Urban mobility and clean air in Poland – what can we improve?

Guest article by the Polish Society for Health Programs

The transport sector is responsible for approximately 15% of greenhouse gas emissions in Poland. Passenger cars are responsible for 50% of road transport emissions. According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association report (2022), Poland is at the forefront of countries in terms of resident car mobility, at 662 cars per 1000 inhabitants And with  71,4% of households with at least 1 car. The number of individual transport modes continues to increase. Most often, cars in individual use are over 15 years old and usually run on petrol or diesel. The new generation of cars (hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid or battery electric) is still insignificant. According to Polom “in Poland, the share of daily journeys by the means of public transport drastically dropped in the period of 1989–2020. In 1990 the number of passengers was 7,3 billion, while in 2020 only 3,9 billion people used public transport”. Among the reasons the author listed; “various historical factors (including general underdevelopment of individual transport); economic determinants (i.e. considerable increase in the purchasing power and accessibility of cars) and imperfect transport policy”. This mobility pattern, which has seen the rise of the private, fuel-based car, and the decline of shared and public transport negatively affects air quality in Poland, contributing to health-related harm from transport.

In order to reduce the need to travel by own car, Polish cities are expanding their transport networks to include the suburban area, as was the case in the Tri-City, which in 2015 commissioned the Pomeranian Metropolitan Railway, and the plans of the city of Gdansk for the coming years include increasing the number of residents using public transport and purchasing more low-emission buses. In November 2022, the local government association ‘Gdansk-Gdynia-Sopot Metropolitan Area’ encouraged the inhabitants of Gdansk to join the ‘Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan’ initiative and shared ideas for the development of urban transport. Among local initiatives is the metropolitan bikes sharing system. Several cities have introduced such a solution, which allows people to rent both traditional and e-bikes for a reasonable price.

However, there is still an absence at national level of the strategy for healthy and clean mobility. As a result, we notice not only tense discussions with strong proponents of combustion engine vehicles but also social pressure to increase infrastructure spending suited for cars and their owners. Without a national strategy, and with the discussions still being dominated by car users, there is a risk that urban mobility will continue to affect health. If this pattern of mobility continues, the air quality will continue to be polluted, the cycle of car dependency will continue, and health effects will continue to be seen because of private mobility.

Disclaimer: the opinions – including possible policy recommendations – expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EPHA. The mere appearance of the articles on the EPHA website does not mean an endorsement by EPHA.

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