Interview conducted by Anne Gadel, Head of Public Affairs at Autonomy
Polis is a network of 68 European cities and regions cooperating for innovative transport solutions. Karen Vancluysen, Polis’ Secretary General as well as a previous and future speaker at the Urban Mobility Summit, sat down with us to discuss the transportation solutions mayors are seeking to improve their cities, the importance of collaboration between public and private actors and Polis’ exciting future projects.
What are the major mobility trends that you see in cities right now?
Cities’ mobility policies and related trends are driven by the transport challenges that they face and the extent to which certain transport measures or modes can help to address these challenges. The biggest problems remain air and noise pollution, congestion and safety. Cities want to be places that are nice to live and work in and to visit. That means giving more space to and creating streets for people instead of for vehicles. Prioritising cycling and walking are therefore a growing trend, through pedestrianisation, bold circulation plans that lead cars out of the city centre, bikesharing schemes, etc. Cities are more and more capitalising on the health benefits of active travel, combining sustainable mobility gains with the personal gains of being physically active through walking and cycling. Cities also look into cleaning up fleets and making sure that the cars that are still driving around in their centres are less polluting, e.g. through investments in electromobility and the introduction of access regulations and low-emission zones.
Which issue is getting more attention from mayors: pollution or congestion?
I would say both, though the emphasis might be different depending on the local context and particular challenges of an individual city. Very often and ideally, the measures to tackle congestion and pollution go hand in hand and the key objective in that respect is modal shift. Making cars cleaner in a city might contribute to addressing air pollution, but you will still have congestion, even if clean congestion. Pollution in particular, has been receiving a lot of media attention because cities are struggling to meet the air quality targets as imposed through European legislation, which is forcing them to take drastic measures to protect the health of their citizens. Such measures might not be popular with car drivers and manufacturers, but they are needed to tackle this major societal challenge and guarantee healthier and liveable cities.
Are public actors looking for mobility solutions from the private sector?
Absolutely! A local authority typically has several different transport functions, ranging from contracting transport services and managing traffic to providing travel information. Originally the preserve of the public sector, these tasks are seeing an expanding role for the private sector and other third parties. For instance, the new mobility services market (car and bike sharing, carpooling, etc) has witnessed a substantial growth in third party players. The open data movement has led to a stronger role for smartphone app developers and digital companies in providing traveller information services. In fact, the growth in connected mobility means that local authorities are no longer the primary data holders – service companies, the telecoms industry and vehicle manufacturers often have a better picture of the state of the transport network than the transport authorities themselves.
Cities are open to exploring the potential of new and innovative mobility solutions developed by the private sector, to the extent that these can help them to reach their sustainable mobility policy goals. Intelligent transport systems can increase the efficiency of the urban transport system, while new mobility services could complement traditional public transport to meet the needs of specific target groups or provide sustainable alternatives to private car use in off-peak periods or remote areas. What is crucial however, is that cities put the right regulatory frameworks in place to make sure such new solutions indeed serve their policy agenda and for example don’t take customers away from public transport or take people off their bikes. That’s why they also need better insights into the actual impact of such new services coming to the market, for which data sharing between public and private parties is crucial.
What are some big upcoming projects for Polis network?
Currently we are looking at the potential impact of and the best role for cities and regions in the roll-out of much-talked about innovations such as Mobility as a Service and automated transport. It is clear that there is a need for the public sector to take up a steering role and set the right framework for these new developments, because otherwise they may very well have the opposite effect compared to the benefits they claim to be bringing, such as reduced use of the private car and improved safety. Polis has recently published to discussion papers on these topics which put forward a number of issues that require further research and debate in order to properly frame these innovations and avoid that they become disruptive. They have met with a lot of interest from the sector, and our cities and regions look forward to engaging in further discussions and joining forces with research and industry stakeholders.
Similarly, we’ll dig deeper this year into the regulatory frameworks & governance issues related to new and often shared mobility services. Next to that, we’ll continue our work related to the daily realities of managing transport in cities, on topics such as the roll-out of multimodal electromobility, reducing the adverse impacts of urban freight transport, protecting the safety of vulnerable road users, promoting active travel policies, smart access regulations and parking management. We won’t be bored!
How do you like to move around your city?
I hardly ever drive a car. Within my own city I do almost all my trips by bike. To go to work, I first walk my kids to school, then cycle on to the station, take the train and walk from the station to the office. I track my trips through an app and it’s great to see how you can reach recommended physical activity goals just by prioritising active travel modes when moving around.