Upward mobility

“We both find it funny that people ask us, ‘what is the link between employment and mobility?’” says Luis Ribeiro, head of corporate relations in the mobility department of Aix-Marseille-Provence, “because one doesn’t go without the other. That’s why there are so many cars on the road. Employment is not one of many doors for mobility issues, it’s the main gate. Employment issues cannot be handled without attending to mobility issues and vice versa.”

The relation, explains Anne Laure Nardone, sustainable mobility manager in Marseilles’ department of employment, is a two way street. The city can boost employment by providing adequate mobility solutions for people to find and commute to jobs, and employers can help to improve the mobility situation by helping their employees make better mobility choices.

25% of unemployment

According to Anne Laure, mobility issues account for a staggering 25% of all of the unemployment in France. Aix-Marseille-Provence has worked hard to achieve far reaching cooperation. To tackle this, “we must work with different actors, employers, business associations, mobility operators, bike associations, we must work together with a shared target: employment, and a lower number of individual private cars.”

This is precisely what Aix-Marseille-Provence has done, using events like European Mobility Week as a catalyst for cooperation: “Before, the actors in the city were all separate, and now we are not. It makes a real difference because now not only do we share a target, but we can call each other up at any time and say, ‘hey, what are you doing, or what do you want to do on this?’. This is nothing small, this makes a huge difference.”

Incentives and cooperation

So, concretely, how can the city and its employers work together? There are some quick tricks, according to Anne Laure, like offering more flexible working hours, which helps to reduce congestion during peak traffic times, but it goes deeper than that. When the city invests in mobility, it not only helps link employees to employers, but also attracts new companies and new skilled professionals, “We have put an enormous amount of money into making the city more attractive for tourists and new residents, and now the train is on its way!” Luis says.

The city can also create financial incentives for businesses to innovate around mobility, like a €400,000 prize that the metropole offered for companies to collaborate on new ideas for mobility in the workplace. Corporate structures are a great way to reach out to the people within them. “We as a metropole need to offer more options,” Luis admits, but, he says, “we can’t just put options there, we have to change mentalities.”

A legal obligation

Luis works with companies to help them design mobility plans, a legal obligation for any French company with over 100 employees. “Most companies do not know how to even start” Luis says. “We ask how many of their employees come to work by car, how many could be persuaded to change their minds, and how long the company things that would take. Then, we take it from there.”

Ask don’t tell

The metropole uses a central platform so that all the companies can share their plans with each other, learn from each other, and get advice from Luis and his colleagues. The advice goes both ways, Luis says: “We no longer build a bus line and say ‘it’s there, go to it.’ No. We say ‘what is your need?’ and we work together with companies and people to meet that need.” This suits the companies, but it is also important for the city. “We have seen it happen that things are built and not used. It has happened with a shuttle bus, for instance. If you don’t consult enough first, you will have empty services” says Luis.

Get inspired

Another question is how to go about working together with companies to provide mobility services. Luis says that the metropole are looking at the example of Paris for inspiration. They were thinking about how best to institute carpooling, “we asked, ‘do we let it happen by itself, do we put in conditions that encourage it, or do we have to design the system?’

Paris made a public private contract with several car-pooling companies saying ‘here is how we want it to be shown, worked, and the data record used. We take a site, we give you a little part, we finance you on a little scale, but this is an incentive to have the data and be sure that you have more or less the same service and the same way of offering it.”

Support to SMEs

This initiative in Paris has been highly successful, according to Luis, “it works. Because some small companies cannot match with the major ones, and when they can’t reach a critical level they just die, so taking this approach Paris kept a certain multiplicity of actors.” For Aix-Marseille-Provence the system is appealing because they “don’t want to go too far into a private world, we want to let companies offer their own services but to be aligned with the metropole’s goals, so that we are still in a kind of public ecosystem.”

By ensuring that its mobility policy supports SMEs, the metropole encourages not just employment but also entrepreneurship.

Raison d’être

Mobility was one of the main reasons that the metropole was formed in 2015. “The municipalities that made up the metropole were more concerned with internal mobility, and less with connections,” Luis says. This meant that large employers had trouble sourcing employees from neighbouring municipalities. “The problem number one for large employers: I need my employees to get to work.”

“When the metropole was started we had three different mobility systems that didn’t speak to each other,” but they have been gradually integrating these, “now we have developed an app that will integrate the whole metropole and present people with different mobility offers, whether it’s carpooling, scooters, or bike rental. Public and private must be represented together.”

One for all

One of the first things the metropole did was to create a monthly transport pass for every mobility network in the area, including boats, bikes, and intermodal carparks (i.e. that link with other forms of transport). “We’ve also got several experiments going on that will help us go ahead,” Luis says. “We started with ‘one month without my car’ incentive. We gave away free bicycles during European Mobility Week. We created mobility ambassadors, taking users who are thinking about changing their minds by the hand and helping them. You have to get everyone involved together. Even our name, ‘Aix-Marseille-Provence’, shows that we are all about cooperation.”

The metropole’s approach always works towards strengthening the economy at the same time as the environment and social inclusiveness. “Green solutions are economic solutions,” Anne Laure says, “which is lucky for us!”

Clear and direct

Anne Laure also explains that in Aix-Marseille-Provence, people’s revenues are a little lower on average than in the rest of France. “You can’t convince them to spend a huge amount of money on an annual pass to all mobility services. Not all of them have a perfect command of French.” When engaging this population it is important to relate what is happening at metropole level to effect their daily lives. “You don’t start talking to people about mobility. You really have to be clear: here is your home, here is your work, here is how you can go between them. You have to start from the eyes of the user, then you manage something.”

It’s not easy, Anne Laure says, “but we have been successful.” Things like European Mobility Week help, “European Mobility Week shows to the public and private actors the importance of mobility and the fact that they must work on this issue. For example JCDecaux is working with a special vocational school that helps young people to integrate socially and be prepared for work, and during the mobility week they do teamwork around mobility. The week is the pretext to expose the different solutions and different economic actors to each other, and for everyone to realise that they can do something too.”


The most important thing, according to both Anne and Luis, is communication. “People do not go just like that. It’s difficult,” says Anne , “you mustn’t dream, because it’s difficult to make many people come.” And Luis explains, “issue number one is that people don’t go to something. You have to always work on the communication, that’s really important.”

Part of their communication strategy is hosting mobility workshops where they work with stakeholders to explore potential solutions. These can be really eye-opening encounters. Anne remembers one workshop where a participant was really surprised by what she discovered, “‘but how come the sea in Marseille is not on the southern side?’ she asked me. ‘Well, I said, it’s not, it’s not in the South,’ and she looked at me shocked – ‘then all this time,’ she said, ‘when I was praying, I wasn’t facing Mecca’. So working on mobility isn’t just good for the economy, it could be good for your soul as well.”

Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer