Improving our cities through sustainable mobility management

Posted: 30 May 2019 | | No comments yet

Ever since 1863, when London opened its first underground railway, modern transport has been evolving. Byeronie Epstein from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, discusses how 156 years later, it is unrecognisable with metro systems, buses, trams, electric bicycles, scooters, cars, electric and autonomous vehicles and drones present in the majority of cities worldwide.

Improving our cities through sustainable mobility management

In the face of rapid urbanisation (70 per cent of the population is predicted to live in cites by 2050) many of these city systems are at their limits and are not sustainable. Transport already contributes to 23 per cent of global GHG emissions and one quarter of particulate matter in the air. If we continue with business as usual, the demand for transport will increase in line with population growth (15 per cent by 2030) and emissions will intensify.

Many trends, such as connectivity, electrification, automation, sharing and digitalisation are disrupting the status quo and provoking transformation. Stakeholders across public institutions, the private sector and users need to collaborate in the design and implementation of mobility solutions that are systemic and integrated.

Systems thinking is necessary for designing mobility solutions

We live in a world where everything is either already connected or quickly becoming connected through digitisation and the Internet of Things (IoT). If new services or technologies are introduced without being considered within a system, there could be unintended consequences.

Take the example of Uber’s initial presence in New York City. This was a service that – with the right partnerships – could have reinforced and strengthened the existing transit networks and provided first- and last-mile solutions. However, what it actually did was pull users away from public transit (city buses and subways), ultimately contributing to increased city congestion and reducing traffic speeds by 15 per cent in 2017 compared to 2010. In addition, fewer transit riders means less revenue and less demand for improved transit. This is just one example that disproportionately affected low-income city residents who have no choice but to remain aboard deteriorating trains and buses. A systems-based approach to the TNC rollout could have produced a very different outcome.

A further example highlighting the importance of systems thinking is the looming loss of government revenue due to Vehicle Excise Duty (fuel tax), the largest single road-related charge, accounting for approximately 45 per cent of total road-related charges in 2015-16. It is clear that electric vehicles (EVs) are required to reduce transport-related emissions however, governments need to understand and be proactive with regards to the fiscal implications of introducing this technology. Estimates by Policy Exchange suggest the reduction in tax receipts in the UK because of Vehicle Excise Duty could total £170 billion by 2030. If we are to reach the global deployment target of 225 million EVs on the road by 2030 what are regulators doing to compensate for the reduced revenue? Without this revenue will cities be able to maintain existing infrastructure such as roads?

Solutions cannot be implemented in isolation. To achieve sustainable mobility management and the intended benefits, an integrated approach is required.

Seamlessly integrating mobility solutions is possible

A recent report by Mckinsey suggests that seamless mobility could be cleaner, more convenient and more efficient than the status quo.

Thanks to data being ubiquitous, and with the power of digitalisation, connecting the various modes and payment methods seamlessly to people or goods becomes a matter of collaboration, standardisation and data sharing. These three principles will increase efficiency and should be ingrained in the best practice principles of all stakeholders involved.

When these three principles operate in parallel, intelligent traffic systems, advanced rail signalling, and connectivity-enabled predictive maintenance are all possible and would boost network reliability.

Seamless mobility could improve performance on all five indicators that characterise a transit system: availability, affordability, efficiency, convenience and sustainability. To put the potential impact into perspective, it could accommodate up to 30 per cent more passenger-kilometres (availability) while reducing average trip time by 10 per cent (efficiency). It could cost 25-35 per cent less per trip (affordability), increase the number of point-to-point trips by 50 per cent (convenience), and, if autonomous vehicles are electric, lower GHG emissions by up to 85 per cent (sustainability).

Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) contributes by seamlessly connecting modes and allowing people to move from A to B at a touch of a button. Companies like MaaS Global, which has successfully launched Whim, a MaaS platform, that has to date enabled more than three million passenger trips, still face challenges to reach scale. Although the passenger trips provided are still small in volume, these platforms have proved that seamlessly integrating mobility solutions is possible.

The adoption of these systems and services open opportunities to transform the urban space, such as redesigning city streets for improved movement of people, not vehicles. Not only do we need to improve efficiency, but it is important to ensure accessibility and improve safety, and the solutions should be clean.

In order to implement these solutions and achieve all four of these goals, collaboration is essential.

Collaboration is key to operationalising transport solutions

Traditionally the automobile sector has been very competitive, but more recently we have seen a shift in the approach of the private sector. Due to the inherently connected nature of the solutions in the mobility space, stakeholders recognise that collaboration is essential for success.

There is a growing consensus in the mobility field that no stakeholder alone can drive the systemic transformation that is required in order to achieve the four sustainable mobility goals: clean, safe, accessible, efficient. 

A report from BCG projects that global industry revenues will increase from $3.7 trillion in 2017 to $5.8 trillion in 2035. Profits are expected to increase from $226 billion in 2017 to $380 billion in 2035, growing at a rate of about three per cent per year. Many incumbents recognise that their industry is fundamentally changing and that they need to change with it. Who will capture the lion’s share of the future profits is still unknown, but coordination between stakeholders across the value chain in order to operationalise the future solutions is key.

Initiatives such as Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4ALL), a growing global coalition of over 50 leading actors in the transport and mobility space, are providing platforms where stakeholders can discuss the policy actions that are required to reinforce and support solution implementation.

The major trends mentioned earlier are driving the current transformation at an unprecedented rate. We need to start implementing these solutions today.

Action is happening now

We are beginning to see more partnerships being established in order to implement new solutions:

Daimler and BMW who created a ride-hailing venture called Jurbey

  • The private public partnership that implemented the bus rapid transport system in Cape Town, South Africa, involving the transfer of buses from government entities to private operators for specified contractual periods, during which the operators were required to operate and maintain the BRT fleet
  • Uber and Lyft are working with cities to improve the efficiency of mobility and solve first- and last-mile issues – recently Uber started to test the inclusion of public transport on their platform in Denver.

At the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) we launched a new project, Transforming Urban Mobility (TUM), to address many of the issues that city mobility systems struggle with. This flagship mobility project aims to make urban mobility cleaner, safer, more accessible and more efficient, and already has more than 20 global companies onboard. They’ve come together to address key issues that affect cities around the world in terms of their mobility systems and are developing systemic and integrated solutions spanning data-sharing principles, EV adoption, sustainable mobility modelling and circular practices.

Back in 1863, London started a movement by building the first underground metro. This led to cities making transport provision one of their core responsibilities, improving their mobility system, and thus the lives of their people.

Now, we are at the point where our transport system needs to evolve to meet our current needs. Beyond that, collectively, we need to envision what our people will require from their mobility systems another 156 years from now.  


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Byeronie Epstein leads the electric mobility workstream at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. She is the liaison between WBCSD and the World Bank Initiative, Sustainable Mobility for All, where she represents WBCSD member companies from the private sector. In past years, she has led key projects relating to low-carbon fuels, including establishing implementation hubs in South America, North America and Australia; and developed a road freight lab that has been funded by Innovate UK. Byeronie has a Master’s in Engineering for Sustainable Development from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cape Town.