A digital mobility renaissance in Milan

5 April 2022

No more logging into different accounts: Milan is about to tap into the digital world to make urban travel easy, sustainable and convenient.

Planning a trip, hopping on public transport, booking and driving a shared vehicle, paying for those services will all be possible under the same app.

This scheme will merge different transport operators in the city onto the same online platform. Users will find public and private mobility options here, from metro, bus, and tram to shared cars, bikes, scooters, and more.

Equipped with a map and an online payment system, the platform will also allow residents to customise their journey and find travel and price options that better fit their needs.

The idea is to digitally integrate private on-demand services in conjunction with public transport to cater to users’ needs, harnessing multi-modal mobility to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

A public transport station in Milan
A public transport station in Milan.

Recovery funds for green mobility

The digital and integrated mobility project enjoys financing from the EU’s National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs) and marries some of Italy’s post-pandemic goals: to accelerate progress in sustainable transport and foster a green and digital transition.

While integrated mobility has taken hold in cities like Vienna, Helsinki, Hannover and Antwerp, it is a first for municipalities in Italy, where post-pandemic recovery plans are also designed to promote a large-scale digital shift.

Together with Rome and Naples, Milan has just been awarded the NRRPs-funded ‘Mobility as a Service for Italy’ tender specifically conceived to encourage the use of public transport.

Thanks to this post-pandemic recovery type of financing, ‘Mobility as a service (MaaS)’ will reach Italy and expand to more cities in the EU.

“The unprecedented resources allocated for Italy are providing much-needed impetus to national and local authorities to digitise administrations and services. The novelty about NRRPs funding is that it combines resources with reforms. In this case, if plans are implemented properly, Italy can expect a digital revolution,” Pietro Reviglio, Eurocities’ Policy Advisor on Urban Governance said.

A tram in Milan
A tram in Milan. Photo by Daniele Mascolo

The importance of public transport

Different digital mobility models are being developed in Europe and the European Commission is considering ways to harmonise them by setting basic common principles.

For now, the established paradigm recognises cities’ strategic role in influencing transport behaviours in favour of more sustainable options.

Although the idea is to integrate different means of transport, the Mobility as a Service scheme hinges on the city’s offer: “Public transport is the backbone of the MaaS system. Shared mobility complements the public transport system; it doesn’t replace it,” explains Valentino Sevino, Mobility Planning Area Director at AMAT, the Milan municipality’s mobility and environmental agency.

With more than 70% of Europeans living in cities, and cities accounting for 75% of emissions worldwide, municipalities play a central role in addressing climate change by convincing citizens to modify their travel behaviours.

The Maas system will be a step in that direction, says Sevino: “The integration of all mobility modes will encourage and increase the use of shared mobility and public transport.”

Milan’s digital and integrated mobility efforts match the recommendations of a 2021 Eurocities and other organisations’ position that considers public transport and active mobility key allies to improve cities’ liveability.

Although e-cars will be a critical element of this strategy, relying on cleaner vehicles will not be enough to reduce all the negative effects of traditional transport, the Eurocities position paper argues.

A woman and little girl in Milan
A woman and little girl in Milan. Photo by Daniele Mascolo

Taking the lead from a successful model

Given that more than 70% of EU citizens are still exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution, Milan’s ambition is to make car use a thing of the past. The city wants to decrease the number of private vehicles to 46 per 100 inhabitants from today’s 49 per 100 inhabitants. But to do that, it will need to wean off inhabitants’ car dependence.

Where to start? Multi-modal mobility is “the obvious choice” because the city can capitalise on an established model, says Sevino: “Shared mobility has been a reality in Milan for over thirty years. In 2013, the municipality’s decision to open the market to private companies gave it an additional push, with new mobility providers offering an array of shared car, bike and scooter options,” Sevino remarks.

“Considering this success and the proliferation of mobility providers in Milan, it was inevitable for the administration to integrate all systems under one project,” the AMAT director adds.

The Italian municipality is currently busy ‘recruiting’ partners and designing a working framework. “The city will publish a tender to select one or more shared Maas operators. They, in turn, will devise a digital platform to connect all operators offering shared bikes, cars, scooters and other travel means in the city,” Sevino explains.

A bike-sharing station in Milan
A bike-sharing station in Milan

Be inclusive

One aspect of the multi-modal transport scheme will likely require Milan to expand its plans to include groups that may be less familiar with online technology. Italy’s national tender asks cities to ensure that digital and multi-modal transport modes are inclusive and that all residents can take part in them.

Phone bookings will still be possible, meaning that existing services and an operator will still be there to help people who can’t get online, Sevino says. “This model is undoubtedly targeted to certain age groups and users. However, all shared mobility systems can be booked over the phone. In general, I’m not so pessimistic and we do have examples of car sharing among people of a certain age,” the AMAT director remarks.

On the other hand, digital mobility can be a powerful tool for cities to even out differences by offering custom-made options, remarks Peter Staelens, Eurocities’ Senior Projects Coordinator for Mobility: “Smart mobility solutions can also help transport planners to address gaps and inefficiencies in the system and as such, they may support a fair distribution of transport services across the city.

A tram in Milan
An area with restricted vehicle access in Milan.

A ‘Living Lab’

In tandem with the integration of multiple transport modes, Milan will tap into the potential of automated mobility.

Within the same national MaaS funding framework, the city was awarded the ‘Living Lab’ tender. The municipality will gauge automated and connected transport solutions that may further meet users’ needs.

A bird's-eye view of Milan
A bird’s-eye view of Milan

Through real-life testing on its streets, Milan will assess self-driving vehicles and their communication with devices in an additional effort to improve traffic conditions, air quality and safety.

If this is the municipality’s first attempt to integrate transport solutions, digital mobility is nothing new here.

Milan already relies on a ‘smart parking’ method for areas whose access is restricted to loading trucks and vehicles for the disabled. The electronic system monitors incoming transport means, identifying those that belong to the authorised categories and those breaching the rules.

In parallel, the city set up a congestion charge zone whose access is banned to the most polluting vehicles.

Milan is also part of the Sharing Cities consortium where members swap notes on best practices, replicable solutions, and tackle together common urban challenges. For its decade-old experience in areas such as urban development, sustainable mobility and energy efficiency, the city enjoys the ‘lighthouse’ status within that network, together with London and Lisbon.

This article is part of a series charting local recovery efforts made by cities all over Europe – cities want #MoreThanRecovery

In Bologna, a recovery in full swing

Cities want more than recovery



Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer