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Smart mobility within cities: benefits and challenges

Cities have an important role to play in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and in reaching the goals of the European Green Deal, since cities are responsible for about 72% of all greenhouse gas emissions, a considerable part of which comes from urban transport. In its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, the European Commission calls on cities to be at the forefront of the transition towards more sustainability, and it sets the goal of achieving 100 European climate-neutral cities by 2030, with a big role for innovative digital solutions. Dr2 Consultants will take you through the key trends and challenges in the transition to smart and sustainable mobility in European cities.

Why does smart mobility in cities matter?

The idea behind the concept of smart mobility is to limit the use, or replace altogether, privately owned gas-powered vehicles by providing easily accessible, cheap, and sustainable alternatives, as well as using technology and digitalization, specifically Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), to collect, process and spread information in order to manage mobility more efficiently. The main objectives of smart mobility are to reduce traffic congestion and air and noise pollution, increase safety, improve transfer speed, and reduce transfer costs between different modes of transportation. Smart solutions for mobility are also recognized as essential to further decarbonize the transport sector and reach the ambitious emission reduction goals the EU institutions have set.

In practice, cities have a variety of options to implement smart mobility with solutions fitting for their residents. The concept of smart mobility promotes a wide range of alternative modes of transportation, from privately owned or shared bicycles to electric scooters, buses, metros, taxis, car-sharing, and ridesharing. For example, the city of Paris has bet on the development of a widespread bike-sharing system, with 15,000 electric or regular bicycles available to users all throughout the city.

Dr2 Consultants recognizes that digitization and especially data management are a big part of smart mobility, allowing to smoothen traffic as well as offering integrated solutions to users. For example, some cities collect data to provide real-time information allowing travelers to adapt their route to avoid congested areas. Other examples include connected traffic lights adjusting their timing to respond to real-time traffic or connected cars able to identify and direct the driver to the nearest available parking spot.

Heightened ambition

The European Commission’s recently published Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility proposes several measures to make the transition to carbon-neutral smart cities a reality. The Strategy recognizes the need for clearer guidance in mobility management and urban planning, to adapt the shifts in transportation habits as well as provide the most adequate sustainable mobility options. In it, the European Commission identifies several concepts which can be added to cities’ policy toolboxes to decarbonize urban mobility in a smart way.

The strategy encourages the development of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) as an alternative to the use of private cars. Dr2 Consultants has identified MaaS as a very important area in the field of digitization of mobility, as it integrates different forms of transport into a unique digital service, easily accessible on-demand. It provides, within a single application and through a single payment channel, access to various forms of transport such as public transport, ride- or bike-sharing, and car rental. The city of Helsinki has for example made available to its inhabitants the Whim app, which allows to plan a trip and pay for all modes of public and private transportation existing within the city, from train to bus, to carshare and bikeshare.

Additionally, the Commission notes the increased use of shared and collaborative mobility services as alternative to private cars or packed public transport, such as shared cars, shared bikes, or ride-hailing, through intermediary platforms like Uber or Lime. Shared mobility and micro mobility devices currently remain highly unregulated and raise important safety issues.  To ensure the safety of such services and the level playing field between intermediaries, the Commission will put forward measures on on-demand passenger transport and ride-hailing platforms. Moreover, the Commission will issue guidelines to support the safe use of micro mobility devices such as e-bikes, scooters, or e-skateboards.

Finally, the growth of the e-commerce sector, even more so due to COVID-19, has seen an increase in deliveries. This raises the needs for multimodal logistics solutions, to avoid unnecessary delivery runs and congestion. According to the Commission, cities’ urban plans should accelerate the deployment of zero-emission solutions, such as cargo bikes or automated deliveries through drones. For cities crossed by rivers and other waterways, those should be used to relieve traffic congestion pressure from streets and roads. In Amsterdam, for example, the municipality uses electric boats to transport goods across the city, using the city’s wide network of canals. Delivery service provider DHL also uses the canals to facilitate deliveries, thanks to floating distribution centers.

Challenges in implementing smart mobility solutions within cities

Even though the advantages of the rollout of smart and sustainable mobility in cities are clear, there are still several challenges that need to be overcome to make the most out of the transformation of the mobility system.

Users

However, Dr2 Consultants recognizes that the biggest obstacle to the introduction of smart mobility solutions remains the users themselves. Complaints when municipalities decide to reduce speed limits or turn streets into pedestrian areas, are frequent. Especially when the implementation of smart mobility strategies requires significant changes to cities’ infrastructure, from bike lanes to electric charging points, which ask for heavy investments and public work, inhabitants seem less acceptant.

Security and Privacy

Smart mobility resting mostly on collection and use of data to feed Intelligent Transport Systems, raise the usual concern for security and privacy. Therefore, properly securing such systems is extremely important to avoid data breaches or misuse of data collected. Ensuring their security also contributes to increasing citizens’ trust in data-sharing, ensuring a widespread collection of data necessary to have the most up-to-date and relevant information, and in turn provide the most precise service.

Deployment of 5G networks

Additionally, the increased automation needed for smart mobility solutions relies on the widespread deployment of wireless mobile telecommunication systems, and especially newly introduced 5G systems, capable of supporting extremely high level of interconnections and uninterrupted data exchanges. The deployment of 5G networks is not equal within territories, and said networks also need to be properly secured. The Commission aims to tackle these challenges in its 5G Action Plan (published last year).

Accessibility

Increased digitalization of mobility also needs to consider accessibility, keeping user demand in mind when designing new urban plans and innovations, for elderly and disabled people. Not everyone knows, can or has the devices needed to use an app to plan their trip or book multimodal tickets. If accessibility is not at the core of urban planning, the solutions and innovations proposed risk not being widely deployed, limiting the potential benefits.

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Summer recess – what’s next?

As EU leaders agreed on a new proposal for the new Multiannual Financial Framework and the Recovery Plan on 21 July, the European Parliament was given good food for thought over its summer recess. However, the new long-term budget is not the only priority on the EU agenda. The Commission is already chewing on a series of proposals to be expected later this year and in 2021. In fact, now is the moment to deliver input on some key, planned legislative proposals, as the Commission launched a series of public consultations that are open until after summer. Let’s have a look what is next after the 2020 summer recess.

Transport: smarter and greener

The green and digital transition as the twin priorities of the Von der Leyen Commission are also reflected in the upcoming transport initiatives. To deliver the ambitious European Green Deal climate neutrality objective, the mobility sector needs a 90% emission reduction by 2050. The Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility, expected towards the end of the year, will be the overarching strategy for the delivery of the twin transitions in this area. Stakeholders can contribute to the public consultation until 23 September.

Expectedly, the strategy will include the integration of alternative fuels, in line with the recently published hydrogen strategy that already outlines a pathway for the deployment until 2050 in all modes. The strategy is also complemented by the upcoming FuelEU initiatives for the maritime and aviation sector. The FuelEU Maritime initiative, aimed at boosing alternative fuels in shipping specifically, is open for feedback until 10 September. The public consultation on ReFuelEU Aviation, initially planned for the first quarter of 2020, is still to be expected ahead of the Commission proposal this year.

Sustainability: a bigger role for tax

Taxation will become a more important instrument for the Commission to align consumer choices and business investments with its climate targets. On 23 July, public consultations on both the revision of the Energy Taxation Directive and the creation of a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism were launched. Having been unchanged since its adoption in 2003, the Energy Taxation Directive will be subject to a thorough review. The exact changes are yet to be determined based on the consultation outcome, however, what is clear is that it will include a correction of the minimum taxation rates for electricity, gas, and coal, as well as a tax exemption reduction for fossil fuels. The proposal, which is part of the European Green Deal, is scheduled for June 2021. The consultation is open for feedback until 14 October.

In addition, the Commission proposes a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism to prevent ‘carbon leakage’. This ‘CO2-tax’ internalizes emissions in the price of a product, so production does not shift to countries with lower climate ambitions. The exact instrument is still to be determined, and could take the form of an EU-wide import tax or an extension of the Emmission Trading System (ETS). The latter has already seen critical responses, as this may not be in line with WTO rules. The Commission plans to scrutinize the issue and present a proposal later this year. The revenues would directly contribute to the ‘own resources’ of the EU budget for the next seven years that would help finance the new €750 billion recovery plan. Stakeholders can deliver their contribution to the plan until 28 October.

Digital: fit for the COVID-19 reality

Following its pledge to make Europe ‘fit for the digital age’, the Digital Education Action Plan and the Digital Services Act are also high on the Commission’s agenda. The Digital Education Action Plan, due to be published in September this year, will be part of the Next Generation EU program. The COVID-19 crisis has seen schools and universities close their doors and increasingly turn to remote, digital teaching. The Action Plan aims to promote high-quality and inclusive education and training in the post-COVID digital reality. Feedback on the proposal can be delivered until 4 September.

Part of the Next Generation EU financing is the digital tax element of the Digital Services Act, to be presented by the end of 2020. The Digital Services Act is an attempt to regulate online platforms when it comes to illegal goods, product safety, political advertising and offensive content. The initiative may face intense debates before its approval, as previous attempts to implement an EU-wide Digital Taxation mechanism have so far been unsuccessful. The consultation remains open until 8 September.

Next steps

The Commission’s proposals on the above initiatives are expected before the end of 2020, except for the Energy Taxation Directive which is due in June next year. From the above-mentioned public consultations, it is evident that the European Commission is gearing up for a busy end-of-year period. Early (proactive) action is desirable for stakeholders that aim to represent their interests on these files, which will also be closely examined by the European Parliament and Council of the EU in 2021 (and later).

Want to know more about the upcoming initiatives, COVID-19, or other files that might affect your business? Please contact Dr2 Consultants to see what we can do for you.