- Disruptive emerging technologies, micromobility, shared mobility, a more centric approach to mobility and a shift from vehicle ownership from the individual to the fleet operator induced huge changes regarding the trends in passenger and freight transport. Transport infrastructure, vehicle technologies and digitalisation have been progressively improving and e-commerce continues to rise. COVID-19 changed behaviours, with walking, cycling and private car use increasing. e-commerce demand has increase significantly and contactless solutions are still the preferred solution.
- The EU defines policies and develops tools to consistently tackle sustainable and smart transport (SST) challenges at EU level. Transport is a shared competence between the EU and Member States (MS) where the subsidiarity principle applies. Urban mobility regulation is essentially a local responsibility.
- Challenges are still related with the high levels of congestion, CO2 emissions, noise and air pollution but also ensuring that there is articulation amongst all the new disruptive technologies to contribute to an integrated mobility. Coordination between the different key stakeholders to avoid fragmentation is also a key challenge. Last but not least, accessibility for all is a key priority, which is a huge challenge in the digital era.
- The number of solutions to tackle the trends and challenges on SST is huge. There are still some barriers to overcome but also a long list of opportunities related to them.
- Recommendations focus on a more integrated planning between the sectors, modes and (extra) urban areas; better governance mechanisms to improve policy coordination; evidence-based policy making to ensure the benefits outweight the costs and a better blending of funds to support research and deploy innovation.
Main developments and trends
The last few years have seen a huge change in the trends in passenger and freight transport, mainly due to disruptive emerging technologies (automation, drones, air urban mobility) and increase of micro mobility solutions and shared mobility.
A more user-centric approach has spead, which implies great changes in mobility, transport network and traffic management. The user-centric approaches promote individual needs and wishes of citizens. Transport infrastructure, vehicle technologies and digitalisation have been progressively improving, while movement of people and transport of goods is expected to continuously increase. There is a growing trend although not yet widespread of a shift from vehicle ownership from the individual to the fleet operator with shared mobility solutions.
On the freight side, e-commerce continue to increase, which pushes operators to look for last mile deliveries consolidation. The use of zero-emissions or low-emissions vehicles for the last mile, mainly due to the car-free centre/environmental zones policies, is also increasing, although still limited.
The impacts of COVID-19 on SST trends and developments affected the use of public transport and shared mobility services during and immediately after the lockdown, while citizens prefer(red) private vehicles such as cars and bicycles, but also walking. Regarding freight distribution, it has proven to be an essential service during the lockdown, providing food and goods to households. In the wake of new habits established during the lockdown, e-commerce is likely to keep growing.
However, the evolution of urban mobility trends will depend on the pre-COVID-19 situation of each city and country and on policies that will be promoted at the European, national and local level. There is an opportunity to continue promoting walking and cicyling and use more city space for that, as during the pandemic.
The EU policy context and debates
The EU defines policies and develops tools to consistently tackle SST challenges at EU level. Transport is a shared competence between the EU and Member States where the subsidiarity principle applies and urban mobility regulation is essentially a local responsibility.
Besides defining policies and legislation, the EU has been financing research, development and deployment of transport innovation.
Challenges and opportunities
Several challenges but also opportunities arise from the latest trends and developments in SST.
Urban mobility accounts for 40% of all CO2 emissions of road transport and up to 70% of other pollutants from transport contributing to a negative impact on the environment and global warming. Air and noise pollution cause physical and mental health issues of residents. Every year, dozens of thousands of citizens get killed in road accidents in the EU. The challenge lays on how to reduce those.
The diffusion of alternative modes of transport clashes with the predominance of private cars, which in addition to generating traffic occupy a large part of the urban space, which is already increasingly scarce due to the growing trends of urbanisation and increased mobility.
Freight movement is expected to grow significantly and change its configuration, also because of the changing purchasing habits caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The transport network, primarily the road network, suffers from congestion during peak hours. As the population grows, dynamic and flexible network management is required to accommodate the increasing demand for travel and goods.
Different decision making bodies and institutions are involved from the international to the local level, but functions are managed by different authorities at the same time. Their articulation and coordination is still a challenge and an area where improvements can be made.
New technologies, availability of data, users demand to be able to decide their own mobility solutions and a culture of sharing are opportunities for smart and sustainable solutions, as they enable cleaner solutions and better planning and integration of transports.
New business models allow public transport companies to change their mindset and offer new mobility solutions, such as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) or on-demand ride-sharing services. As for shared mobility, micromobility and MaaS, several solutions and business models have been adopted/tested, such as peer-to-peer vehicle rental, taxi services, ride sharing, and B2C vehicle short term rentals. Micromobility solutions include e-mopeds, (e-)bicycles, e-scooters, etc. MaaS can integrate all available transport services, form public transport to micro and shared mobility services.
As for access regulation and space design/management, some cities are reducing parking spaces to create mobility hubs where it is possible to access a variety of shared services like electric car, bike and e-scooter sharing. Car-free city centres continue to be a common solution, and new technologies (apps) that guide tourists and locals to their destinations providing information about main atractions are becoming quite an interesting solution to boost these modes. COVID-19 has shown that space can be made available for walking and cycling and it is up to local authorities to keep up with it afterwards.
Automation and drones are still being experimented and are not the common practice, as some issues related to regulation, safety, and security, which still need to be better defined.
Several cities are switching to low-emissions and zero-emissions zones, which will accelerate the demand for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure. Guidelines on electrification have been included in SUMPs.
Solutions for the last mile delivery vary from urban consolidation centres to parcel lockers. Pilots have demonstrated that in areas with a high receiver density and a fragmented demand, micro-depots and cargo bikes can be used efficiently.
Enhanced cooperation between metropolitan areas and stakeholders along the TEN-T network is required to foster the opportunity to align and better integrate planning activities, as well as to generate new concepts and benefits for both long-distance and urban transport and for the integration of urban nodes along TEN-T network.
Data collection, management and sharing principles are fundamental for the development of adequate solutions on SST. This requires the cooperation between different data providers and the sharing of that data with city planners, transport operators, new mobility solutions providers, etc.
 MaaS is a concept promoting the combination of different transport services into one single mobile platform
Recommendations for EU policy-makers
Research outcomes outline the strategic advantage of deploying a more integrated planning between sectors, modes and (extra) urban areas. In order to be effective, EU policy action in this domain should promote and be based on:
- Enhanced integrated planning of urban transport with extra-urban areas, and participatory policy planning approach steering behaviour change;
- Improved (multi-level) governance cooperation mechanisms to facilitate a continuous dialogue and policy coordination among EU, national and local levels;
- Appropriate cost-benefit analyses accompanying the introduction of any new transport measure, and integrating other sectors such as health, social inclusion, economic development, land-use planning, energy;
- Better use and blending of funds, including the complementary use of different funding lines, for example by requiring that applicants for funds for a specific programme clarify how these would be strategically integrated with previously used or allocated funds;
- Striking the appropriate balance between environmental, economic feasibility, and social equity criteria for new transport solutions;
- Introducing innovative tools and schemes (technological and non) to integrate passenger and freight, encourage the definition of data-sharing principles and the use of common EU standards and specifications;
- Promoting and funding the implementation of the most effective transport-related measures positively impacting the health of the citizens;
The EU can steer behaviour change and coordinate the response of local authorities and stakeholders, using the COVID-19 challenge as an opportunity for a new transport paradigm, in line with the European Green Deal targets. This can be done by strengthening existing policies and consolidated tools, as in the case of the COVID-19 Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) Practitioner Briefing, endorsed by the EC.