Google unveils ‘green’ Maps feature to encourage low-carbon travel

The new feature will be rolled out across 30 countries in the coming weeks. Image: Google

The feature will work automatically, whenever a user enters their destinations in the search box and clicks “directions”.

Below the usual walking, biking, public transit and driving options, a menu of “mixed-mode” options, comprising biking or ride-sharing, will be displayed. Of these options, the lowest-carbon choice will bear a small logo stating “green”.

Like with traditional directions, the “mixed mode” options will tell users how long their total journey is likely to take and how much it is estimated to cost.

Google launched the feature today (4 September) in parts of the US. Over the next two months, it will be rolled out to cover 30 countries on both Apple and Android platforms.

“Google Maps has always helped you get from place to place, whether you’re driving, walking, biking or taking public transit,” Google’s product manager for maps Vishal Dutta said.

“And we know that transit journeys can be complex–often involving multiple modes of transportation to help you get around town. Today, we’re making it easy to pair transit directions with biking and ridesharing options so you can travel that first or last mile with ease.”

Changing behaviour, same infrastructure?

The unveiling of the feature comes at a time when transport is the most carbon-intensive sector in the UK. It overtook the power industry as the most emitting sector in 2016 and saw its emissions rise by 2% last year, with the main source of emissions deriving from the use of petrol and diesel.

Several other developed nations, including the likes of the US, Germany and Canada, are also facing similar challenges as the global population grows, and with technologies such as long-range electric vehicles (EVs), rapid chargers and hydrogen-powered heavy vehicles proving slow to emerge.

In response to the issue in the UK – amid continued criticism of policies to decarbonise road transport and encourage modal shift – carmakers are continually releasing new low-carbon models to help combat the dual challenges of carbon emissions and air pollution and such technology – as well as biogas – now beginning to become a viable alternative for larger vehicles.

In tandem, a string of retailershospitality and leisure firmscar brands and estate managers have begun to improve their EV infrastructure offerings, while National Grid is bolstering its electricity network to accommodate extra demands from EV charging.

Moreover, emerging business models which encourage low-carbon and shared mobility are now emerging and growing at a pace. Volkswagen, for example, recently launched an EV sharing platform in Berlin, after finding that the uptake of on-demand vehicles in Europe is set to rise by 15% annually, with similar offerings being put on the market by the likes of RenaultRideshare and Zipcar in recent months. Similarly, Uber is now applying a 15p-per-mile “eco-charge” to all London trips, in order to fund EV investments, and is also offering users the chance to plump for public transport or walking options instead of using its services.

Sarah George

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