Cities and the EU together for green mobility

19 November 2020

“What is obvious today is that the mobility mix will evolve,” said Jean-Claude Dardelet, Deputy Mayor of Toulouse. With public transportation taking the brunt of the covid crisis and active and shared mobility being at the centre of a new revolution, there are significant behavioural and structural changes that will impact the organisation of urban mobility for years to come. How can cities and the European Union collaborate to make long-lasting changes for a more sustainable living?

This the question at the centre of a conversation between local authorities and the European Commission during the last Eurocities Mobility Forum. And there is no one simple answer.

“We cannot achieve the goals of a Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy without cities,” said Maria Tsavachidis, CEO of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology on Urban Mobility, “they have to become a real actor in the innovation process from the very beginning instead of just being a stakeholder, and this for me is the game-changer in mobility.”

On the frontline of this crisis, cities have proven once more that they are swift to react, repurposing public space, creating pop-up bike lanes, encouraging alternative modes and fighting for the public transport system.

Public transport has been hit hard, and some cities are worried it will not survive. They call for more immediate funding and an international campaign to restore trust in public transport, while long term changes will be needed to make the system more resilient to similar crises in the future.

As for these examples, cities’ experience is essential to help reinvent the future of mobility and to achieve the sustainability targets that Europe has set for itself, so cities ask that European policies take that into consideration.

“Urban mobility will have its own chapter in the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy,” promised Filip-Alexandru Negreanu-Arboreanu, Deputy-head of the Commissioner Vălean Cabinet at DG MOVE, “we need to increase our relationship with cities to make these changes suitable for the wellbeing and increasing connectivity of citizens.”

Users need simple access

With increased connectivity, a major subject of the conversation was Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and the need to simplify the user’s experience through cross-border collaboration, centralised platforms and shared standards and digital languages.

“Local authorities need to be the tower control centre to manage mobility in cities,” said Miguel Gaspar, Deputy Mayor of Lisbon, “they need to give people more options to choose from. If people have the option to choose, then you can start talking about MaaS.”

“What people need is simple access to all the bikes, mopeds, scooters, cars,” said Robert van Asten Deputy Mayor of The Hague, “one way the EU could help is to make sure the development of MaaS systems is standardised. So that everybody can adapt it, instead of reinventing the wheel. The EU should support and stimulate interconnectivity, in both a physical and digital way. It could be helpful if the EU could stimulate the inter-operability to make MaaS a success in Europe.”

“One of the things that we lack more is that we lack a language between cities and mobility operators to organise the system,” noted Gaspar “there’s not a standard, or common language. One of the things for which we can get the help and support of the Commission is to empower networks such as Eurocities, that are bridging the gap between cities, to put cities and the industry to work together.”

A collaboration to set common languages and standards would help cities solve issues such as road offences across borders. Deputy-head Negreanu-Arboreanu recognises the commission’s role in supporting cities to “propose a seamless multimodal experience by increasing multimodal ticketing, boosting MaaS by taking full advantage of the intelligent transport systems and smart solutions, and by developing the connected and automated mobility.”

To make these changes a reality an important intervention in the infrastructure will be needed. “Smart mobility is not only focusing on the digitalisation of technology,” explained van Asten “but also on smart organisation of the mobility.” And who says infrastructure, says investment.

“We need to fund cities, fund new mobility solutions and fund main networks of public transport,” said Gaspar “but also the training and the digital transformation processes within the city itself.” And it has to happen faster, adds Gaspar “We need ways to simplify the procedures at European Level such that the funding mechanisms can flow from the Commission to the countries and to the cities if we are to keep our promise to our children and our grandchildren, which is to deliver a better city by 2030.”

A challenge in this regard is the complex landscape of funding instruments available at European level. So, part of the support is helping cities navigate this landscape and help them integrate all mobility measures, for example through the implementation of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP). The Commission has also acknowledged the growing role of urban logistics, the continuing efforts towards safer mobility as well as a need for an affordable access to mobility for all.

“I would agree to the need to increase cooperation with the cities,” concluded Deputy-head Negreanu-Arboreanu, “I agree that funding needs to be streamlined towards multi-modality, towards inter-operable rail across countries and I agree that more connectivity in a digital and physical way must be provided. So, I take all this on board and hopefully you’ll see it reflected in the strategy.”


Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer