Next level mobility

10 December 2020

How will transport in cities look like in ten years? “The best window into the future is the one looking at what cities are already doing and committing to,” said Anna Lisa Boni, secretary general at Eurocities at this morning’s session at the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Urban Mobility Summit. “Cities are creating the future, for example, through their Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs),” she added.

Eurocities was therefore glad to see that the Smart and Sustainable Mobility strategy revealed yesterday included a better recognition of the role of cities in the transition. “Cities are and should therefore remain at the forefront of the transition towards greater sustainability,” reads the strategy.

Tools for the transition

In their recent letter ‘Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy – Make walking, cycling and public transport the primary modes in Functional Urban Areas by 2030’, Eurocities and its partners had highlighted the essential role of SUMPs as tools for the transition at local level, which the Commission recognised by confirming “that all large and medium-sized cities that are urban nodes on the TEN-T network put in place their own Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans by 2030.”

The strategy especially mentions expectations that SUMPs include goals on zero emissions, zero road fatalities, as well as increasing the push for active transport modes, for example by setting a target of doubling the cycling infrastructure in the next decade. All priorities in line with the recommendations expressed in the joint letter.

“Cities alone cannot do it,” explains Boni “the EU must intervene to avoid that some things remain the same, for example high car ownership.” The EU can have an influence in setting ambitious targets for decarbonising cars and vans, and in setting higher CO2 standards. The strategy makes steps in this direction promising a revision of CO2 standards for all vehicles by 2022, and aiming at “nearly all cars, vans, buses as well as new heavy-duty vehicles” to be zero-emissions by 2050.

A tool to reduce external costs of motorized transport, amounting to 800 billion euros per year, and level the plain field for transport pricing, are the polluter-pays principle and the users-pay principle. An important point made in the joint letter and integrated in the Commission’s strategy: “Despite longstanding policy commitments for fair and efficient pricing in transport, progress has been limited. The ‘polluter pays’ and ‘user pays’ principles need to be implemented without delay in all transport modes.”

Let’s not forget public transport

Public transport is fundamental to achieving sustainable urban mobility, building resilient cities, combating climate change, and boosting local economies leaving no one and no place behind. Public transport was also hit hardest by the health crisis; however, the strategy barely mentions measures to support public transport.

In a joint letter on ‘Public transport during and after covid-19’, Eurocities, UITP, CEEP and CER rang the alarm bell and highlighted the need to support the sector. In particular the EU can have an impact in terms of funding and, especially, in restoring public trust and undertaking initiatives to accurately communicate the safety on public transport.

Prior to COVID-19, millions of people used local public transport every day. A modal shift towards public transport is still needed as it means reducing CO2 emissions, preventing climate change, safer mobility, more local jobs, economic well-being, clean air, social cohesion and healthier citizens. Therefore, clean public transport is a natural key-ally for policy-makers to reach a large number of European policy goals.

Mix and match

The transition will happen if people are given the choice. One of the focuses of the strategy is therefore to make alternative and sustainable modes available and part of the same system, so that their use is as seamless as possible.

“Our ability to reduce the environmental impact depends for a substantial part on our choices. The European Climate Pact will display and support the many options citizens have for moving around efficiently and in healthier, less polluting ways. It shall play an important role in raising awareness about, foster engagement towards zero-emission mobility and push for action in greening mobility strategies of companies and cities,” reads the strategy.

The commission promises measures to boost the production, distribution and use of renewable and low-carbon fuels in transport, as well as supporting the replacement of existing fleets with low- and zero-emission vehicles. And recognises that the increased use of renewable and low-carbon fuels across modes must go hand-in-hand with the creation of a comprehensive network of recharging and refuelling infrastructure.

In November, Eurocities called on the European Commission to set EU-wide requirements to electrify company fleets as company cars drive on average 2.25 times further than private cars, they disproportionately contribute to road transport emissions, and constitute a ‘low hanging fruit’ for governments and the EU to make progress towards decarbonising transport.

Plan cities for people to move in

While innovation and digitalisation can create the technical advancements to make these choices available – for example by offering micromobility, e-mobility and automated transport options – the change can only happen by involving citizens. “We have to do it with citizens,” insists Boni “we have to co-develop the solutions to have real impact on behaviour.”

A clear message has come out of the crisis, space in cities has been planned around cars for too long, it’s time for people to be at the centre. City planning has no choice, but to change, and in many cases it already is. For example, cities are moving towards a the 15-minutes city model, or putting efforts to reduce speed limits within the city boundaries to make more space for walking and cycling.

“Let’s not waste the crisis,” says Boni “this is the chance to shape resilient, sustainable cities, and all governance levels can commit to it together.”