A guideline to boost sustainable transport in cities

16 August 2023

How is it best to draw effective sustainable mobility plans, creating seamless synergies between public transport and infrastructure to achieve zero-emission goals?

The International Transport Forum’s (ITF) Outlook 2023 offers valuable guidelines to steer mobility practitioners’ decisions for the benefit of both transport users and the environment. This year’s Outlook urges practitioners to speed up the transition to zero and low-emission vehicles as well as make public transport more attractive, also thanks to financial incentives.

The report is particularly relevant for Eurocities as it includes a section on enhancing urban transport to improve quality of life in cities.

In this interview and Youtube video below, Orla McCarthy, a Sustainable Transport Project Manager with ITF, walked Eurocities through the solutions that can help local leaders boost their sustainable mobility efforts.

What are the ITF Transport Outlook 2023 highlights and main suggestions for sustainable transport?

“In terms of urban activity, some of our main recommendations would be to adopt  a vision-led approach to planning your transport system; this instead of incrementally changing the system based on projections for demand for what’s existing and in place already. Look at how you want your transport system to be in the future and make decisions and align investment choices based on that vision.

In addition to that, we would also say that there needs to be an acceleration of the transition to cleaner vehicles. And even though in urban settings we would very much encourage public transport, active travel and sustainable modes, we still recognise that there will be a role for motorised vehicles. Some of those motorised vehicles are as part of the transport, the public transport network and fleet. And so those vehicles need to be as clean as they can possibly be.”

Public transport is the backbone of sustainable mobility, and yet, uptake of public transport needs to be increased, right?

“Absolutely. And you’re dead right that it is the backbone of the sustainable transport system within any urban setting, although it should be complemented with other modes. We see that there’s a greater reduction in reliance on private motorised vehicle use when it (public transport) is combined with other modes as well. One of our key messages within this report is that public transport needs to be a viable and attractive choice.

And of course, in order to do that, it needs to be funded. And so we do look at investing in public transport services, but also in public transport infrastructure. And there is another report being done at the moment – which unfortunately won’t be out until the end of the year – but it does look at how do we fund this in the future, how do we fund a public transport system that is appealing and not simply the mode of last choice?”

Cyclists in Copenhagen.
Cyclists in Copenhagen. Photo by: Tolu Olarewaju

Among the things that people look for in public transport is safety.

“The perception of safety is very important, both in the vehicles and in the built environment, the stations and everything like that. And indeed, gender is one of the work streams that we look at as well, and this is obviously an important aspect to our gender work as well. And I would say, though, that is not the only aspect to be considered.

When we look at women’s travel patterns, we see that they do have different travel patterns, often associated with the current more traditional roles of women as carers. But carers in the future could be anybody. So designing our systems to be accessible and efficient for people travelling with minors or older relatives, for example, will mean that these systems are at the moment more accessible to women, but in the future they will need to be more accessible to the community as a whole.”

Active mobility is something that can complement public transport.

“Certainly, and where access to essential services or employment opportunities is within a walkable, cyclable distance, it can be used for the entire journey as well. We also strongly recommend investment in active mobility infrastructure in order that people have clear, safe and comfortable provision in which to travel.”

What about shared mobility? There can be a very good connection between shared mobility and public transport. 

“Certainly. And shared mobility can also support a reduction in the space consumed by private cars, in particular. Shared mobility can be a feeder service, but also maybe in lower density areas, it may serve to substitute for a particular trip. But if it complements the wider range of choices, it enhances your ability to, or perhaps your confidence, should I say, to live without a car parked outside your front door.

And that would be why we see it as part of the wider network. And in our modelling, we did see that when you invest in, or rather enable the addition of shared mobility and shared vehicles in your system, it does reduce the amount of private car vehicle kilometres that are driven compared to if you only focus on public transport.

And then if you do the whole shebang and you invest in active mobility and also introduce the other measures around disincentivising car use and improving land use, it makes you then see the greatest reduction in private vehicle kilometres.”




Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer