Sustainable Urban Mobility and the Smart City

The following article is a re-edition of an article appeared on Thinking Cities, Volume 2 Issue 2.

Polis has recently issued a position paper emphasizing the role of transport in smart city strategies, Karen Vancluysen explains

Polis, representing leading cities and regions working on innovation in local transport, believes that the role and potential of urban mobility in making the city smarter is currently not sufficiently recognised.

The transport sector in general leaves ample room for improvement in terms of (energy) efficiency, environmental performance (air quality and noise) and leverage for economic development. The transport sector is currently shaping and experiencing a paradigm shift, with coinciding transitions in the field of energy use (electrification), technologies and behaviour (sharing economy, focus on active travel). At the same time, urban transport is one of the sectors with a high and continued share of public investment.

Transport: Central building block of the Smart City

There are good reasons to put urban transport at the heart of Smart Cities policies. To name a few,

  • With Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans, Urban Mobility has the framework for integrated planning. New approaches to urban mobility planning are emerging as local authorities seek to break out of past silo approaches and develop strategies that can stimulate a shift towards cleaner and more sustainable transport modes.

  • Electrification is happening. In all modes of transport, and for both transport of goods and passengers, electrification is happening. This brings – with the advantages such as clean air, energy independency etc. – also a set of challenges (deployment of charging infrastructures, links with shared mobility).

  • Urban transport embraces the sharing economy. Urban transport is a key area for the transition towards the sharing economy. Both public initiative (public bicycles, shared cargo-bikes, etc.) as private initiative (ridesharing applications, car sharing, peer to peer parking apps) see the benefit of making better use of urban transport assets.

  • Transport is an endless source of interesting data. The traveler is becoming more and more connected. Vehicles are connected, public transport users check in and check out with smart cards, cyclists and pedestrians use apps to monitor their movement. These data are becoming increasingly available through open data portals of cities.

Defining the Smart City with focus on transport

The current European framework for Smart Cities, with focus on ICT, Energy and Transport is rather narrow, considering the daily practice of urban transport professionals in European cities. Smart transport solutions can address other objectives than energy and decarbonisation: health, environment, road safety, economic development urban development, equality etc. In other words: within transport, measures can be smart (eg, they are saving lives) without that they directly save energy. ICT is an enabler of many smart mobility measures, but still, not all transport solutions need ICT to make them smart. The use of ICT should not be an end in itself but is a means to an end. Also simple solutions can enable place-making and can help to enjoy the city and urban life.

Polis members emphasise the importance of putting the citizen at the heart of the Smart Cities process and suggest using the UK government definition as a basis for EU Smart Cities initiatives: “A Smart City should enable every citizen to engage with all services on offer, public as well as private, in a way best suited to his or her needs. It brings together hard infrastructure, social capital including local skills and community institutions, and (digital) technologies to fuel sustainable economic development and provide an attractive environment for all.”

Smart Cities and transport: how can Europe help?

With European Commissioner Violetta Bulc urban transport has a strong advocate in the European Union’s Smart City community. But there is more: currently, several highly relevant European Commission’s Directorates General are not involved in the discussions (DG Environment, DG Regio) although they are linked to Smart Cities objectives. Polis suggests to including them in the Smart Cities governance. Polis also recommends parity in city/business representation in Smart Cities related discussions.

The EU provides substantial budgets in Smart Cities research and deployment. In this regard, Polis recommends to earmark sufficient budget for research focusing on Smart City fundamentals, in addition to funds such as EFSI and CEF that fund infrastructure investments.

Finally, Polis sees the benefit of a strong Smart Cities community, where cities can learn and exchange experiences. Here, global cooperation should be an essential element.

[ The full position paper, Sustainable Urban Mobility and the Smart City, is available here ]

Author: Karen Vancluysen, Executive Director - Polis

Polis is involved in the European Smart Cities Marketplace as manager of the Action Cluster for Sustainable Urban Mobility, and is partner in the European GrowSmarter Lighthouse project – co-funded by the Horizon2020 Framework Programme for Research & Innovation. Several Polis members are involved in the Marketplace, are partner in Smart Cities and Communities Lighthouse projects, and generally are European pioneers in making their cities smarter.

Link to to the original publication

#news #thinkingcities #POLIS #smartcities #smartmobility