Mobility responses to the urban jungle

By Dr. Teresa de la Cruz, Project Manager and Dr. Beatriz Royo, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at ZLC

Zaragoza Logistics Center is delighted to be co-ordinating work on the new SPROUT or Sustainable Policy RespOnse to Urban mobility Transport project. This is a three-year venture with €4.4 million funding, largely from the EU’s Horizon 2020 budget, to test practical solutions to mobility problems (both passenger and freight) in the mid-sized cities of Europe, and beyond, and to use this experience to create robust guidance on creating policy responses for the future.

By 2050, it is expected that over 80% of the European population will be living in urban and peri-urban areas. This will aggravate recognised problems of carbon emission, air pollution, road congestion, travelling costs, accidents and noise. Although the EU has been funding initiatives in this field for over a decade and a few cities have developed effective new policies, many cities are trailing behind.

Conventional policy approaches such as access restrictions and road charging have proved inadequate in addressing even current problems but cities and their transport needs are evolving rapidly. The rise in e-commerce and relative decline in physical ‘shopping’, for example, may see fewer consumers and retail workers travelling to urban centres, but greater delivery traffic in residential areas. The optimal size and location of distribution centres will change. Meanwhile, central business districts may re-acquire residential populations. Alongside these trends, there are other mobility issues which existing policies have largely ignored – meeting the transport needs of an ageing population and of other vulnerable groups, or making transport more accessible for those with low educational attainments, cultural issues, or to non-native speakers (migrants or tourists), for example.

At the same time, a host of possible solutions are being offered. There are new business models like Uber and other shared-asset approaches, technologies from autonomous vehicles to e-scooters, and ways of combining passengers and freight in the same movement, all enabled by digital technologies. But every urban area is different – not only physically (grid-plan boulevards, or medieval street patterns) but in how and where policy responses are developed, at national, regional/ conurbation, or even more local level. Insight on how effective, futureproof, policy responses can be developed and implemented is urgently needed.

SPROUT is a programme of real-life implementations, driven by cities (although with robust academic support). Six pilot cities will be testing different urban mobility solutions. SPROUT’s work starts by creating an understanding of the current state of urban mobility, and identifying the drivers of future change. From this, city-specific scenarios will be created and examined for their impacts on sustainability and on policy requirements. The cities will look at likely impacts and operational feasibility, identify areas where policy interventions, such as revised regulations, will be needed and what policy response alternatives there are, and then test and validate the pilot solutions and assess their financial, environmental and social impacts.

SPROUT takes a data-driven approach: discovering what data is available in each city, and how (if) it is being used to create performance indicators and formulate policies, is a crucial challenge. It is already evident that the type and quantity of data available in the different cities varies greatly, with common gaps in freight data

The pilot solutions cover a broad spectrum. Valencia in Spain will be looking at intermodal hubs within the city boundaries bringing together passenger and freight traffic, both public and private. Padua, Italy is to trial self-driving pods for ‘cargo-hitching’, giving passenger transport an additional freight-carrying capacity. In Kalisz, Poland the Internet of Things is to be used for the planning, booking and dynamic management of parking and load/unload operations. Shared mobility, through dockless bike-sharing and car-sharing systems, is the focus of work in Budapest, while in Tel Aviv, Israel, data-driven planning and traffic management strategies will attempt to prioritise non-motorised transport modes and vulnerable road users. Finally the city of Ningbo in China is to explore solutions to problems around very short-range or hyper-local freight transport.

The pilots vary somewhat in their focus: passenger, freight or integrated; from the very local to the peri-urban; and emphases on different special user groups. Policy priorities vary too: mobility itself, land-use, gender/age issues, financing have greater or lesser weight in the different cities.

Also funded from SPROUT is a second layer of nine ‘validator’ cities and urban areas (including Minneapolis in the US), each of which will be contributing to the revision and testing of one or more of the pilot solutions (thus ensuring that findings are generally applicable and not the result of an entirely unique situation). There is also a third layer of, currently, 25 cities closely following the project so they can learn from it.   In order to facilitate the discussion, debate and further validation of the results, an Open Innovation Community on Urban Mobility Policy has been setup. This Community gathers together stakeholders related to urban mobility policies, bringing together relevant experiences and insight from the EU, the US and China. The MIT-CTL is already member. The Community will be online imminently and it is hoped will grow further.

Besides ZLC and the abovementioned pilot and validation cities, other SPROUT members are international organisations, transport authorities, universities and research centres (including our MIT Network partner the Supply Chain Innovation Institute in Ningbo). The Polis network of cities is also involved.

The overall objective is not just to prove out these particular mobility solutions, but to create real improvements in the capacity of cities worldwide to think through their current and future mobility issues and build policy-making capacity at urban, national and international level.

For more information about SPROUT please contact Teresa de la Cruz at  [email protected]