Shared Mobility: A Key to Sustainable Urban Transport

Author: Author as Florian Steuerer, EU Strategy.

Introduction

Cities across Europe are confronted with multiple challenges that impact citizens’ lives, ranging from housing and urban space, equality and inclusiveness, and jobs to environment and mobility. Many of these issues are linked and cannot be tackled by themselves, while they are often politically sensitive.

Individual cities have taken bold actions to address many of the above issues, which requires the willingness to take political risks. Increasing urban populations confront cities with increased mobility demand, which may outgrow urban transport systems. While private car ownership has been a symbol of economic prosperity and success in the past, new options have arisen that offer more efficient resource use and can reduce air and noise pollution.

The Case for Shared Mobility

Urban dwellers in cities like Brussels can rely on a wide portfolio of mobility options ranging from public transport and bicycle networks to shared mobility options. While each citizen can choose his or her preferred way of travelling across town, high-quality public transport services, safe infrastructure for pedestrians and bicycles, and shared mobility services can unlock the potential to reduce the perceived need to own a car in cities.

Using a car in a city has one specific characteristic: convenience. Hence cities’ urban mobility system needs to compete with people’s private vehicles that are convenient, comfortable, and available 24/7.

While the level of comfort may differ between public transport modes and cities, public transport services in most European cities are not available around the clock, and they offer static routes. Demand-driven mobility options, such as taxis, ride-hailing, car-pooling, shared cars, and scooters, as well as shared micro-mobility including e-scooters, e-bikes and bicycles, offer users the opportunity to reduce travel time and necessary changes from one mode to another, or between different lines.

Social Benefits

Shared mobility services enhance accessibility, particularly benefiting those unable to afford private car ownership. Cost-effective options, such as ride-sharing, car-sharing and shared micro-mobility, make transportation financially feasible, reducing the burden of owning and maintaining a personal vehicle. Shared mobility promotes inclusivity by addressing the last-mile challenge and tailoring services to diverse mobility needs. As new mobility services often do not cause tailpipe emissions, they also play a key role in reducing emissions.

Cities embracing shared mobility and enhancing public transport have the opportunity to reimagine urban streets as more democratic spaces. By reducing reliance on private cars through shared mobility options, cities can allocate less space to parking and traffic lanes, freeing up areas for pedestrian zones, green spaces, and recreational facilities. This shift contributes to a more equitable distribution of public space, prioritizing community needs over individual vehicle storage. Improved public transport infrastructure also encourages people to choose sustainable modes of transportation, reducing congestion and creating a more inclusive environment where citizens can walk, cycle, and socialize freely. In essence, shared mobility facilitates a democratic transformation of urban landscapes.

Political will

Creating a framework that seizes the full potential of emerging services as well as improving traditional public transport requires political will. In 2021, the average number of passenger cars per inhabitant in the EU was 0.57 [1]. Regardless of the reason, restrictions or perceived restrictions in the use of privately owned cars can cause dissatisfaction of a significant share of the population and the electorate. Despite all potential benefits, any major decision to move away from car-centric city planning and investments may result in losing votes. It requires an inclusive approach to changing urban mobility for good, without any group feeling neglected or discriminated against. Political courage and strategic communication are essential elements in navigating the transition towards shared mobility and enhanced public transport.

Leaders must convey the immediate and long-term benefits of these changes, assuring the public that the shift is not about deprivation but about creating a more sustainable, inclusive, and liveable urban environment. Addressing concerns about potential dissatisfaction, policymakers should emphasize the positive impact on overall quality of life, reduced congestion, and improved air quality. Engaging with communities, stakeholders, and the electorate in the decision-making process ensures that diverse perspectives are considered, fostering a sense of ownership and understanding in the journey towards a more democratic and sustainable urban mobility landscape.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the challenges faced by European cities demand innovative solutions that go beyond traditional urban planning. Shared mobility emerges as a transformative force, offering a viable alternative to private car ownership. A diverse portfolio of mobility options, including public transport and shared services, paired with conditions that facilitate their use, is key to reducing the dependency on individual vehicles. The social benefits of shared mobility extend beyond accessibility, inclusivity, and environmental sustainability. However, realizing this vision requires political will and strategic communication. Leaders must navigate the delicate balance of addressing mobility challenges while considering public sentiment. By fostering an inclusive approach and engaging communities, the transition to shared mobility and improved public transport becomes not just a policy shift but a collective journey towards affordability, more democratic use of space, sustainable and liveable urban environment.

Bibliography

[1] 

Eurostat, “Number of cars per inhabitant increased in 2021,” May 2023. [Online]. Available: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/w/ddn-20230530-1. [Accessed January 2024].



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