The Roadmap to achieve EU goals on urban mobility

Is it possible to change urban mobility in Europe to achieve ambitious sustainability goals? If so, who should do what by when? These questions are answered in a new Roadmap on urban mobility prepared as part of the European FP7 research project TRANSFORuM. To explain further, this article is co-authored by Claus Hedegaard Sørensen & Henrik Gudmundsson (Technical University of Denmark), Jens Schippl & Max Reichenbach (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology), Merethe Dotterud Leiren (Institute of Transport Economics, Oslo), Karen Anderton (University of Oxford, UK), and Ralf Brand (Rupprecht Consult, Cologne).


The point of departure for the Roadmap is the European White Paper on Transport from 2011 (see Box 2), where one of 10 political goals is about achieving clean urban transport and CO2-free city logistics. The Roadmap was formed by extensive consultations with urban transport stakeholders at all levels across the European continent over a two-year period.

The EU goal on urban mobility is ambitious. It sets an unprecedented vision for policy-driven change in urban mobility in Europe. No goal of this kind has been formulated on a continental scale before.

The formulation of the goal could suggest that the path to sustainable urban mobility is to be delivered only through advances in vehicle and fuel technology. However, stakeholders agreed that technological transformation is not the only possible solution to reduce the ‘use’ of conventionally-fuelled cars or to achieve CO2-free city logistics. They suggested that the goal should not be pursued only with a ‘technological fix’ in mind, but should embrace a wider strategy, where activity change and the organisation of mobility and logistics and even urban form are also taken into account.

Moreover, the evidence suggests that the goal is, in principle, achievable. However, action is needed very soon if it is to be reached in time. The 2030 target is only 15 years away and many new vehicles sold in the coming years will still be in use by then. Significant actions at city, national and European levels are needed, guided by political visions and leadership across the board.

Building blocks for change

There is not one or a single set of actions or measures that will be sufficient to reach the White Paper goal. There is a need to adopt a broad range of actions over the next 35 years. In the Roadmap, focus is placed on the following three broad strategic areas:

  • Technological substitution of conventionally-fuelled passenger cars
  • Reduced use of private passenger cars for transport in cities
  • Increased utilisation of low carbon city logistics technologies and practices.

As several promising approaches addressing these areas have already been implemented across countries and political levels, there is no need to start from the beginning. Within and across the strategic areas, a number of building blocks must be used to change transport technology and activity. Figure 1 illustrates how nine building blocks are located within the strategic areas.

The logic behind the figure distinguishes between the two key domains of what is being transported, i.e. passengers and goods, and the two basic approaches of what needs to be changed, i.e. transport technology, and transport activity. How to combine the building blocks within the strategic areas depends on the context of any given city in any given Member State. Managing the process will require new and enhanced governance frameworks.

Governance frameworks

Building blocks only become effective when implemented. In the TRANSFORuM stakeholder consultations, it was frequently highlighted that the roadmap should emphasise ways to ensure the introduction and implementation of more transformative policies in cities. The stakeholders widely agreed that it is essential to bring diverse local actors together and ensure that they are moving in the same direction. The need for enhanced governance frameworks is particularly pressing in the many cities where not much progress has been made so far and where a ‘culture of change’ is lacking. Here it is urgent to foster a ‘political momentum’ for change. However, even in more advanced cities, a broad and stable long-term commitment backed by a wide range of different actors is also needed to move towards achieving the urban mobility goal.

City and regional stakeholders are fundamentally important to the realisation of the goal. Even if general technological developments, market conditions, and national policy initiatives strongly influence urban mobility, the empowerment of cities to become drivers of transformation is an important issue. The urban goal has to be connected to relevant local conditions and long-term visions in each city in a way that makes the goal more meaningful to individual cities in Europe.

Another important issue is how to generate funding that may contribute to change. Even if much can be done to improve urban mobility and reduce CO2 emissions without having to invest in costly infrastructures, new sources of funding from different scales can allow for new solutions and ideas to be realised faster (e.g., increased user financing or private-public partnerships). There is a need for more diverse and accessible sources of funding. In larger cities, congestion or road user charging has clear potential, yet remains a controversial source of revenue. Legislation to allow charging for external costs should be prepared in all Member States.

Diversity of cities

Cities are the most important actors in achieving the goal. However, European cities represent a variety in size, modal split, geography, governance structure, economy and culture. While some cities have made important steps towards more sustainable transport and show promising developments, there are many more that are lagging behind, struggling with growing motorisation, ageing transport networks and lack of ambition and resistance to transforming their transport system.

The conditions for change tend to differ between cities in Central and Eastern, Western, and Southern Europe. In the newer Member States of the European Union, public transport systems have typically been dominant. However, since 1989, car ownership has increased dramatically and typically the use, plus often, investment in public transport has decreased. The quality of the public transport infrastructure and equipment is now in a poor condition in several cities within these regions. However, those cities still experience a high share of, often electrified, public transport. The modal share of cycling is small, as are car-pooling and car-sharing. In contrast, in certain Western and Southern European countries, the modal share of cycling and walking is comparatively high, the share of cars remains high and stable, while the share of public transport is small or medium – with the exception of the larger metropolises in these areas.

In terms of freight transport and logistics, cities face diverse realities too. A city’s role in supply chains or as a hub for rail or sea networks for example, determines what solutions are appropriate to implement. In some cities, significant relief from congestion or throughput of freight vehicles can be obtained by relocating terminals out of city centres. Limiting associated emissions in the densest urban areas by using low emission zones is also emerging as a response.

Finally, governance arrangements and capacities differ significantly across Europe. Some cities are governed by strong entities encompassing the entire city; some cities are able to raise their own revenue or loans, while others are heavily dependent on central government to support investments through earmarked state funds. In other words, the extent to which a city is dependent on higher political levels varies. Some cities have leaders with much autonomy, but most often the city is limited in the policy levers it can utilise to affect change. Often, there are challenges associated with collaboration across municipal boundaries in larger catchment areas.

The differences across European cities imply that a uniform set of measures for all cities is not the way forward. One size will not fit all, so every city has to develop its own trajectory towards fulfilling the goal.

Key actions

To achieve the Urban Mobility goal, stakeholders at all policy levels needs to coordinate their actions over an extended period of time – starting now.

Actions at the European level are especially relevant in order to set common technical standards for vehicles, fuels and re-fuelling systems, to define frameworks for common national and local actions, and to support research in common urban transport problems and solutions. This should be done with a view to exchanging good practices, and monitoring performance and results across countries and cities in Europe. At the national level it is especially important to align country specific legislation, fiscal regulations, and planning frameworks with transformations needed to accomplish European and local goals for urban transport systems (see Figure 2).

The city level is important as the main focus for the transformations needed to reach the urban mobility goal. Options for urban and regional governments to contribute include the use of measures such as spatial planning, parking regulations, access restrictions, and provisions for public transport, walking, cycling and low carbon freight vehicles. Proposed processes and actions are shown in Figure 3. For any city, it is important to choose among measures and to adapt them to the local context.


As can be seen in Figures 2 and 3, milestones (the red dots) are included suggesting that specific targets are reached at a certain point in time. At the urban level, for example, it is suggested that by 2020 all cities have adopted a certified sustainable urban mobility plan (SUMP); half of the major cities have established some form of a freight transport partnership; most cities have joined city networks for the urban mobility goal; at least 50% of the cities are experimenting with or have implemented alternatively-fuelled buses; and at least 25% of the major cities have introduced road and/or extensive parking charging favouring non-conventionally-fuelled vehicles.

In 2030, at least 50% of the cities have fully switched to renewable energy in public transport; all major cities have introduced charging or access restrictions favouring non-conventionally-fuelled vehicles; and all publicly procured mobility in European cities is zero emissions and based on renewables.

What’s next?

The stakeholder-informed Roadmap includes many proposals on processes, actions and more specific measures to be adopted at European, national and city levels. If all measures were adopted the urban environment would change significantly over the next 15 years – which is necessary to reach the goal. Proposals in the Roadmap will have to be adapted to the specific context of each country and city. The European Commission, national governments and city authorities, must jointly consider sustainable urban transport and the White Paper goal as a significant priority both in the near future and the years to come, and for this effort the Roadmap will provide an important source of inspiration.

For more information, please consult the TRANSFORuM website1 where the roadmap is also available for download. 




The roadmap has been prepared by TRANSFORuM1 which is an EU-funded project aiming to contribute to the transformation of the European transport system towards more competitiveness and resource efficiency. TRANSFORuM has done so by engaging key stakeholders in carefully moderated forum activities and through other consultation measures in order to identify their views about the related challenges, barriers, trends, opportunities and win-win potentials. TRANSFORuM thus facilitated a discussion forum of relevant actors and stakeholders about the best ways to reach the four key goals of the 2011 European White Paper on Transport, including:

  • Clean urban transport and CO2-free city logistics
  • Shift of road freight to rail and waterborne transport
  • Complete and maintain the European high-speed rail network
  • European multimodal information, management and payment system.

Box 2: The 2011 European White Paper Goal on Urban Transport

The 2011 European White Paper on Transport goal for urban transport states the ambition to ‘halve the use of ‘conventionally-fuelled’ cars in urban transport by 2030; phase them out in cities by 2050; achieve essentially CO2-free city logistics in major urban centres by 2030’.

Source: European Commission (2011): White Paper. Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system.


Claus Hedegaard Sørensen is a PhD and Senior Researcher in the Department of Transport at the Technical University of Denmark. Claus’ research interests focus on decision-making and implementation processes and organisational reforms in the transport sector.

Henrik Gudmundsson, is a PhD and has been Senior Researcher in the Department of Transport at the Technical University of Denmark since 2006. Henrik’s main area of research for the last 20 years has been sustainable transport policy, sustainable urban transport planning, and the use of indicators for transport assessment.

Jens Schippl is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). His research interests encompass innovation processes in socio-technical systems and participatory foresight activities with a focus on transport and energy.

Max Reichenbach has been a Researcher at the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany since 2012. His research focuses on the interplay between innovations in the transport sector and their users, particularly looking at policy processes in the European transport system.

Merethe Dotterud Leiren is a Senior Research Political Scientist at the Institute of Transport Economics in Norway. She is particularly interested in European Union policy-making and how national and local authorities organise and implement policies related to pressures from the European Union.

Karen Anderton is a Research Fellow in Low Carbon Policy and Governance at the Transport Studies Unit in Oxford University’s Centre for the Environment. Her research primarily focuses on understanding the governance, policy processes and societal changes necessary to decarbonise the transport sector

Ralf Brand was previously Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester but is now Senior Mobility Expert with Rupprecht Consult in Cologne, Germany. He developed a concept of ‘co-evolution’ between social and technical change and applies it for the analysis and improvement of urban conditions.