Dionisio González is the Advocacy & Outreach Director at UITP, the International Association of Public Transport. UITP is a passionate champion of sustainable urban mobility and it is the only worldwide network to bring together all public transport stakeholders and all sustainable transport modes.
Cities around the world are facing extraordinary challenges and mobility can be one of the keys sector to their success or failure in meeting those challenges. Optimising the benefits of public transport for society requires aligning mobility policies with the vision and strategies of urban development. Education and employment, economic activity, tourism, culture and social inclusion… are among the critical aspects addressed by the New Urban Agenda, a roadmap developed by the United Nations. However, it is, undoubtedly, in the field of health that the positive impacts of sustainable urban mobility can be perceived, especially in the context of the current growth of global urbanisation.
Since a few years, important capitals and states around the world are discussing different options to improve air quality for their citizens. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 75% of carbon emissions are produced in cities and with now more than 60% of the world population living in urban areas, the debate on how to decarbonise the mobility sector have never been more pressing.
To be clear, air pollution kills. Indeed, each year three million people die prematurely due to air pollution, which is particularly affecting large cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The WHO has estimated that air pollution causes one in three deaths from chronic respiratory diseases and different types of lung cancer, as well as one in four deaths from heart attack. In addition to air pollution, other important health risks may be linked to the car-based habits of urban dwellers, such as obesity, cardio-vascular diseases and other noncommunicable diseases. In a factsheet updated in February 2018, the WHO reminded that ‘insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide.’
Governments at all levels are increasingly looking towards active mobility (public transport + walking + cycling) to encourage and enable an active lifestyle that would increase health benefits. Urban mobility actors and authorities have the responsibility to move beyond speeches by walking the talk in elaborating, adopting and implementing frameworks and regulations which could help create more liveable cities.
The time has come for leaders to rise and work in close collaboration. It is important to involve all the different stakeholders (authorities, business, employers, etc.) throughout the process. Collaboration could lead to a better understanding of the city needs, as well as more effective ways of integrating them to generate fruitful impacts. In the end, decisions have to be taken based on a long term vision and they should be backed by substantial financial means to assure its success.
On this World Health Day, we should take the time to reflect on how the car-culture that drove the design and planning of our cities for too long have reached its limits. It is reducing the quality of the air urban dwellers are breathing, while increasing the level of physical inactivity, both negatively impacting their health.
In short, health of citizens depend on how cities develop and, in this sense, it is vital to guarantee the democratisation of efficient, accessible and affordable integrated public transport systems.
Advocacy & Outreach Director