In the June 2019 Thinking Cities issue, POLIS Secretary General Karen Vancluysen asks: “Is it nothing less than a change of culture that is needed to achieve a more sustainable transport system?” How is this change of culture being driven at the city- and regional level?
Transport is responsible for about 1/5 of the global CO2 emissions and nearly 1/3 of transport-related CO emissions originate from urban passenger transport. City-level activities are becoming increasingly important, especially due to the multiple benefits of sustainable urban mobility action, reducing CO2 while at the same time achieving much-needed improvements in the field of air quality, congestion, quality of life, traffic safety and public health. We can expect steady increase in urban transport demand with an ever-growing urban population and it is clear that dramatically different urban mobility systems are required. Cities should be recognized as major engines for bringing about the much- needed change in the transport sector. That change will never be easy though.
A key factor for success is that we manage to reconcile the needs of the individual user with those of society as a whole.
Are policies at EU-level addressing citizen behavior change to encourage modal shifts and active mobility?
Cities stand in front of a tremendous task and need to be empowered by other levels of governance to be able to build more sustainable urban mobility ecosystems. This requires adequate financial support, which we hope to see reflected in the next multi-annual financial framework, but also support tools for cities to make that step change. The EU plays an instrumental role in the promotion and roll-out of sustainable urban mobility plans (SUMPs), which help cities to develop long-term integrated sustainable mobility strategies with clear targets, combining a wide range of measures and building in citizen consultation, involvement and co-creation from day one. The European SUMP guidelines have also just been updated to incorporate the innovation areas that have emerged over the last few years, such as electromobility, MaaS, automation, access regulations, and shared mobility.
The EU plays an instrumental role in the promotion and roll-out of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs).
What makes your members stand out in terms of sustainable mobility best- practices?
What our member cities and regions have in common is openness to innovation and the determination to use new solutions as enablers towards solving mobility problems. Technologies are not an end in themselves, they are a means to an end and should help to reach certain policy goals. This is a very exciting time to be working on mobility. We are going through a paradigm shift in the transport sector, where innovative, multiple and sometimes disruptive mobility solutions and technologies are coming our way at a very fast pace. New technologies, new transport modes, new shared mobility service providers, new market players, new partnerships, and new business models, hold the potential to transform mobility in a sustainable and inclusive way, provided they are introduced within the right context and steered towards reaching policy objectives.
Could you give some examples of innovative approaches that European cities are adopting to solve mobility problems?
Addressing these problems requires multiple action. Cities are introducing measures across a wide spectrum. For example, several of our members have taken up a leading role in the deployment of electromobility. Swedish and Dutch cities are real forerunners in cleaning up their own and captive fleets, but also by providing charging infrastructure and incentives to users to make the transition happen. Having said that, electrifying polluting fleets may address air quality issues, but is not solving congestion. That requires interventions that favor modal shifts away from the private car, including different types of urban vehicle access regulations, new circulation plans redirecting car traffic, and smart parking management. Enhancing the user experience, improving the quality of sustainable mobility services and their combined use through intermodality are also instrumental in making that shift. Many of our members are exploring how intelligent transport solutions (ITS), including Mobility as a Service (MaaS), can help reach that goal. Engaging with the private sector is key in testing out innovations and finding common solutions.
Building infrastructure for active travel, for light mobility, giving it the space it deserves will also induce the necessary behavioural change in favour of these modes.
What is one key initiative at the city or regional level you think should be replicated to contribute to more sustainable, healthier cities?
The secret lies in the right packages of measures. One extremely powerful instrument that cities and regions are in charge of is public space. Many modes are fighting for that space, which is a scarce and very valuable good. By reallocating space, by taking space away from certain modes and giving more dedicated space to other modes, cities can prioritize certain modes over others or discourage less sustainable ones which no longer have a role to play in cities that want to give streets back to the people and enhance the overall quality of life in the urban environment. Building infrastructure for active travel, for light mobility, giving it the space it deserves will also induce the necessary behavioral change in favor of these modes.