Transport poverty, the decarbonisation of heavy-duty vehicles in cities, multimodality and the digital transformation are topping the agenda of the 2023 Eurocities Mobility Forum in Porto.
From 31 May to 2 June, urban and mobility experts are discussing how to advance the green mobility transition against multiple global crises during the ‘All aboard: future-proofing urban mobility’ event.
This year’s Forum venue – the Porto Tram Museum (Museu do Carro Eléctrico) – is highly symbolic: the Museum boasts a collection of vintage trams and, in a city where streetcars are still part of the public transport offer, it highlights how some green mobility solutions can simply be borrowed from the past.
It’s sustainable, but is it affordable?
At a pre-forum high-level event, Eurocities politicians swapped notes on providing support to those struggling with transport poverty and ensuring that cities’ environmental actions don’t leave anyone behind.
With war still raging in Ukraine 15 months after Russia’s full-scale invasion, the ensuing energy crisis is only adding to Europe’s concerns about the conflict.
High fuel prices and inflation are creating a particularly heavy burden on low-income households, with more and more urban residents suffering from transport poverty. This latter term refers to situations such as lack of means to afford a transport journey (ticket, fuel), lack of accessibility and available transport services as well as inadequate transport conditions.
When it comes to financial support, Porto boasts initiatives to help people of different ages. “For those above 55, the city devised a scheme that allows them to benefit from a two-euro taxi fare whenever they need to reach a medical facility,” said Filipe Araújo, Vice-Mayor of Porto and Eurocities Environment Forum Chair. In addition, kids up to 18 years of age can take public transport for free; the measure is a welcome change for families because parents no longer need to drive around their children, Araújo added.
Madrid, meanwhile, combines financial incentives with environmental actions, offering free public transport whenever traffic congestion and pollution levels peak. Results are encouraging, said Lola Ortiz, Madrid’s General Director of Planning and Mobility Infrastructures.
“We see a positive trend in the city: between March 2022 and March 2023, car trips to the city decreased by one million while we now have 500,000 more riders and 500,000 more pedestrians,” Ortiz explained.
The Toulouse-Madrid handover
André Sobczak, the Secretary General of Eurocities, kicked off the Mobility Forum by presenting the new cycling task force that the network launched a few weeks ago. The initiative comes just ahead of the upcoming European Commission’s Declaration on Cycling, which by 2030 is expected to help develop cycling practices to double the number of cycled kilometres in Europe.
The Eurocities task force’s goal is to inspire the work of the EU executive body with policy recommendations that meet cities’ needs.
The first day of the Forum meeting also saw Madrid become the new chair of the Eurocities Mobility Forum, after Toulouse’s two-year term ended.
Ortiz promised to continue along the path traced by Toulouse, with people’s needs in mind. “As chairs, Madrid will guarantee that the mobility strategies that we devise are not only green, but also socially inclusive,” she added.
The challenge of heavy-duty vehicles
The variety of sustainable transport solutions available in municipalities’ ‘arsenal’ took centre stage at the Mobility forum’s opening session. During the ‘Zero-emission and climate-resilient solutions for urban nodes,’ the discussion centered around the role of cities in strengthening public transport, a tenet of the green transport transition.
Local leaders from Porto, Stockholm, Netwerkstad Twente and Cologne identified bottlenecks and challenges in reaching a target that will top cities’ agenda in the coming years: the replacement of heavy-duty vehicles with a zero-emission fleet.
A new proposal tabled by the European Commission last March demands that all new buses in the EU be zero-emission by 2030, and that other heavy-duty vehicles (such as long-haul trucks) cut their emissions by 90% in 2040.
If approved in its current form, the proposal would require local governments to preside over this green transition. It would be “a big challenge for cities,” said Sobczak, because the shift will demand considerable investments from them.
Andreas Wolter, the Deputy Mayor of Cologne, seconded those words as he appealed to the EU. “We need guidelines from the EU to achieve the decarbonisation of heavy-duty vehicles as well financial support,” Wolter said.
Cologne is nevertheless on its way: the German city committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2035. Three years ago, it passed a resolution to convert its entire fleet to electric propulsion by 2030.
With a large share of toxic emissions in cities coming from transport, local governments will need to pull all their resources as they walk their path toward climate neutrality. The example of the Netwerkstad Twente reaffirmed how unity fosters strength and leads more easily to a desired outcome.
Netwerkstad Twente is a network of Dutch unicipalities (Almelo, Hengelo, Enschede) that work in close collaboration with one another across many areas of public life. “Our main motivation is the sense of urgency over the climate challenge,” said Hanneke Steen, the Deputy Mayor of the Netwerkstad Twente. “We all need to be on board because we won’t be able to make it alone. We need to work not just with governments but also with the private sector,” she added.
But sometimes cities’ actions can be as simple as finding the right trigger to prompt a behavioural shift, remarked Lars Strömgren, Stokholm’s Vice Mayor for Transport and Urban Environment: “We have to understand the power of a really good story. For example, when trying to encourage people to cycle, we have to think about how the bike can make a person the hero in the story that we’re writing.”