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Delivering sustainability

Future Transport Strategy

Environmental sustainability

Transport for NSW is committed to being a leader in environmental and sustainability performance. It seeks to minimise the environmental impacts of our transport system across all stages of the asset lifecycle, and to identify innovative ways to assess and realise the environmental and social benefits of our Transport networks.

Addressing the environmental sustainability of the transport system is essential to minimise direct and indirect impacts on the natural environment and communities. Direct impacts include air pollution and emissions, noise, waste, water management, biodiversity impacts, heritage and social impacts; indirect impacts are caused by energy and resources used by the transport system.


Climate change

The NSW Government is working towards achieving a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. It is investigating how to embed emissions savings and climate change adaptation in its decision making to meet the requirements of the NSW Climate Change Policy Framework. The Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020 – 2030 restates the NSW Government's commitment to a net-zero emission future and the first major step in meeting this goal will be the delivery of a 35 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. 

Going forward, Transport for NSW will consider resilience, including climate resilience, in the planning and design of all assets and services. A climate change risk assessment will be developed for assets as part of the whole-of-life impact assessment when developing projects. Transport for NSW also participates in the Cross Dependency Initiative project (XDI), which is led by Climate Risk Engines and the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, and models various climate change risks to infrastructure. To date, the model has been applied to estimate risks for major intersections in the Greater Sydney area, as well as on local government roads.

To achieve net-zero emissions, it is vital to minimise the impact of running the NSW transport network by reducing all three of the following scopes of emissions associated with it.


Scope 1 – Direct greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector, such as emissions from vehicle fuels

Cleaner and fuel-efficient vehicles

Transport for NSW supports the State-wide uptake of cleaner and fuel-efficient vehicles powered by renewable energy sources, and has already achieved more than 30 per cent of its new fleet vehicles being electric or hybrid as at October 2020, well above its target of 10 per cent. Transport is also working towards its own target of 70 per cent of new passenger vehicles purchased or leased being low emission vehicles by 2025 (where fit for purpose), with at least 20 per cent battery electric. This target builds towards the medium-term target of 100 per cent low emission vehicles by 2030.

Replacing on-road vehicles that run on internal combustion engines with battery or fuel cell powered vehicles could cut up to 85 per cent of total transport emissions in NSW.

The Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Plan, released in 2019, sets out Transport for NSW’s approach in preparing for a transition to more energy efficient vehicles in terms of vehicle availability, charging points and customer information. The plan includes a $3 million co-investment in fast charging points for electric and hybrid vehicles on major regional corridors and $2 million for new charging points in commuter car parks. It will also be supported by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020 – 2030, which includes actions to support charging infrastructure, such as ensuring new buildings are electric vehicle ready.

The NSW Government is also collaborating with other jurisdictions to explore the potential of hydrogen as a power source for transport, through the National Federation Reform Council’s Energy Council work, which has led to Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy. The government is actively participating in developing a program of work to address the barriers and challenges impeding the uptake of Low and Zero Emissions Vehicles (LZEVs) as part of the National Land Transport Technology Action Plan 2020-2023.

Air quality and health impacts

Air quality affects our health, the liveability of our cities and towns, and our environment. Even short-term exposure to air pollution can cause health problems. Children, the elderly and people with existing heart and lung conditions are particularly susceptible to the health impacts of air pollution. 

Even when air pollution levels are below national standards, further reductions will provide public health benefits, including improved cardiovascular and respiratory health, and reduced rates of some cancers.

Ambient levels of ozone and particles can exceed national standards in the Sydney region, with no definite downward trend.

Reductions in vehicle emissions have been significant over the last decade due to improved fuel quality and more stringent vehicle emission standards. Despite reductions in vehicle emissions, road transport remains a significant source of human-generated air pollution in Sydney, contributing 13 per cent of PM2.5 emissions, 55 per cent of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions and 13 per cent of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions during 2013.

Oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compound emissions contribute to photochemical smog (as ozone). Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s regional modelling for Sydney has indicated that the pattern of motor vehicle emissions is a significant factor determining the timing and peak of ozone concentrations in the region.

Levels of motor vehicle pollution are higher near busy roads, but decrease rapidly – with levels typically reducing to background within one to two hundred meters. Living near busy roads may be associated with a range of adverse health outcomes ranging from learning difficulties in children, decreased lung function, and increased risk of dementia.

Heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses are disproportionally high emitters of NOx and particles.

Zero tail-pipe emission vehicles (battery and fuel cell powered) will have significant benefits in reducing traffic-related air pollution. However, they will not eliminate it. A significant amount of particle emissions do not come from the tail-pipe, but rather are the result of road, brake and tyre wear – which will not be eliminated by the transition to zero tail-pipe emission vehicles.

Transport considers the air quality and health impacts from the delivery and operation of the transport network. We design and construct our transport projects to minimise operational air quality emissions, such as diverting traffic away from local roads and by reducing congestion.

Walking, cycling and public transport lower environmental impacts

Transport for NSW has a significant role in contributing to a more environmentally sustainable community. It does this by providing travel that is more effective in moving large numbers of people, compared with private car use and by encouraging a mode shift to walking cycling and public transport, which are some of the lowest producers of greenhouse gas per person per kilometre. 

To encourage more people out of their cars we need to continue to make walking, cycling and public transport more attractive options. This will involve designing infrastructure that is safe and better caters to customers’ needs, and ensuring fast and frequent connections to the places people want to go. Initiatives, such as the zero emissions bus trial, will ensure our future carbon footprint is minimised.

We are already working with local governments and other stakeholders to develop a safe, connected metropolitan bicycle network of around 6,000 kilometres of cycling routes across Greater Sydney, Newcastle, Gosford and Wollongong. 

Transport for NSW aims to increase the mode share of public transport services and reduce the use of single-occupancy vehicles. This includes the Travel Choices Program and travel demand management measures. Apart from reducing emissions through more efficient shared vehicles, this will also have a positive impact on congestion. 

Increasing the mode share of walking and cycling for short trips will deliver substantial emissions reduction, while alleviating pressure on the road network and reducing congestion. Travelling by bicycle can also be faster than car or public transport for trips up to five kilometres. The use of electric bikes could further increase the distances and speeds that could be comfortably cycled.

New and emerging service models, such as mobility as a service, carsharing, ridesharing, on-demand services, and connected and automated shuttle services, are effective in moving people from private, single-occupancy car use to shared transport modes. At the same time, these services can help reduce the need for private car ownership, and discourage driving for trips that could easily be avoided or replaced with walking or cycling. 

Scope 2 – Indirect emissions associated with energy use, such as emissions from fossil fuel power plants

Renewable energy

Today, Transport for NSW’s energy consumption is primarily sourced from non-renewable electricity – coal-fired power plants and petroleum based fuels – which produce one of the largest volumes of greenhouse gas emissions. As our energy requirements continue to grow, without changes to the sources of energy, our greenhouse gas emissions will also continue to increase. 

An additional consequence of a reliance on petroleum-based fuels is an exposure to any significant or unexpected changes in oil price and availability. Global oil prices experienced significant volatility during 2020 and this remains a risk to the future financial sustainability of transport services that are heavily dependent on oil. A shift towards a low-emission transport system, which is less reliant on fossil fuels and fuelled by domestically-sourced renewable energy sources, would reduce the reliance on imported fuels and enhance security of supply.

Managing the transition to a low-emission transport system means we not only need to shift to reliable and cost-effective, low- or zero-carbon energy sources, but also minimise energy use and maximise energy efficiency.

In focus

Sydney Metro – 100 per cent renewable energy offset in NSW

The Sydney Metro North West included offsetting 100 per cent of electricity needs during the operational phase of the project and 20 per cent during the construction phase. This was achieved by a new 145-hectare solar farm at Beryl, north of Mudgee.

The maintenance building roof of the Sydney Metro Trains facility in Rouse Hill houses a 3,287 panel solar array. The electricity generated by the panels is used to power the maintenance facility and some Sydney Metro stations.

Find out more about Sydney Metro sustainability.

Energy savings

A key focus in reducing our operational energy consumption is the application of new and innovative technologies. We seek to embed best-practice, energy-efficient design principles across all stages of the asset lifecycle and to identify opportunities for energy reductions. This will help us meet our obligation to deliver under the NSW Government Resource Efficiency Policy.

One example is the conversion of all of our 4,000 traffic signals to high-efficiency LED lamps. The result was savings of 72 per cent of electricity consumption, (or over 25,000 megawatt hours per year), lower maintenance costs and increased public safety through more reliable operation. 

Another example includes intelligent transport systems (ITS), which play a valuable role in improving energy efficiency of roads, rail and other transport infrastructure. ITS includes a number of technologies, such as advanced traffic management, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, in-vehicle telematics, driver information and GPS, and rail management. These technologies have significant potential to reduce fuel consumption and vehicle emissions by improving traffic flow efficiency. For instance, the provision of real-time information to drivers can help them avoid potential delays and therefore reduce the time they are stuck in traffic. 

Our Rooty Hill Station upgrade and commuter carpark, which was awarded a ‘leading’ design rating by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) was another initiative to reduce energy consumption. The installation of 938 photovoltaic panels on the car park roof, with eight Tesla batteries, generates 412 megawatt hours per year. This and other sustainability initiatives provide an estimated 47 per cent reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.


Scope 3 – Emissions from a third party, such as emissions arising from the extraction and transportation of materials used by Transport

As a large consumer of resources for construction and operational and maintenance activities, Transport has significant opportunities and obligations under the NSW Government Resource Efficiency Policy to avoid or minimise our resource footprint and ensure that waste is reused, recycled or disposed of sustainably. 

We consider material efficiency in the planning and design of projects, to ensure we minimise the consumption of resources, use recycled materials where possible, select new materials with low embodied energy and maximise the recycling opportunities for our excess materials. We have been an active participant in completing national guidelines for the use of recyclable materials in road construction, in support of the National Federation Reform Council Export Ban and National Waste Policy Action Plan.

Transport is undertaking trials of geopolymer concrete in non-structural duties. These have the potential to save up to 70 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the cement component. The trials will use recycled glass sand and key waste products such as fly ash and/or steel slag.

Lifecycle assessment

Transport for NSW recognises the need for a lifecycle assessment approach, as a valuable decision-support tool to assess the impacts of new and upgraded transport assets. 

Lifecycle assessment is the analysis of the entire lifecycle and assessment of potential impacts on the environment. Taking a lifecycle assessment approach means viewing carbon across the asset and services’ lifecycle to enhance our actions with those involved in the lifespan of all transport products, digital systems and construction materials. Lifecycle assessments during the development phase will help ensure that we are delivering the right assets and services to NSW while providing value and delivering sustainable outcomes. 

Lifecycle costing, which means including the environmental cost of greenhouse gas emissions in costing for projects, programs and initiatives, is another tool to assist Transport for NSW to quantify the impact of greenhouse gas emissions in its planning.


Future Energy Strategy and Action Plan

In order to support the NSW Government’s target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, Transport for NSW has developed a Future Energy Strategy and Action Plan, which aims to position the transport sector to take advantage of rapidly developing technology, secure transport energy needs, and manage energy supply climate risk. 

As part of this plan, Transport for NSW is transitioning its entire public transport bus fleet to zero emission, targeting net-zero electricity for light rail, rail and metro systems, and developing initiatives to support NSW’s uptake of lower- or zero-emission vehicles. This includes more than 50 new electric buses that are being rolled out across Sydney in 2021.

Read more about the Future Energy Strategy and Action Plan.


Future directions to investigate:

  • Develop programs to encourage a shift from private car use to walking, cycling, ridesharing and public transport.
  • Work with industry partners on new low- or zero emissions vehicle technologies and support the transition to low-emission heavy and commercial vehicles as well as passenger vehicle fleet.
  • Transition to a cost-effective, low-emission energy supply for the public transport system and its operators, using power purchase procurement to increase renewable energy mix.
  • Develop and implement a Future Energy Strategy and Action Plan to support the transition to net-zero emissions by 2050.
  • Explore opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of transport operations. 
  • Investigate options to leverage power purchase agreements to support the transition towards a cost-effective, low-emission energy supply for the Transport network (including heavy rail, metro rail, light rail and other infrastructure).
  • Develop a lifecycle assessment approach as a valuable decision-support tool in assessing the impacts of new and upgraded Transport assets. 
  • Educate and raise awareness in our staff and customers regarding the importance of energy efficiency and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.


Climate change adaptation and resilience

Transport for NSW is committed to embedding climate risk and resilience considerations in our activities to improve the resilience of our transport network, communities and our organisation. Our approach is driven by a need to protect the network from various disturbances, shocks and stressors that can impact the transport sector, our customers and the community.

Climate change is highly likely to affect both the reliability and service life of Transport’s assets (roads, rail, freight rail, light rail, ferries and wharves) and the services we provide to the communities we serve throughout NSW. The most significant impacts will be associated with drought and sea level rise, salinity, and changes in water run-off, as well as increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as heat waves, strong winds, lightning strikes, bushfires, rainfall and flash flooding.

Six principles for Future Transport

The Future Transport 2056 Strategy is focused on six key principles for the future of mobility in the state, which together aim to positively impact the economy, communities and environment of NSW.

Read more