Bouncing Ahead… And Out of the Box!
The webinar marks the end of the Post-Lockdown Mobility series, which brought stakeholders from across Europe to look at both the immediate challenges for cities and regions in the recovery from COVID-19 and what the future holds for sustainable urban mobility.
Since the beginning of the series back in April we have heard from 54 expert speakers from cities, regions, EU institutions, NGOs and private companies, with over 1600 attendees participating across seventeen webinars. The Post-Lockdown Mobility series has gathered stakeholders from across Europe to look at both the immediate challenges for cities and regions in the recovery from COVID-19 and what the future holds for sustainable urban mobility. What is clear is that we must avoid a transition from lockdown to gridlock, and that it is not a given that we will see a shift to sustainable urban mobility without taking initiative. Now is the time to lock in the positive trends we’ve seen in cities and regions, such as increased walking and cycling, to rebuild trust in and capacity of public transport, the backbone of our urban areas, and to complement it with shared mobility services to avoid a massive return to the private car.
This final webinar in the Post-Lockdown Mobility series was hosted by Karen Vancluysen, Secretary General at POLIS Network.
Maria Tsavachidis, CEO, EIT Urban Mobility
Maria was invited to share her views on how innovation and cooperation between the public and private sector can make us stronger and faster in our response to both old and new mobility challenges and how EIT UM is supporting cities to act fast in the aftermath of COVID-19.The COVID-19 crisis had brought about the urgent need for innovation, bringing pilots to scale, and focusing on problem-first solutions. This is what EIT Urban Mobility aims to do, bringing together stakeholders from industry, academia and the public sector to boost policy-driven innovation. This is done through identifying city needs and challenges, giving a platform for stakeholders to collaborate, and by providing funding to accelerate innovation from idea to market, and to implement and scale solutions.
COVID-19 prompted EIT Urban Mobility to adapt their operations, shortening funding cycles to provide faster and more flexible financing for successful applicants. Over 100 proposals were submitted for the dedicated COVID-19 call, which will result in 10 major city demos. Project will be addressing nano-coatings for enhanced hygiene , shared mobility with large-scale public taxi schemes to support essential workers, physical distancing interventions, digital manufacturing of street furniture to enhance the quality of public space and an electric rickshaw service for older/vulnerable groups.
Maria highlighted that whilst major challenges lie ahead, there is huge potential to innovate in urban mobility in the coming months. There is a real sense of urgency, meaning that change can happen rapidly with the right action. Innovation can only be achieved with the support of cities and regions, and whilst challenges sometimes exist with innovation within municipalities (e.g. capacity issues), there is huge potential to collaborate and innovate in urban mobility, for example through new public-private partnerships.
Mario Alves, Secretary General, International Federation of Pedestrians
The question Karen asked Mario is how we can make sure the active travel boom is here to stay – and why it is that going halfway doesn’t get us anywhere. How can we lock-in the new behaviour and supporting measures from cities?
Pedestrians are all too often the forgotten element of public space, despite walking making up a huge percentage of journeys and playing a role in most daily journeys. Mario noted how there is huge uncertainty around how cities will prioritise walking in the coming months and years, largely due to the fact that there is still huge uncertainty around how long COVID-19 will remain a challenge. To plan our cities, we need more certainty about how people are going to be moving around in the future. Until then, we need to work under a precautionary principle to keep people safe.
Mario noted that one of the major challenges for getting more people to walk for everyday journeys and capitalising on the increase in active travel during lockdown is that we face a structural issue in urban planning. For many years, transport systems have been operating in a paradigm dominated by car use where people have come a distant second. To achieve a widespread shift to walking and other sustainable modes, we need to see a transformation in how we prioritise different forms of mobility in urban areas, shifting from a car-centric system to a people-first system. This will require major changes in planning and infrastructure, and cannot simply rely on behaviour change.
Putting people first in cities is also still a political problem, but there are political solutions, too. Mario noted how a better approach is needed in urban mobility policy-making, with more focus on policy packages combining both ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ to achieve a shift to walking and other sustainable modes. Focus should be placed on encouraging what we want more of, and discouraging what we want less of. As well as this, creating a positive vision of the future is vital to convince people of the benefits of people-first cities. We must avoid focusing communications on what we don’t want, and instead talk about what we do want to see. Showing the benefits of cities designed for people and highlighting the positive stories of sustainable mobility will be vital to get everyone on board.
Finally, Mario stressed that we must collaborate with all stakeholders, including citizens, and build alliances to achieve a shift in mobility. Focusing on positive framing, such as the health and wellbeing benefits of active travel and reduced priority for cars in cities, could help to convince everyone of the benefits of sustainable mobility.
Matthew Baldwin, European Coordinator for Road Safety and Sustainable Mobility, Deputy Director-General, DG MOVE
Karen asked Matthew to illustrate how the European Commission will help to safeguard and actively support a green recovery from the current crisis at all levels, including the local and regional ones, and not jeopardise climate or other policy goals?
Matthew highlighted that serious issues still exist with transport in Europe. Road safety, whilst improving over the long-term, is struggling to improve over the short term, particularly for cycling. Air quality is responsible for 500,000 premature deaths in Europe. CO2 from transport is a major barrier to decarbonisation, and must be tackled rapidly to meet the EU’s climate targets. Congestion currently costs the European economy around 300 billion Euros a year. Transport is clearly causing major environmental, social and economic problems for Europe and its citizens.
Matthew recognised that cities and NGOs have indeed taken the lead during the COVID-19 crisis, and didn’t wait for permission to act to keep people safe and adapt mobility. They realised the threat to health and safety of citizens and acted fast. This has been inspiring and sets a precedent for action going forward. There is clearly a public will for action on sustainable mobility, as has been shown in cities like Paris, where Mayor Anne Hidalgo has been re-elected on a strong platform for putting people first in the city.
Matthew highlighted some important factors needed to improve sustainable urban mobility going forward. Firstly, there is a need for better data and monitoring. Measuring mobility through data and indicators is vital to track problems, monitor trends and make changes. Better data leads to stronger and more well-informed policies at the political level. Strong monitoring and data can also help to address fears and criticisms of mobility policies and plans. Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) can also help to push cities to go further and faster in adapting mobility to prioritise sustainable modes. Funding is of course also vital. The EU’s recovery package from COVID-19 will enable funding for cities to improve sustainable mobility, whilst support should also be sought from Member States. The affordability of mobility needs serious consideration too. Many people depend on car use for employment, and care should be given to address this group through solutions such as Park and Rides.
We must now be quick on our feet to innovate and make changes. The coming weeks and months will be crucial to improve sustainable urban mobility, and cities must be bold and act now.
Ambition and collaboration
Mario said that whilst he supports aims such as ‘Vision Zero’ (zero road deaths) and the progress of cities such as Helsinki towards these targets, there is a need to upgrade these aims to put more focus on wider goals such as modal shift and carbon reduction. Matthew agreed with this view, and noted how the kinds of policies needed to achieve ‘Vision Zero’ will bring wider societal and environmental benefits, we need zero emission as well as zero fatality. There needs to be more focus on building alliances going forward, and more focus on issues such as road speeds. Maria agreed that more cross-sectoral collaboration is vital for tackling challenges in mobility, and that we must stop working in silos. We must view mobility not just as about getting somewhere, but as a key part of life in cities, and part of public life, public space and community more generally.
How do we rebuild public transport?
Maria stated that more needs to be done to communicate better around public transport and COVID-19. Communication around this during the crisis was poor and has caused a disproportionate level of fear in the general public about the threat of public transport. This narrative needs to change and effort needs to be made to show the data and communicate the insights to address these fears.
Matthew agreed with this sentiment and noted that the communication during the crisis may have made people too scared of public transport. We must develop safe practices in public transport and stress to people that the goal is to make public transport as safe as possible and manage risks. Fear is a key barrier to travelling sustainably, not just during COVID-19 but also more generally; for example, fears over a lack of safety is a common barrier to increasing active travel use and keeps parents from letting their children walk or cycle to school.
What does the future hold for public-private cooperation?
Maria stated that there is huge potential for public-private cooperation, but that more needs to be done to improve integration across public and private modes. Matthew noted how public transport may need to be redefined to better acknowledge the role of services such as shared mobility, which could be important to address concerns over the availability and integration of public transport. Mario stressed that public transport will remain the backbone of cities, and that active travel and shared mobility can help to support public transport, particularly to connect people to bus stops and train stations, and for first and last mile journeys. More funding will however be required to support the growth of active travel in cities.
Innovation in mobility
Maria highlighted that action has not progressed fast enough in mobility, with the same solutions being discussed for decades. However, we are now seeing an acceleration and scaling-up of action. Tapping into the potential for innovation and providing funding for action will create real impact in sustainable mobility. We must act big and bring together people to implement and scale up solutions on-the-ground now.
Matthew stated that the Green Deal and mobility recovery plans for mobility will help to provide financial certainty and will spur innovation in sustainable mobility. Accelerating pre-existing plans and developing new projects will be vital to meet the goals and ambitions of the Green Deal. Opportunities exist for funding for sustainable mobility and Matthew encouraged stakeholders to make the case for their sector at the national and European level.
Karen Vancluysen closed the session by highlighting that whilst cities will need to focus on recovery, there is also huge optimism about cities’ resilience and the potential for change in urban mobility. We thank all of our members for engaging in this webinar series and making it a success. It has been inspiring to see such high levels of interest and engagement and we thank everyone for sharing their experiences and contributing to a successful series. A new webinar series will commence after summer in September. Stay tuned for more details!