14 Feb 19

Major European cities step up anti-car measures

Fleets will face major difficulties operating vehicles in key European cities within two replacement cycles.

Authorities in Amsterdam and Helsinki have outlined a strong desire to restrict the use of single occupancy vehicles, while London has already introduced a congestion charge, and its ultra-low emission zone comes into force in April.

Across Europe, cities are grappling with the challenge of rapid urbanisation on historic infrastructure, and using a combination of road pricing, access restrictions and parking restrictions to make their streets more sustainable.

Helsinki targets office parking

The head of Helsinki’s mobility department, Reetta Putkonen, said the city was developing sustainable modes of travel, such as walking, cycling and public transport, and encouraging alternatives to individual car ownership for journeys when a car is the only solution. At the same time, Helsinki is making life more difficult for employees who drive both to and for work.

Planning rules in the Finnish capital restrict any new office buildings close to train stations to just one car parking bay per 500 square metres of floor space, and even in the suburbs this figure only relaxes to one space per 100 square metres. This will make it impossible for most employees to park at work.

“We have really high goals to be carbon neutral by 2025, and our ambitious action plan was accepted in December,” said Putkonen at MOVE 2019.

The next city council elections in 2021 could pave the way for a congestion charge, she said, with road pricing used to discourage car use and encourage the uptake of public transport.

Amsterdam wants dynamic road pricing

In Amsterdam, the city’s creaking road infrastructure (pictured above) is bracing itself for 40% more car trips by 2030 unless action is taken, said Ruben Polderman, project manager smart mobility, City of Amsterdam.

“The city centre is not designed for cars, so now we are thinking about a ‘low car’ agenda,” he said.

This includes the removal of public parking bays and an increase in parking fees, as well as consideration of new ways to introduce selective access to Amsterdam’s roads. New vehicle number plate recognition cameras are currently used for controlling the city’s environmental zones, but they could have more practical applications.

“We really would like to introduce dynamic pricing, but we’re not allowed by the national government. And we also want to prioritise access for logistics [vehicles], so they get access to certain areas at certain times, instead of all the city, all the time,” said Polderman.

New MaaS app for Amsterdam

“We are tendering for a Mobility as a Service application this year for our business district. There are a lot of banks and consultants in this area and their employees arrive by lease car, so we’re going to try to nudge them to arrive by different means. And then we’ll think about scaling MaaS up for the city and the region.”

Pilot projects have already seen company car drivers substitute their cars for two months in return for a mobility budget, and a similar project explored the commuting habits of public sector workers, such as teachers and nurses, who cannot afford to live in the city centre. This tested the popularity of e-bikes for commutes of 15km and longer, and investigated pricing mechanisms to encourage alternatives to car use and disincentivise driving.

Anti-vehicle pressure mounts 

This pressure to reform travel practices is only going to intensify as campaigners focus on measures to improve air quality. Andrea Lee, senior campaign at Client Earth, the nonprofit behind legal cases which gave Hamburg the right to ban diesel cars and forced the UK government to step up its anti-pollution measures, said the organisation, “has been working with partners across Europe to enforce the ‘right to breathe’.”

She added that low emission zones in urban areas are vital and urgently needed, but warned that they don’t go far enough in protecting public health.

“European Union limits for particulate emissions [found in diesel exhaust fumes] are twice the level of World Health Organisation guidelines,” said Lee. “And where there are illegal levels, 80% come from road transport.”

Authored by: Jonathan Manning