To innovate tomorrow’s urban transport solutions, we all need to do more with less

With many Europeans at risk of energy transport poverty this winter, we need to take an integrated approach to urban transport and optimise existing infrastructure, vehicles and space use
Tram crossing bridge over the river Tiber, Rome, Italy | Photo: Alamy

By Tiina Ruohonen

Tiina Ruohonen is the Project Coordinator of MOVE21, City of Oslo

21 Oct 2022

How people and goods move in our cities is being disrupted. The changes are numerous and fundamental, encompassing electric vehicles, entirely new vehicle types, shared mobility, micro-mobility and autonomous vehicles.

This disruption intensified and accelerated during the pandemic with transport patterns changing overnight for both passengers and freight. The increase in e-commerce will stay with us, as will many of the new travel habits we acquired.

Now, with an unpredictable war in Ukraine, Europe faces record-high inflation rates and soaring energy and food prices. Many Europeans are at risk of energy and transport poverty as a result.

This is at the forefront of my mind as the Project Coordinator of MOVE21, an innovation project funded by the European Commission. The six cities participating in the initiative – Oslo, Gothenburg, Hamburg, Munich, Bologna and Rome – are working to accelerate the transition to smart, zero-emission and just transport that does not compromise on liveability. Important nodes on the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), the cities are united in their efforts to innovate tomorrow’s transport solutions.

The rapid pace of change, driven by geopolitical realities, new technology and business models and ambitious climate targets, can make it hard for cities to regulate in a coherent fashion. Reality is a lot more fluid and chaotic than what our largely reactive planning tools and systems would have us believe.

Reality is a lot more fluid and chaotic than what our largely reactive planning tools and systems would have us believe.

One far-reaching lesson I’ve learned so far is that an integrated approach to urban transport is vital, and that we all need to do more with less.

In MOVE21, cities view passenger and freight transport together in an integrated way that encompasses infrastructure, technology, governance, and vehicles and their energy sources. This is critical if we are to optimise existing infrastructure, vehicles and space use. This is not only about doing more with less, but about doing it smarter.

An interesting initiative currently being tested in MOVE21 is using existing public transport for moving cargo. This type of cargo-hitching is about taking advantage of vehicles that move anyway, usually public transport, and gives valuable insights into how we can maximise the use of existing transport resources and reduce the number of vehicles in circulation and empty kilometres. Essentially, we are learning how we can do more with less.

An important element for cities in the proposed revision of the TEN-T regulation now under consideration in the European Parliament is to develop interfaces between the TEN-T corridors and the urban fabric in cities to enable multimodality and seamless transport. This means developing multimodal transport hubs and last mile solutions in cities – for freight, passenger transport or a combination of the two.

These hubs and their connection to the TEN-T network can represent a game-changer for transport in Europe, but require vertical and horizontal policy coherence on local, national and European levels. Horizontal and vertical regulation and policy goals exist in a sort of balance, but the pace of change can create policy incoherence and conflicts.

In MOVE21, the mobility innovations being tested are not necessarily coming from new hardware or technological solutions, but from business model and governance innovation as well as unconventional collaborations in transport value chains. This is particularly true for our work on developing multimodal mobility hubs.

Given today’s exorbitant energy prices and resource scarcity, new business models that build on horizontal collaboration and sharing of assets and infrastructure (and thus costs) between competitors are suddenly looking a lot more attractive.

For customers and citizens this means more seamless transport services, and for businesses it means lower investment costs and more optimised operations. As such, the current overlapping crises may catapult a new wave of transport innovation.