#46 - 18 September 2020

Putting innovation back on the road to progress

Jumping just ten years back in time is enough to realize that urban mobility has evolved considerably. Over the last decade, we have witnessed the arrival of new tech players, who, with the help of large fleets of vehicles, have carved out a place for themselves in a sector that, historically, had largely remained the same. In metropolitan areas, scooters, e-bikes, public transportation, cars and carpooling now form the different means of transport citizens can use to move. However, while modes are changing, the challenges remain and are more acute than ever.

When it comes to the mobility of the future, one thing is for sure: the main imperative is no longer velocity but the sustainability of transport, and in particular the reduction of mobility’s carbon footprint on a global scale. The stakes are high and there is much room for progress. The transportation sector now accounts for nearly a quarter of global GHG emissions (24,5%, according to the International Energy Agency). In Europe, a sectorial analysis of CO2 emissions shows that transport is the only sector to have seen its emissions level increase between 1990 and 2014.

Will these innovations provide an effective response to the challenge of reducing mobility’s GHG emissions? A recent study conducted by the International Transport Forum and based on a life-cycle analysis examined the performance of new means of transport in terms of CO2 emissions. The verdict: new services of transport coming from the tech revolution of mobility are struggling to outperform public transport. On the other side of the spectrum, ride-hailing services and taxis are the most emissive modes. And while recent promises to electrify all or part of TNC fleets in some major cities are a step in the right direction in an attempt to reduce their carbon footprint, these efforts will not bring these services’ emissions down to the level of public transport… or even to the level of an internal combustion engine car (ICE). Therefore, one of the main levers for reducing these modes’ GHG emissions (excluding micro-mobility) lies in a simple, yet complicated, solution: increasing the number of passengers transported.

Putting these innovations back on the road of progress to decarbonize mobility will require more than the expected electrification of vehicle fleets. The high-tech approach, which is necessary since it brings new solutions and optimizations, must be complemented by a new approach. As the ITF shows in its recent Transport Climate Action Directory, the decarbonization of mobility requires a much more complex strategy. Let’s be sure of one thing: technique and technology cannot be the only answer to mobility issues. Answering these challenges will require a more systemic approach and actions on both soft (training, education) and hard (services, infrastructures, etc.) sides, using both high-tech tools (data, algorithms, platform, etc.) and low-tech tools (facilities, etc.). – Camille Combe, Project Leader


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

TURNING TABLES While the European Court of Justice has just ruled in favor of French law regarding the regulation of short-term rentals, Airbnb has announced it wants to strengthen its relationships with cities. The platform declared it would give local authorities broader access to data through an online portal aimed at allowing them to adjust their housing and tourism policies. These developments underline the key issue of data in city planning. – Romain Morin, Research assistant

→ Related: our interview of Antoine Courmont, researcher in political science and scientific director of the Cities and Tech Chair at Sciences Po, about the governance of cities through and with digital data.

CALIFORNIAN SUMMER The summer of 2020 has taken a heavy toll on California : health crisis, wildfires, the disruption of its tourism industry… While cities are partly deserted, rural areas are as attractive or even more than in the previous years. Sarah Cosatto, Research Officer

NEW ENDEAVOR - In May, Sidewalk Labs announced its decision to put an end to its Toronto smart neighborhood project, Quayside. This week, the urban innovation firm announced the launch of a new product: a tool that uses real-time data and automation to optimize energy use in commercial spaces. – Marie Baléo, Head of Studies and Publications

→ Related: our Toronto City Portrait, which includes developments on the strong opposition raised by the Quayside project.

NO MAGIC WAND – The way a building is erected accounts for 80% of its carbon footprint. Which material should be used? Wood has excellent carbon storage capacities but is not the magic wand we have been waiting for. Its production is insufficient and will remain so. Limiting emissions means supporting innovation in all sectors of building materials. Otherwise we risk reserving the low-carbon city to an elite by imposing wood as the alpha and omega of the carbon challenge. – Chloë Voisin-Bormuth, Director of Research and Studies

→ Related: our research program about the post-carbon city.

AN EYE ON AIR Esri, a company specialized in GIS mapping, has just launched an app named Air Quality Aware. Using federal data, Esri reports on air quality at a specific time and how it might evolve. According to Dan Pisut, Environment Content Lead at Esri, the app could help cities “adjust their public health efforts accordingly”. – Sarah Cosatto

→ Related: stay tuned for our upcoming report about active and healthy cities.

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