It’s Monday morning and Laetitia Puel is sitting back in the car and enjoying her journey to work. She chats with colleagues about the weekend, oblivious to the horns and shouts of the streets, and arrives at work relaxed and ready to face the day.
It was all very different just a few months ago. Then, Laetitia’s daily 40km commute to and from her office in the finance department of Toulouse-Blagnac Airport was an altogether less sociable – and much more stressful – affair.
What’s transformed her quality of life? Car sharing with four colleagues.
“When you share a car and aren’t in the driving seat you don’t have to be vigilant about other vehicles and barely notice traffic jams,” she says. “And although it takes the same time to get to work, it feels much shorter. It’s a completely different experience. Until you do it you don’t understand the social benefits – or how enjoyable it can be to do something environmentally conscious.”
Toulouse wants everyone working in the city to have the same revelation as Laetitia: that changing their mobility behaviour can help them feel good and do good. Because reducing the number of cars on the road, easing traffic flow and improving air quality is vital to its future as a vibrant, attractive and growing city.
The biggest polluter of all
The world’s cities are facing urgent mobility challenges. Urban life is already characterised by frustrating congestion and unhealthy smog. And things are only going to get worse.
The unavoidable facts are that urban traffic accounts for 40% of all CO2 emissions from road transport and up to 70% of other pollutants from transport. The problematic prediction is that global car sales will increase from 86 million a year in 2018 to 125 million by 2025 – and more than half will be bought in cities.
Toulouse is only too aware that it must rise to its mobility challenge. A booming city with the highest demographic growth in France, it’s already having to cope with 4 million individual car journeys every day. Around 500,000 more will be made daily in the next 10 years — which means about 1,000 more vehicles on the road every month.
How could it change people’s behaviour and bring about a new mobility culture?
We realised we had to change the rules of the game
“We realised we had to change the rules of the game,” says Jean-Claude Dardelet who is leading the COMMUTE initiative to get commuters into more sustainable transport habits. “The only way forward was to gather together public sector organisations and companies to take action. We had been like a church organ where everyone was whistling in their own pipe: we weren’t in harmony. COMMUTE is about making sweet music together.”
COMMUTE stands for “Collaborative Mobility Management for Urban Traffic and Emissions reduction”. 80% of the project costs are financed by EU funds.
Winning hearts and minds
Where better to take the first steps on its mobility journey than the Toulouse airport and its adjacent industrial district which is home to the largest employers and where 265,000 business trips are made every day – 71% by individual car users.
It is the district’s big employers, such as Airbus, ATR and Safran, that the initiative is intent on reaching. As Pilar Vigil-Bessoles, the city’s European project manager, explains: “COMMUTE is not about technology innovation like most transport projects, nor trendy digital solutions only — the most important part is the human factor. We work with human resource departments and employees to sensitise them to new modes of mobility and co-create new services and work patterns with them.”
A toolbox of mobility options
Convinced that there’s not one single solution to the district’s dire congestion, COMMUTE is experimenting with many.
As well as the car sharing scheme that’s making such a difference to Laetitia’s life there’s a carpooling app and car park for shorter shared journeys. Over 2,000 commuters have signed up and 10,000 carpooling journeys have been recorded.
The many COMMUTE partners and their thousands of workers mean solutions like these have quickly achieved the critical mass for success. Over 95% of carpool app users, for example, have at least one carpooling opportunity for each of their journeys.
Plans, shuttles and fans
One innovative solution has involved the unprecedented agreement by partner organisations to adopt, promote and connect new ways of working and travel plans in a concerted effort to shift mobility behaviour.
The resulting inter-company workplace travel plan enables employees to, among many options, change their working hours at the start and end of the day, work from home, use video conferencing instead of face-to-face meetings and take up incentives to cycle to work.
Alongside the cyclists, walkers and car sharers there will soon be another, more high-tech, exemplar of sustainable mobility. Autonomous shuttles will bustle about ferrying staff to their offices from public transport hubs and car parks on the Airbus campus.
All this activity has not gone unnoticed elsewhere in the city. In fact, so interested are Airbus employees on another site that they have asked to take part too. While COMMUTE’s legal structure ruled out their formal involvement, the initiative’s leaders have set up a local mobility “fan” club for them which meets weekly — and is growing by the month.
Helping others get going
COMMUTE has clearly demonstrated that there’s a healthy appetite for healthier mobility. Fortunately, it has created two things that will help those keen to replicate its success.
The first is a handbook on COMMUTE’s public-private collaborative urban mobility governance model, which will help others hit the ground running with their own initiatives. The second is a digital mobility platform which enables the impact of COMMUTE experiments on congestion, behaviour and the environment to be recorded and measured. This will be a useful guide for districts and cities choosing to take a similar path.
Toulouse’s bold, coordinated approach to urban mobility is exactly what commentators are describing as the only way to avoid future global gridlock. It also sits squarely within the European strategy for encouraging a shift to lower emission transport modes. Now, to cap it all, it turns out Toulouse is already doing what the French government wants the whole country to do.
“France has just passed a law that obliges cities to set up collaborative mobility authorities to propose alternative transport solutions to the private car,” says Jean-Claude Dardelet. “This is more or less exactly what we have already implemented in the airport district and want to extend across the entire urban area and has given us confidence that we know what makes it work.”
The power of the nudge
Formal information is not enough, you need to nudge people by telling them about your experience.
One woman who is very clear about what this is exactly is Anne Julia, environmental manager at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport: “I am passionate about encouraging people to try different ways of getting to work. Formal information is not enough, you need to nudge people by telling them about your experience. The testimonials of colleagues make the difference.”
Which means that employees like Laetitia are doing their bit for the city twice over — changing their own habits and influencing others to change theirs. Good job!