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Transport & Logistics

How Transport for London is creating a more sustainable London

11 Jul 2024, by Amy Sarcevic

Amid growing calls for UK cities to be more sustainable, eyes are turning to Transport for London (TfL) – one of the largest integrated public transport authorities in the world.

Alongside the London Underground, Dial-a-Ride, coach and river services – which it directly operates – TfL runs a host of contracted services. These include a fleet of 9000 buses, Trams and Overground, as well as Cycle Hire, and a cable car crossing the Thames in Greenwich.

Outside of public transport, TfL also regulates Taxi and Private Hire; is the highway authority for the strategic roads in London; and a commercial developer through its wholly owned commercial development arm, ‘Places for London’.

Given the scope of its remit, TfL has been tasked with a lofty sustainability goal: making London a thriving and liveable city, in which 80 percent of trips are made via sustainable modes by 2041.

With progress towards this target plateauing since the pandemic, what has Head of Sustainability, Sam Longman, got up his sleeve to drive things forward?

We spoke with him ahead of Connect Rail, to find out.

Operational emissions

In line  with the Mayor of London’s ambition for a net-zero London by 2030, TfL’s overarching mission is a modal shift to sustainable transport.

“We are trying to maximise the use of public transport, walking and cycling. Then, whatever vehicles are left, we need them to be electric. So we’ve got a huge programme of supporting the electrification of fleets in London,” Mr Longman said.

With 55 percent of its 800,000 tonnes of annual operational carbon emissions coming from buses, these were among the first vehicles to be earmarked for electrification.

“So far, we have electrified over 1,500 out of the full 9,000 – as well as incorporating 20 hydrogen buses – but our plan is to have a zero emission fleet by 2034 at the latest.

“We are also working our way through the cars and vans in our support fleet and supporting our bus operators with the power upgrades to install the charging infrastructure they need at their bus garages.”

Given that TfL is only responsible for 5 percent of the road network, it also works closely with London’s 33 boroughs, to promote electric car usage, and support the mayor’s target of 40,000 charging points by 2030.

“London Boroughs are the Highway Authorities for the vast majority of London’s road network, so we work with them to deliver electric vehicle charging. We also create charging hubs on our own land, via our commercial development arm.”

Given the extent of its electrification plans – and its existing high usage – TfL is also upping its use of renewables, with ambitions to be a cleaner, more efficient, power consumer.

“TfL consumes 1.6 terawatt hours of power a year, so we are one of the biggest consumers in the UK, and certainly in London. We’re working our way through our assets now to remove gas and improve energy efficiency.”

Directly connected renewables are of particular interest to the organisation, which already uses rooftop solar, and is exploring lighter-weight solutions.

“Some of our sites are quite old and the roofs aren’t really strong enough. But as solar technology improves and gets lighter, I think that’ll open up more opportunities.

“We’re also looking at private wire solar. With our network, we’ve got around 64 megawatts of capacity to take power from new local renewable energy generation directly into our network without much disruption. So we’re in discussions with the market now around that.”

Alongside solar, TfL is looking at using waste heat from its underground, via air or pumped water.

“We have a lot of air vents and pumped water across our network, creating opportunities to feed waste heat directly into local distribution networks.
We’ve got examples of that already underway and we’re looking at some more. There are government consultations in the UK currently around heat zoning, which I think will increase the creation of new local heat networks.”

Building and land use optimisation

Despite operating most of London’s public transport system, TfL’s sustainability efforts are not limited to transport.

As a major landowner, the organisation aims to deliver 20,000 new homes, as part of a broader strategy to grow London in an integrated and sustainable way.

“We are heavily involved in land use planning and its relationship with transport, so this is a major part of our sustainability effort. The creation of mixed-use, inclusive, nature-rich, local communities, where sustainable transport is the first option is vital for long-term success and the health and wellbeing of Londoners” Mr Longman said.

TfL is also exploring how to decarbonise its existing portfolio of around 2500 buildings. To do so, it has created a net-zero delivery team, consisting of engineers, procurement and commercial, project managers and policy experts.

“The focus is on removing gas heating systems and replacing them with low carbon alternatives. Also on improving energy efficiency, by upgrading building fabric and installing more energy efficient assets, such as LED lighting.”

To help fund these projects, TfL has undertaken a great number of feasibility and design studies.

“We prioritise them on ‘bang-for-buck’ – maximising the carbon saved for every pound we spend. We also look at financial payback, obsolescence risk and wider benefits. We’re finding many projects pay for themselves in lower energy bills in the medium to long-term so it’s win-win.”

The organisation also leans on support, such as the Mayor of London’s Green Finance Fund.

“We made use of this to the tune of 34 million pounds sterling, along with 16 million from the UK government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme,” Mr Longman said.

Culture change

Recognising the importance of organisational culture in pushing sustainability initiatives forward, TfL has trained all senior staff on ‘sustainability awareness’. It has also made ‘carbon literacy’ training available across the organisation.

So far, it has trained over 5,000 colleagues, earning it bronze accreditation from the Carbon Literacy Project and in the coming months they will achieve Silver.

Mr Longman says the training has already made an impact.

“It gives colleagues a solid grounding in the climate emergency and what they need to do in the day today. It ensures colleagues know how to use the tools we’ve put in place to consider decarbonisation in everything they do. It’s about driving engagement and upskilling deep into the bowels of the organisation.”

Climate change adaptation

In a similar vein, TfL is taking measures to recover quickly from severe weather events. So far, the measures are working well, with services running as usual within 24 hours of the severe floods in July 2021.

“TfL is good at resilience,” Mr Longman said. “Recovering quickly severe weather is in the transport sector’s DNA.”

However, as climate change progresses, TfL will see critical operational thresholds exceeded more often, and by greater amounts. Although operations were quickly recovered, the 2021 floods forced the closure of 30 underground stations, costing the city at least £2million in lost economic activity. TfL alone also lost around £8million in passenger revenue during a 2022 heatwave.

“If we don’t accelerate our efforts to adapt to climate change, we will put climate mitigation at risk and will struggle to cope with its impacts as we decarbonise.”

“It’s also a vital tool for regenerating nature, strengthening communities and improving public health. We need people to care about climate adaptation all the time, not just after extreme events.”

Further insight

Sharing more insight into the TfL’s sustainability strategy, Sam Longman will present at the upcoming Connect Rail Conference, hosted by Informa.

This year’s event will be held 5-6 August at the Sofitel Sydney.

Register your tickets here.

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