Editor's choice
19 Jan 18

Cities should provide the framework for urban mobility

More harmonisation and coherence needed

As has become the custom, the 2018 Brussels Motor Show was the scene for the European Automotive Forum. This year's speakers discussed the future of urban (auto)mobility.

Challenges for urban mobility

According to Bart De Wever, mayor of the city of Antwerp, getting rid of all cars won't solve all mobility problems. And he doesn’t believe in a car-free city. He is convinced that smart mobility is not about less options, but more and better options need to be made available to tempt people out of their cars and a policy turnaround is needed to address the fact that company cars are fiscally advantageous, he concluded.

Challenges for urban mobility are huge. Henna Virkkunen, MEP, pointed out that 80% of EU citizens will live in urban areas by 2050. Action for cleaner air is imperative and more investments in mobility R&D are needed. Her colleague Matthijs van Miltenburg underlined the need for technological harmonisation.

Erik Jonnaert of the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association agreed that more coherence is needed, for instance with regard to access restrictions. He also pointed out the need for a platform for dialogue between all stakeholders.

Cities provide the framework

Technologies are evolving fast and the private sector is taking the lead in many new mobility solutions. Last year, more than 40% of start-ups were linked with mobility. Nevertheless, the role of governments and local authorities cannot be underestimated.

Jean Schiltz, smart mobility adviser for the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, explained how his country makes data sets about public transport, vacant parking spaces and other relevant services publicly available. His country is also a pioneer with its digital cross-border testbed for automated and connected driving on motorways.

Karen Vancluysen of the Polis network of European cities and regions for innovative technologies and local transport emphasised the need for cities to provide the required framework to ensure new private-sector mobility products and services are in line with cities' priorities and are not driven by commercial objectives.

Goods transport in urban areas

Interests of local authorities and the private sector can at times be conflicting. Bernd Gruner of Eurocommerce, the federation for wholesale and retail companies, was sceptical about certain cities' push towards centralised warehouse hubs where wholesale companies can deliver their goods for delivery to their final destination in the city centres by one delivery company attached to that hub. Mr Gruner pointed out this can cause all kinds of problems, particularly for food transport.

He also indicated that wholesale companies need time to renew their fleets. Policy makers should take into account the technical realities. Electric refrigerated vans, for instance, do not yet exist.

Urbanisation

Lisa Füting of Audi AG addressed the importance of urbanisation. She stated that 75% of infrastructure needed in 2050 isn't built or even planned yet. In the past, the car shaped the city. Today, the city is shaping the car. She agreed with most other speakers that individual mobility will still be a part of urban mobility. Audi is developing pilot projects with local authorities to prepare our cities for tomorrow. In Somerville, Boston, for instance, they are working on improving open space and on building autonomous car parking garages that offer 62% more spaces in full optimisation.

Thierry Willemarck of FIA pointed out that long-term demand for mobility remains more or less stable, thanks to new ways of working such as telecommuting. However, goods transport is expected to explode, particularly within cities, and leisure transport is already increasing exponentially. There are indeed times during week-ends when traffic is more congested than on weekdays. This provides cities with new challenges.

Belgian fund for smart mobility technology

The Belgian minister for Digital Agenda Alexander De Croo and his counterpart for Mobility François Bellot announced a new €4 million fund that will launch a call for projects to develop new smart mobility technology using available open data. Examples quoted include carsharing applications or apps providing real-time public transport information for mobility services.
 

Authored by: Benjamin Uyttebroeck