Smart mobility must be hardwired into the DNA of European cities

Oooooh. Image: creative commons.

Europeans have never been afraid to rethink how they navigate the cities they call home. In 1770 retired French Army Captain Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot changed the world forever. After years of painstaking work Cugnot assembled a steam-powered three-wheeled vehicle capable of reaching speeds of up to 2.5mph. Trialled in the suburbs of Paris with the backing of King Louis XV, Cugnot’s creation is widely credited as being the world’s first automobile.

Just over a century later visitors to the Berlin Trade Fair in 1879 were greeted by the unveiling of the world’s first electric passenger train by German industrialist Werner von Siemens. Carrying just 18 passengers across three carriages, the innovation prompted the construction of kilometre after kilometre of electrified railway across Europe and beyond.

For centuries European innovators have led the world in creating new modes of mobility. With chronic city noise and air pollution and traffic congestion showing no signs of going away however, it’s clear that European cities must once again embrace this spirit of innovation.

Each day nearly 70m Europeans in urban areas are exposed to noise levels in excess of 55 decibels from traffic alone. The European Environment Agency estimates that more than 400,000 premature deaths are linked to air pollution each year across the continent. Londoners spend 73 hours a year in jams while for Muscovites the figure is 91 hours, nearly four days. Parisians now sit in traffic jams for more than 60 hours each year.

Europeans are taking a hit to their wallets, too, as the cost of personal mobility continues to rise. Italians leasing petrol cars fork out an average £583 a month to operate their vehicle. European nations account for 60 per cent of the top ten most expensive countries in which to fill up a vehicle With the average car parked 95 per cent of the time, running a conventional petrol or diesel car has become a highly inefficient use of resources.


Europeans are crying out for radical mobility solutions that challenge the zeitgeist. Citizens are loath to use transport today that threatens the environment tomorrow. Europe’s municipal leaders must be prepared to engage in a profound discussion as to what mobility will mean to the citizens of the future. Gone are the days of planning city transport infrastructure around privately-owned vehicles that pollute the planet and run up huge costs for users. The future belongs to those who embrace mobility as a service.

MaaS is a data-driven mobility model made possible by the growth of smart technology. Central to this is the next generation of transport solutions that use data to deliver transport on demand that is both cheaper and less polluting than conventional methods such as private vehicles. MaaS means using data to direct a city’s transport resources to where they are most needed, helping to slash costs for both users and city authorities.

In London, Lisbon and Milan, EU-funded smart cities programme Sharing Cities is testing an innovative app-based electric vehicle sharing scheme. The pilot is set to introduce 103 electric cars in sharing schemes in which users can hire electric vehicles on an on-demand basis. Whereas privately-owned petrol and diesel vehicles exacerbate air pollution and create a huge cost burden for commuters, city-owned electric vehicles represent an affordable smart mobility service suitable for the cities of the future.

E-bikes also present an increasingly attractive option for commuters looking to keep costs low and quickly navigate congested city streets. With the global e-bike market set to grow by more than 60 per cent by 2025, investing in charging points is a must for cities looking to embrace the mobility solutions of the future. Sharing Cities is introducing 374 electric bikes in a bid to slash congestion and drive a shift away from the petrol and diesel vehicles that clog up roads across Europe.

Europeans’ insatiable appetite for innovation is as evident now as it ever was. The smart city technologies of today provide a tantalising prospect for the cities of tomorrow. Perennial problems that plague people who live and work and cities will remain unless European leaders embrace those radical data-driven smart mobility solutions that create new value for citizens and city authorities alike. Now more than ever city leaders must move mountains to put smarter mobility at the top of their agenda.

Nathan Pierce is head of Smart London and programme director of Sharing Cities one of 12 Horizon 2020 Smart Cities and Communities and Lighthouse Projects.

 
 
 
 

The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.