September 23, 2018
Ulrich Weber is the Head of Staff Unit Funding/Subsidies and EU Affairs at Stuttgarter Straßenbahnen AG and Director of Regional Office of VDV Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart. He is a member of the UITP European Union Committee (EUC) and nominated Chair of the EUC since May 2017.
Today marks the end of the 17th edition of the EuropeanMOBILITYWeek. This year’s edition, under the theme of multimodality (‘Mix and Move!’) was the largest in size and reach, a clear demonstration of the ever growing interest city authorities develop towards urban mobility issues. It was also the last edition before the next European elections, which will be held next Spring across the Union.
During these last seven days, we’ve witnessed awareness raising actions in more than 2 650 participating cities, from 53 countries. We’ve heard all about the benefits of sustainable urban mobility and the importance of decreasing the use of cars in our cities. Urban Dwellers have felt it, policy makers promoted it and experts debated on how to achieve it.
Yet, now that the week is over and that cars have taken back the streets, we should ask ourselves what will remain from this year’s celebrations.
This question seems even more relevant today as EU citizens will, in a few months, cast their ballot to elect the next five-year term political leaders. We can appreciate the fact that many aspects of public transport were discussed since last Sunday, the most important one probably being funding.
Indeed, it has been discussed many times, but providing citizens with efficient and more attractive urban mobility solutions, necessarily means being ready to invest in heavy infrastructure and vehicles. Many recent studies show that a massive investment in public transport will be a major lever to reduce climate change and air pollution from transport.
This means that cities, as front line service providers, must be a central focus when it comes to drafting budgets and financial Frameworks also at European level. The 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework, which is currently being refined, is a unique opportunity for political leaders to concretely show that they believe in strengthening local leaders’ capacity to improve the liveability of their cities.
Another major development which we see in our sector is the digital wave and the use of data changing deeply our sector. Authorities will have to understand the full scope of the underlying technologies. We are not only talking about information that operators or third parties gather, it has an important cost… thus an important value!
There are different approaches to harvesting, collating and using data, the latter often being a topic of debate between those who firmly believe that it should be restricted to the owner of the data, and their counterparts who believe it belongs to the public realm, thus available for everyone’s use.
It is essential that EU Leaders recognise public transport authorities and operators’ knowledge of their own environment, and avoid imposing a one-size-fits-all policy on the accessibility of data across the Union. It should be kept to everyone’s own strategic priorities to decide what to do with the information they are collecting, often after having invested a lot of capital and human resources to deploy the instruments needed to collect and process data. A look into the business strategies of the large international digital players reveals very evidently that data has a value and that their strategy is certainly not to open their data for everyone’s use for free.
And with such emerging trends as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) and new digital mobility services taking over peoples’ movements in our cities, the different types of digital information available will become key in shaping the way we will design and operate transport in our urban areas.
By choosing multimodality, or the mixing of transport modes within the same journey or for different trips, as the main theme of this year’s EuropeanMOBILITYWeek, the European Commission is focusing on what might have been urban mobility’s Achilles heel – the notorious first and last miles. With the rise of bike-sharing, car-sharing, Transport Network Companies (TNC) and other ride-hailing apps, the passenger’s transport ecosystem diversified and expanded to truly offer a door-to-door service to users, which always was a challenge of the major public transport operators.
Although it is not new, multimodality is now, rightly so, on everyone’s lips, and if some experts are considering the new mobility players as complementary to the more traditional transport actors, one’s more in-depth look at multimodality can show that there is in fact an interdependency between these two.
Think about it, what would be the business model of the digital players if they weren’t supported by a structured transport network which acts as a backbone of urban mobility? What would be the advantages of using any TNC service in peak time traffic? On the other side, aren’t these new platforms the missing link in user’s journeys? Isn’t it much more convincing to any car-dependant urban dweller to know that once they exit that metro station, they can have access to a wide range of mobility option to reach that destination… without wasting time or energy?
Multimodality has reached this level of maturity, where it comprehensively meets all the expectations one could have of a seamless and sustainable mobility journey.
The EuropeanMOBILITYWeek might just be over, but the future of urban mobility has never looked so bright. In the coming months, many topics will be debated in the context of the upcoming European elections, but it is the responsibility of us all, not just the public transport sector, to keep this priority on top of the politicians’ agenda. It is the only way we will “Mix and move” towards more sustainable, healthy, competitive and liveable cities.
Chair, EU Committe Chair