Amsterdam has nearly 900,000 bicycles and almost 60% of its teenagers and adults cycle daily. But as green as it is, the Dutch capital still has some way to go. Nine of its main streets do not meet European air quality standards, the government says. So it’s planning to make all of its transport emissions-free by 2030.

The cleaner air should boost locals' expectancy by three months and reduce CO2 emissions by nearly 10%.

Electric vehicles will join bikes to make transport in Amsterdam emissions-free by 2030.
Bikes cross a bridge in Amsterdam
Image: Reuters

No-go zone for diesel and petrol

From 2022, only electric or hydrogen-powered buses and coaches will be allowed into the city centre. And the entire built-up area of Amsterdam will be emissions-free for all forms of transport by the end of that decade.

Amsterdam is already among the world’s 25 “electric vehicle cities”, which account for nearly half the world’s cumulative electric vehicle (EV) sales, according to a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation.

As well as expanding existing low-emission zones, the city is encouraging Amsterdammers to swap to EVs through car-sharing schemes and subsidies.

But while many commercial vehicles such as taxis have already gone electric, the move could present more of a challenge for private car owners who can’t afford to buy an electric one. The growth of the secondhand market for EVs would enable more people to make the change, the city says.

Electric vehicle capitals around the world.
Electric vehicle capitals around the world.
Image: The International Council on Clean Transportation

An infrastructure for switching

There are around 17,000 EVs in Amsterdam. That number could quadruple over the next three years, according to Vattenfall, an energy company providing the city with EV charging points.

Amsterdam expects that as many as 23,000 charging points will be needed by 2025 to support this growth.

Up to 1,000 charging points are being installed on the streets of the capital, adding to the 3,000 existing points in public parking spaces. Anyone buying an EV will also be able to apply for a charging point in their local area.

Building a charging infrastructure for electric cars is a priority for Amsterdam’s local government.
Charging an electric car
Image: Reuters

Readying the grid

The scale of the project has significant implications for the city’s electricity grid. EVs will contribute to the load on Amsterdam’s electricity network rising by up to five times during peak hours, according to Vattenfall.

To address this, a “smart charging” network has been launched. It can adjust charging speeds to energy demand and the amount of energy available at any given time.

Charging stations will provide less output in the evening, when households need more electricity, and ramp up at night when energy consumption is low. The same applies on days when, for example, a lot of extra solar power is generated.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the future of cities?

Cities represent humanity's greatest achievements - and greatest challenges. From inequality to air pollution, poorly designed cities are feeling the strain as 68% of humanity is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which gathers bright ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and running the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to create better cities. To shed light on the housing crisis, the Forum has produced the report Making Affordable Housing a Reality in Cities.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Amsterdam’s deputy mayor, Sharon Dijksma, is realistic about the challenges. "We need a lot of things at the same time,” she told CNN. “But I am optimistic because I think there is the political will to succeed and there is also a societal will to succeed."

Many other cities around the globe, including megacities like Mexico City, are putting in place measures to reduce the number of diesel and petrol cars on their streets. They will be watching Amsterdam’s experiences closely.