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.

 
 
 
 

To make electric vehicles happen, the government must devolve energy policy to councils

The future. Image: Getty.

Last week, the Guardian revealed that at least a quarter of councils have halted the roll-out of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure with no plans to resume its installation. This is a fully charged battery-worth of miles short of ideal, given the ambitious decarbonisation targets to which the UK is rightly working.

It’s even more startling given the current focus on inclusive growth, for the switch to EVs is an economic advancement, on an individual and societal level. Decarbonisation will free up resources and push growth, but the way in which we go about it will have impacts for generations after the task is complete.

If there is one lesson that has been not so much taught to us as screamed at us by recent history, it is that the market does not deliver inclusivity by itself. Left to its own devices, the market tends to leave people behind. And people left behind make all kinds of rational decisions, in polling stations and elsewhere that can seem wholly irrational to those charged with keeping pace – as illuminted in Jeremy Harding’s despatch from the ‘periphery’ which has incubated France’s ‘gilet jaunes’ in the London Review of Books.

But what in the name of Nikola Tesla has any of this to do with charging stations? The Localis argument is simple: local government must work strategically with energy network providers to ensure that EV charging stations are rolled out equally across areas, to ensure deprived areas do not face further disadvantage in the switch to EVs. To do so, Ofgem must first devolve certain regulations around energy supply and management to our combined authorities and city regions.


Although it might make sense now to invest in wealthier areas where EVs are already present, if there isn’t infrastructure in place ahead of demand elsewhere, then we risk a ‘tale of two cities’, where decarbonisation is two-speed and its benefits are two-tier.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced on Monday that urban mobility will be an issue for overarching and intelligent strategy moving forward. The issue of fairness must be central to any such strategy, lest it just become a case of more nice things in nice places and a further widening of the social gap in our cities.

This is where the local state comes in. To achieve clean transport across a city, more is needed than just the installation of charging points.  Collaboration must be coordinated between many of a place’s moving parts.

The DfT announcement makes much of open data, which is undoubtedly crucial to realising the goal of a smart city. This awareness of digital infrastructure must also be matched by upgrades to physical infrastructure, if we are going to realise the full network effects of an integrated city, and as we argue in detail in our recent report, it is here that inclusivity can be stitched firmly into the fabric.

Councils know the ins and outs of deprivation within their boundaries and are uniquely placed to bring together stakeholders from across sectors to devise and implement inclusive transport strategy. In the switch to EVs and in the wider Future of Mobility, they must stay a major player in the game.

As transport minister and biographer of Edmund Burke, Jesse Norman has been keen to stress the founding Conservative philosopher’s belief in the duty of those living in the present to respect the traditions of the past and keep this legacy alive for their own successors.

If this is to be a Burkean moment in making the leap to the transformative transport systems of the future, Mr Norman should give due attention to local government’s role as “little platoons” in this process: as committed agents of change whose civic responsibility and knowledge of place can make this mobility revolution happen.

Joe Fyans is head of research at the think tank Localis.