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.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.