#46 - 18 September 2020

Thinking about future mobility

The recovery of mobility in cities is no longer an issue. With lockdown over almost everywhere, the ghost towns of this spring are gone, and activities and trips have resumed. In many countries, an individualization of mobility is taking place, with major consequences. Is this phenomenon compatible with the goal of decarbonizing mobility? Nothing is less certain.

First of all, the coronavirus outbreak has led to an increase in the number of kilometers travelled by car compared to a “normal” period. In France, for example, the number of kilometers traveled has not only return to its normal value: it has exceeded it. Secondly, this strong recovery of individual means of transportation (bicycles, micromobility, cars, etc.) has mainly taken place at the expense of public transport. Indeed, buses and metros can be considered riskier than cars from a sanitary standpoint, even though data tends to show that public transportation is not as important a vector of contamination as it might appear. This is possible thanks to the widespread use of masks in mass transit. As a result, in France or Spain, no clusters have yet been identified in public transport. However, the damage is done: while many cities’ public transport offer has returned to normal levels, ridership is struggling to reach pre-lockdown levels, with the exception of Lyon and Saint-Petersburg, according to a recent index published by CityMapper. This could lead to an unprecedented and dangerous financial situation for public transport authorities. The direct consequence this type of financial crisis is the potential discontinuity of public transit services, the backbone of urban travel. In the United States, the American Public Transportation Association has reported that nearly 60% of transit authorities are considering reducing transit services, while one third of operators may have to close.

How can we ensure that the recovery, which will necessarily be complex and multifaceted, is compatible with the mobility challenges cities will face? We need to step away from overly simplistic rationales: developing new solutions like electric or hydrogen buses and cars won’t suffice. Solutions to decarbonize mobility already exist. Rather, we must work to create the conditions that will enable public transit or carpooling to become more competitive than individual and motorized modes of transport. Cities are already thinking about how to address this challenge. For example, the San Francisco County Transportation Agency recently launched a study to assess whether a potential congestion charge could improve the future of mobility in the city. This example shows another central issue that has yet to be solved: the funding of mobility. Bankruptcy is not an option for mass transit. In this respect, strategies aimed at setting fare-free public transport could be considered anachronistic. To put it differently: “the recovery of mobility will be sustainable or will not be at all”. – Camille Combe, Project Leader


No time to read? La Fabrique de la Cité has got you covered.

UPDATING EV PRICING – This is the end of the time-based pricing of electric car charge. Or is it? In 23 American states that are allowing pricing per kWh consumed, the cost of charging an electric vehicle will be 43cts per kWh (31 cts per kWh for service subscribers) on the entire Electrify America network, even though the cost of the domestic kWh can double from one state to the next. – Camille Combe, Project Leader

Related: read our report, Funding mobility in a post-carbon world, in which we explore new pricing models for EV use.

REFUGEES WELCOME – In 2015, Germany welcomed 890,000 asylum-seekers. Since then, German cities have deployed ingenious and efficient solutions to ensure all newcomers were properly housed. This week, German cities and states once again declared themselves ready to take in new migrants, following the fire that ravaged the Moria camp in Greece.

→ Related: our study on German cities’ successful emergency/temporary housing strategies following the 2015 migratory crisis.

MIXED MESSAGES A study found that British business leaders are planning a long-term reorganization of work methods that could lead to profound changes in cities due to a possible and “lasting exodus from offices”. PwC and Legal & General have for instance declared that their employees would keep on working from home, at least part of the time. Yet others like JP Morgan have back-pedaled on telework since finding evidence of a decrease in productivity. – Romain Morin, Research Assistant

→ Related: our recent series on cities in the coronavirus era, “Across cities in crisis”.

– On 8 October at 4:00 pm (GMT+8:00), Singapore's Centre for Liveable Cities will feature Glasgow City Councillor Susan Aitken and city planner Greg Clark on Glasgow's strategies to decarbonize both its infrastructure and its economy. The city's goal is to become the first British city to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. – Sarah Cosatto, Research Officer

→ Related: our study project about the post-carbon city: stay tuned to discover our upcoming report on the subject.

Recent publications