The age of public transport

2 June 2023

Public transport took centre stage at the 31 May – 2 June Eurocities Mobility Forum in Porto.  

Driving the discussions, upcoming EU policy that assigns buses, trams and metro a prominent role in cities’ mobility plans. The development is a key component of the green transition: asked to leave their own vehicles at home, city dwellers must be presented with alternatives that won’t make them miss their cars.  

Public transport must be “available and attractive to all and offer barrier-free access. It should maintain a high safety culture to protect the general public, children and vulnerable users, and attract new groups of people,” the EU Parliament asked last April in the EU Urban Mobility Framework.  

Urban mobility experts on stage at the Eurocities Mobility Forum in Porto
Urban mobility experts on stage at the Eurocities Mobility Forum in Porto

If approved in its current form, the Framework would ask cities to increase the quantity and quality of their public transport options, giving commuters sustainable and affordable alternatives within and beyond urban boundaries. 

For municipalities, there’s still a long way to go before reaching those goals and winning commuters’ hearts: public transport ridership is at 80% compared to pre-pandemic numbers, figures from UITP (the International Association for Public Transport) show. Meanwhile, Eurostat data points to an increase in the number of passenger cars per inhabitants in the EU in 2021, from 0.53 to 0.57, with higher rates in western Europe.  

For Pedro Baganha, the Porto City Councillor responsible for Urbanism, Public Space and Housing, local governments should counter the appeal of private vehicles by making residents’ lives easier. “People are clever and if it is faster and cheaper to take public transport than a car, slowly they will realise that and change,” Baganha remarked. 

Róbert Szűcs, the European Commission’s Policy Officer at the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, agreed. “The way forward is to show those driving to our cities every day that there are other choices beside cars,” said Szűcs, the moderator of the ‘A multimodal revolution with public transport at its core’ panel.  

A map of the Trans-European Transport networks
A map of the Trans-European Transport networks. Photo: TENtec

Steering the Eurocities Mobility Forum’s agenda were also the upcoming revisions of the Trans-European Transport Network. Also known as TEN-T, this EU policy refers to the transport connections (corridors) that run across the European continent, spreading in all directions like arteries through a body. The TEN-T is the pillar of a seamless Europe where cities, regions and territories interweave with each other by air, land and water.   

Both the New EU Urban Mobility Framework and the TEN-T regulation ask cities to turn into multimodal hubs – that is, connecting points between at least two modes of transport boasting features such as ‘park and ride’ stations, charging points, shared e-vehicles, bike parks, and more. 

A session on urban nodes at the Porto Mobility Forum

At multimodal hubs, travel combinations are the most diverse. For example, passengers can get off the metro, tram or bus and continue their journey on a shared e-vehicle; alternatively, they can arrive at a train station with their own bike and reach the city via train, coach, an e-vehicle, or tram, and so forth. 

In the vision of EU legislators, public transport should additionally serve to strengthen links between the city, its suburbs and rural areas, creating faster and smoother connections between urban and peri-urban areas.  

An example of a far-reaching multimodality project is Madrid’s new action plan, which the city showcased at the Eurocities Mobility Forum.  

Among others, the Spanish capital’s scheme includes a ‘park and ride’ facility currently under construction that will be free for public transport users; the expansion of the city’s shared bike scheme with new stations in suburban areas; sustainable logistics hubs to curb emissions from home deliveries; the construction of a new electrification complex boasting state-of-the-art charging stations and e-vehicles; the pedestrianisation of 21 areas across the city. 

Madrid is of one the first major European capitals operatings with a 100% petrol-free fleet of municipal buses. 

Some aspects of the green mobility transition are easier for eastern European cities. In Brno, where 50% of the population already travels on public transport, boosting sustainable mobility means strengthening a structure that’s already in place.  

A tram in Porto
A tram in Porto

“Our strong point is the extensive public transport network that we have in Brno. We’re also building a very comprehensive and robust network of integrated transport throughout the region,” said Iva Rorečková, Head of the Transport Development, Policy and Strategy Division in Brno. Like Madrid, the Czech municipality also offers free shared bike rides for public transport users.  

Complying with EU requirements means not just translating policy into concrete actions on the ground, but also devoting considerable financial resources to new green mobility projects. For local governments, this is too often a challenge.  

“Construction costs are very high in Munich, so it’s completely impossible to build the infrastructure on our own, even with support from national funds,” highlighted Sonja Haider, a Munich city councillor whose portfolio includes mobility. “A lot of Next Generation EU funding earmarked for mobility is kept at the national level and doesn’t trickle down to cities,” she added. 

Rorečková agreed and suggested “to have more programmes for municipalities without the involvement of the national level. Very often it is better for us to have a direct connection with the EU to discuss what we need to do and how we need to fund it,” she explained. 

Construction site in Porto
A construction site in Porto

But even when money is there, the post-pandemic building spree may get in the way of plans and deadlines, remarked Baganha. “Everybody is building throughout Europe, there’s not enough companies to carry out the projects and the timelines are also very tight,” the Porto city councillor noted.  

At the Forum, mobility experts additionally addressed the proposed new EU requirements that could shape cities’ transport plans in the coming years. The conversation focused on how cities defined as ‘urban nodes’ would need to adapt their policies to meet new TEN-T conditions. 

Urban nodes are cities located along the TEN-T corridors that boast infrastructure such as railways, bus terminals, ports, passenger hubs, airports, thus offering a variety of transport connections with other European cities as well as regional and local traffic.  

In the proposed revised TEN-T regulation, urban nodes would be asked to allow passengers to access information, book, pay for their journeys, and retrieve their tickets through multimodal digital mobility services.  

EU policymakers believe this technological shift would significantly improve transport efficiency, shorten travel times, curb costs, relieve traffic congestion and reduce emissions. With many municipalities yet to embark on this journey, the digitalisation of public transport will likely be on top of the next Eurocities Forum agenda in March 2024. 

Follow the Eurocities Mobility Forum’s conversation on social media: #EurocitiesMobility  #AllAboard, on TwitterLinkedinFacebook and Instagram 

Top photo: Eugene Zhyvchik


Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer