Members' Research Service By / September 2, 2014

Urban mobility: Shifting towards sustainable transport systems

Written by Ariane Debyser Urban mobility is confronted by many challenges, the key one being traffic congestion: urbanisation and a…

© trekandphoto / Fotolia
Written by Ariane Debyser

Urban mobility is confronted by many challenges, the key one being traffic congestion: urbanisation and a high dependence on cars having led to congestion in urban areas. Traffic congestion adversely impacts the urban environment itself in a direct way, leading to poor air quality, noise emissions, high levels of CO2 and road safety problems. It also affects current and future economic competitiveness, social cohesion and the continent’s sustainable growth.

Tackling urban mobility while minimising its undesirable impacts on the economy, society and the environment i.e. improving sustainable urban mobility goes beyond focusing on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of transport systems, also covering in particular demand-orientated measures, such as promoting walking, cycling, and a reduction in the need to travel.

Urban mobility in the EU
© trekandphoto / Fotolia

While many cities are experiencing serious mobility issues, the effects of demographic and socio-economic changes such as ageing populations, migration, processes of suburbanisation and urban sprawl touch them in different ways and thus confront them with different mobility challenges. The ability of local entities or cities to act on mobility issues is also dependent on their regulatory and funding powers as well as their situation in terms of wealth and resources. Though dealing with urban mobility is primarily the responsibility of local, regional or national authorities, the EU has for many years placed urban mobility at the top of the EU agenda.

The EU’s response in this field can be delivered by several EU policies and instruments. These range from the adoption of legislation to the definition of guidelines and recommendations, applying in particular to the urban level and/or urban transport, or funding of urban mobility projects. While urban transport systems fall within the scope of European transport policy, several other EU policies such as the Cohesion Policy, the Trans-European Networks policy, environmental policy, health policy, and research policy have to take into account the urban dimension, including mobility, to reach their objectives.

The most recent European Strategy in the area of transport – the 2011 White Paper – in particular underlined that urban mobility called for the setting-up of a mixed strategy embracing land-use planning, pricing schemes, efficient public transport services and infrastructures for non-motorised modes, charging/refueling of clean vehicles and that cities above a certain size should be encouraged to develop urban mobility plans.

In December 2013, the European Commission adopted an Urban Mobility Package. With this it intends to intensify its support in the areas where the EU adds value and to encourage Member States to create the right framework conditions for local authorities to develop and implement comprehensive and integrated urban mobility strategies.

The European Parliament has, on several occasions, highlighted its support for initiatives in the field of urban mobility, underscoring especially the importance of sustainable and integrated mobility plans, of tackling the mobility needs of certain groups e.g. the disabled, the elderly or the least affluent, and of providing alternatives to car use such as walking, cycling, and public transport so that citizens can change their habits. The new EC urban mobility package is to be examined by the EP under the new legislature.

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