Last Sunday, Italy and France’s rugby teams faced off against each other at Rome’s Olympic stadium as part of the Six Nations tournament. A few hours earlier, rugby fans fought another battle against traffic and air pollution.
Supporters heeded the call by #RomaGiocaSostenibile (“When in Rome, go sustainable”) to travel sustainably to the match. Since 2015, the initiative has been encouraging sports fans to leave their cars at home to beat CO2 emissions.
Promoted by Roma Servizi per la Mobilità – the body in charge of the city’s mobility services – the scheme aims to spawn behavioural change to tackle the contemporary challenges of an ancient city. The plan is supported by Eurocities and the new UPPER project on public transport to which Eurocities is a partner.
Ahead of last Sunday’s match, a dedicated website detailing sustainable travelling alternatives to the stadium helped rugby fans to make tailor-made decisions. The online information in Italian and English included a map with cycling and pedestrian routes, parking for people with impaired mobility, bus, tram and metro options as well as tips for those landing at the airport.
In the lead-up to the game, Roma Servizi per la Mobilità increased the number of tram and buses shuttling to the stadium. The public transport agency donated dozens of racks to allow cyclists to safely park their bikes. Shared mobility operators, meanwhile, offered discounts and promotions to rugby fans.
#RomaGiocaSostenibile is the brainchild of Francesco Iacorossi, UPPER’s Project Coordinator at Eurocities. He came up with the idea during his tenure as a former Senior Project Manager for Roma Servizi per la Mobilità.
Iacorossi understands the importance of coaxing sports fans to embrace sustainable and active mobility.
“As a Rome native and former rugby player, I kept on thinking about how the combination of public transport and sports could have a positive ripple effect on the city. Seven years ago, the Six Nations rugby tournament gave us the perfect chance to put the idea to the test. We’ve continued to sponsor the initiative ever since,” Iacorossi explains.
All roads lead to sustainable mobility
A city of popes and Borgia intrigues, of Renaissance splendour and unruly modernity; a city of light and shadows that could have been painted by Caravaggio himself, Rome is hardly geared for 21st-century transport. Its narrow, cobbled, uneven roads were made for horses and litters rather than cars and delivery trucks.
However, many in Rome still prefer to drive, causing traffic jams and a spike in air pollution. Sports events add to the city’s woes: travelling to a match in the Italian capital can be a real killjoy, no matter the fun and excitement about the upcoming event.
The Olympic stadium is located inside the city, in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. For supporters, that means leaving home hours ahead of the game to beat local traffic. Once in the area, fans need to compete with residents for a free parking spot that – depending on chance and the successful reciting of mantras – might become available in 10 minutes or over an hour.
It’s easy to see how travel to sporting events can get in the way of families on a peaceful weekend walk; how disruptive it is to neighbourhoods’ life; and how it unnecessarily increases stress, traffic and pollution.
Lifting the pressure that sports games place on cities is both possible and mandatory, says Iacorossi.
UPPER lends a helping hand
Out of public order concerns, Rome’s police authorities advised to limit the #RomaGiocaSostenibile initiative to tennis and rugby events, but Iacorossi dreams of one day expanding it to other sports.
Meanwhile, cities should multiply efforts to offer frequent and reliable public transport services, the UPPER project coordinator explains: “Public transport is the cornerstone of low-carbon and innovative mobility, but more needs to be done in our cities.”
The new EU-financed UPPER was created to address this very need: over the next four years, the project will implement measures to draw people to public transport and increase its uptake by over 30%.
“If residents are confident that their bus, metro or tram will show up on time, they’ll treasure their downtime on public transport and will be more likely to change their habits. Why drive on a congested highway when you can reach you destination stress-free and even read a book along the way?” says Iacorossi.
“Rome is a gem and only through a sustainable transport approach can we fully appreciate it,” he concludes.
Launched in early January, UPPER will work with 10 municipalities and regions across Europe: Valencia, Rome, Île-de-France, Oslo, Mannheim, Lisbon, Leuven, Budapest, Thessaloniki and the Hannover region.
Top photo: Rugby fans walk to the Italy vs France rugby match on 5 February 2023.