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‘Now is the time to embrace the new norms of mobility’

Submitted by on 07 Nov 2017 – 13:49

Imagine a day when vehicles hardly ever crash, traffic jams are rarities, energy demand drops, trip costs plummet, parking lots almost disappear and law enforcement ceases to concern itself with traffic. That day is not too far away. Seamless multimodal transport will soon become the new norm. Much of the technology to change this vision into reality already exists. Janani Krishnaswamy writes about major mobility trends to watch out for

While automakers are experimenting and inventing newer models, and have passionate visions for the future of mobility, hundreds of mobility experts, city planners, policy makers and key stakeholders got together recently at the 15th edition of the CIVITAS forum to discuss how European cities are transitioning towards integrated mobility.

Following the European Mobility Week that commenced on 16 September, the 15th edition of the CIVITAS forum was organised from 27-29 September in the municipality of Torres Vedras, Portugal. The conference focused on how to promote clean, shared and intelligent mobility.

In line with the theme of this year’s EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, mobility experts from governmental and non-governmental organisations, industry and academia shared their experiences on a diverse range of topics from autonomous transport, electric power trains and vehicle sharing to other advances that are transforming mobility.

While the way that people get around cities is changing tremendously, each city is unique and the transition to integrated mobility will also play out differently, and produce different results, from one city to the next. This year’s conference proved to be a forum for small and medium-sized cities, which can have big ideas for mobility and also make them happen.

Maja Bakran Marcich, Deputy Director General of European Commission’s DG MOVE opened the conference on a serious note, observing that mobility plays a major role in city planning and cities are the centre of mobility plans. She noted that “the current evolution in transport is offering Europe a great opportunity to be the most competitive player in the planet” and highlighted that now is the time to embrace the new norms of mobility.

Congestion is already close to unbearable in many cities and is almost costing as much as 2 to 4 percent of national GDP, by measures such as lost time, wasted fuel, and increased cost of doing business. “With the current rate of air pollution in cities and the ever-increasing number of road accidents resulting in nearly 23,000 deaths annually across Europe, now is time to speed up our activities towards sustainable models of transport,” says Maja Bakran.

As newer technologies are transforming the way we live and the way we are mobile, “there is a (pressing) need to take some urgent actions to make our transport more sustainable and adapt to this ever changing environment.”

Three key points should be understood in order to efficiently implement new transport services, Maja said. “Cities are facing tremendous challenges. On one hand, there are several organisational barriers. There is a need for dedicated platforms to exchange information and share best practices. Secondly and crucially, there are several financial barriers. Successful implementation of all new technologies requires significant investment. Thirdly, we really have to be fully aware of what’s going around, then plan ahead before we realise our vision.”

Autonomous driving

As dynamic changes within the mobility ecosystem are currently underway, there are a number of game changers that we can expect to be coming in our cities in the next few years. We can only see some of them right now. Some of them are beyond the horizon, for which we have to prepare now. On the sidelines of the conference, Philippe Crist from the International Transport Forum at OECD noted that “the arrival of driverless autonomous vehicles (AVs) represents a unique opportunity for a fundamental change in urban mobility. Drones used for commercial purposes are another.”

Officials noted that driverless trucks could be a reality within two years but driverless cars may be integrated with traffic within the next ten years. However questions of whether automated vehicles will kill off mass transit or whether they may affect the growth of other modes of sustainable transport such as cycling remains unanswerwed.

Is automated driving really the gamechanger for the future? The answer to this question “depends on what really is the game we are about to change.” There was much worry at the conference that fears of automated cars may outweigh its benefits.

Sharing gets you further

Another state of personal mobility that was actively discussed at the conference was the continued growth of shared access to vehicles. We all know how the ‘sharing economy’ has revolutionised  various aspects of our lives. Mobility is just another aspect that is undergoing transformation because of sharing.

In recent years, shared mobility has had an increasing impact across Europe. Shared mobility services have developed in several forms – from the more traditional car sharing, ride sharing, and bike sharing services to more innovative solutions of ride sourcing and car park sharing. Nearly 30% of city centre traffic, which is considered to be caused by drivers searching for a parking space may be saved in future – thanks to unique parking guidance systems.

Steen Moller, Deputy Mayor of Denmark’s city of Odense who shared the story of the city’s transformation into the most liveable city in Denmark, noted that “rise in shared mobility will grow exponentially over the coming years.” People may not want to buy cars and young adults may not want to get licences anymore, what with the current level of vehicle sharing across the continent. Sharing a ride with a friend or a colleague has never been easier.

Alternative fuels for buses and cars

According to the European Commission, every year more than 400 000 people in the EU die prematurely due to the consequences of air pollution: this is more than 10 times the toll of road traffic accidents. Nearly 6.5 million people fall sick as air pollution causes diseases such as strokes, asthma and bronchitis. If this needs to be changed, electric and hybrid buses running on fossil fuels are the way forward. It was quite apt that the uptake of energy-efficient vehicles was a key focus at the conference.

The European Commission’s new Clean Bus Deployment Initiative was also in the spotlight: a series of local politicians signalled their commitment by signing it at the Politicians’ Forum on the first day.

While there were a few frontrunners, Maja noted that there is currently “a lack of ambition among member states.” She noted that the European Commission will come up with an action plan for the introduction of alternative fuels in vehicles in November this year and make available additional finance to make deployment of alternative fuels a reality.

Cycling making a resurgence in popularity

A vibrant bike culture is growing across Europe. In countries like Denmark and Holland, cycling is the norm for both general transportation and commuting to work or school. With more infrastructure that promotes bikesharing and dedicated cycling paths that make cycling more safer, this will only get better.

Philippe Crist, who strongly believes that 21st century cities won’t work without cycling, noted that “it’s really important to find out what policies we should put in place to encourage people who aren’t cycling – the people who are afraid to cycle in the present conditions – the old, very young, the women and other different types of people who are hesitant.”

One fundamental policy, he said will increase the adoption of cycling across Europe is “the infrastructure that will make people feel more safe.”

Look out for more updates about the future of mobility in Europe in our next edition