Urban transport and mobility

From transport towards environmentally friendly participation in urban life

Mobility is not just about getting from A to B. It means being able to access education, culture, employment and leisure using safe, swift, environmentally friendly and affordable transport options. In cities and conurbations in particular, mobility means the ability to participate in society. In urban areas, the way we get around is changing rapidly - we need sustainable innovations and new concepts for combining different means of transport.

 Cars dominate urban areas, taking up a lot of space, causing noise and producing harmful fumes that impact negatively on both the health of urban residents and the climate. They also restrict the flow of transport used by those who cannot afford their own cars. Cities in developing and emerging countries, which are seeing their economies develop rapidly and their populations swell, are facing rising pressure as a result of the numbers of private cars on the roads. Buses and trams get snarled in traffic jams, and often do not serve all parts of town, forcing residents to walk long distances along roads that have no safe pavements or footpaths. Many disadvantaged urban areas do not have paved supply routes, which makes it difficult to deliver to shops and businesses and poses a serious obstacle to emergency service vehicles.

In many European cities, by contrast, the number of trips taken by private car is falling. People are increasingly using local public transport, bicycles or car-sharing schemes. In Berlin, for instance, private cars are used for 31 per cent of all trips, while the rest are undertaken in a more environmentally friendly way either on foot (30 per cent), using local public transport (26 per cent) or by bicycle (13 per cent). In Copenhagen bicycles are actually the most frequently used means of transport, and in London more people travel by underground, bus or rail than by private car. Cars are also changing: more people are using smaller cars, more and more cars are powered by electricity or gas, and car-sharing schemes are becoming increasingly popular. Even major car manufacturers have recognised the changing user needs and now operate systems under which several people share a car and pay only when they actually use it. Internet sites bring together drivers with people looking for a lift, while public bike hire systems are booming in large and medium-sized cities.  

In Guangzhou, China, in Johannesburg, South Africa and in Medellín and Bogotá, Colombia, new mobility concepts are also being embraced: Bogotá's TransMillenio bus rapid transit system has dedicated dual bus lanes, which it uses to transport two million people a day. It achieves an average speed of up to 30 km/h, cutting the journey time for many commuters between home and the city centre by more than half. Some bus stops also have bicycle stations, while minibuses shuttle people from their districts to the high speed bus stations. In Guangzhou, the high speed bus corridors are also integrated with the city's metro system, and about 5,000 hire bikes are available at over 100 stations, rounding off the effective local public transport system.

Since 2009 Johannesburg has also had a new bus rapid transit system Rea Vaya. It links the townships of Soweto, which had hitherto only been served by minibus taxis, with the city centre. The buses are low-emission vehicles and have significantly reduced the journey time from Soweto to the city centre. Along the new bus corridors, new buildings are springing up, serving different uses and linking the different urban districts.

Cities and metropolitan regions in many countries are endeavouring to combine the various means of transport as effectively as possible: rapid urban railways, underground and regional rail systems, buses, trams, private cars, bicycles and foot traffic. The model of the combined public transport system developed in Hamburg in 1960 has since been adopted by most cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Since the 1960s Germany has consistently worked to accelerate local public transport systems, either by introducing dedicated rails, by establishing and expanding urban rail networks and underground railway systems, and by introducing dedicated bus lanes and giving public transport priority at traffic lights. In recent years, many German cities have developed new bicycle and pedestrian concepts. In 2013 Munich hosted WALK21, the largest international conference on walking and liveable communities.

In other parts of Europe and the world, local public transport authorities are also organising integrated and attractive transport services that go well beyond the city limits. Coordinated timetables, the physical integration of stops and stations, pedestrian networks and cycle paths, clear and accessible information, and affordable prices are especially important for users. The passenger-oriented development of mobility services is thus the key challenge in fostering environmentally friendly urban mobility. To ensure that neither citizens, business nor the environment is left behind, traffic and transport policies, urban development plans and mobility plans should always be closely linked.

Top