that modal share in these five Swedish urban regions is pivoted rather equitably between the more sustainable and less sustainable modes. Car use per person (vehicle kilometres) is only a little higher in the Swedish cities and passenger kilometres per person in cars are about the same compared to typical European cities. The percentage of total motorised passenger kilometres accounted for by public transport is much higher than in the USA, Canada and Australia, but less than in other European and in Asia cities. Energy use in private motorised passenger transport is, due to comparable car use levels, like that in other European cities and very much lower than in the auto-cities of North America and Australia. The Swedish cities excel in their extremely low transport emissions per capita and low spatial intensity of emissions (per hectare) compared to every other region in the world and even the worst Swedish cities are better than the best of the other cities. Likewise, in transport fatalities, Swedish cities are the lowest in the world. Some factors that seem to contribute to the above sometimes paradoxical situations are that: a. Swedish cities have significantly lower car ownership than might be expected, lower even than other European cities and average wealth levels in 2015, as measured by metropolitan GDP are below typical European levels (though comparable to 2005/6 levels Australian and Canadian cities). b. These five Swedish cities have comparatively low parking supply in their CBDs and a relatively high proportion of metropolitan jobs located in the CBDs, which assists public transport in the journey-to-work. c. despite low densities, Swedish cities have developed relatively well-performing and more extensive public transport systems than many comparable lower density cities – they have healthy levels of service in terms of seat kilometres per capita, only eclipsed by other European cities and the Asian cities. However, seat occupancy is comparatively low, indicating generous levels of spare capacity that could be utilised through better urban planning to create back-loading of passengers. d. Swedish cities have the highest level of public transport line length per persons, as well as high levels of reserved public transport route per person, although they are also well-endowed with freeways, which tends to undercut this advantage. e. average operating speeds for public transport in Sweden seem to be higher than most other cities and public transport overall enjoys a modest speed advantage over car speeds. f. Swedish cities spend relatively generous amounts of money operating their public transport systems, on average about 1.34% of their local GDPs, which significantly exceeds that of the auto-dependent regions, and is close to the other European cities (1.50%). g. cost recovery from fares of public transport operating costs is on average a bit less than 50% and less on average that the other global cities. This may be partly indicative of a recognition in Sweden of the proven value of public transport systems in helping to create urban regions that are only moderately car dependent by developed world standards, despite lower densities, because farebox recovery takes no account of public transport’s broader economic benefits and h. Swedish cities have significant areas of urban fabric that are supportive of non-motorised modes and where walking and cycling is high, leading to over 27% of daily trips in Swedish cities by these modes, despite a very cold climate. Three key weaknesses that have emerged in Swedish cities are: (a) their overall low density that would benefit from targeted increases in higher density development, especially linked to expanded and improved public transport, especially rail. Stockholm is by far the best of the Swedish cities in sustainable transport and although it is still overall a relatively low-density region, it is bound together by strong urban rail networks around which very high density, mixed use centres have been built; (b) the need to restrict further development of already abundant freeway systems in all five of the Swedish cities and (c) an over-reliance on bus systems and the need for more extensive urban rail networks. A major difference between Swedish and European cities generally is that European cities have three times higher rail use and this is a critical distinguishing feature in the lower public transport use in Swedish cities.