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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation

Urban Mobility

Needed: Holistic Solutions for Cities

Sustainable mobility expert Holger Dalkmann, and Buzzcarr founder and CEO Robin Chase.

Sustainable mobility expert Holger Dalkmann, and Buzzcarr founder and CEO Robin Chase discuss how cars and car use will change in a demographic context. They consider the crucial roles of public transport and information-communication technologies in tomorrow's urban mobility ecosystem.

Do you know of any best practices for sustainable transportation that have worked out successfully and can be applied in other regions/cities?

Dalkmann: When we are talking about sustainable mobility, we have to take a look at the entire system. In regard to specific solutions, we have a lot of good examples around the world, such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and car sharing. If we really want to make a change, we have to examine cities and their visions. I can cite two good examples for a holistic approach to sustainable urban planning. One is Copenhagen: In 1947, the city developed a vision as to how it wanted to grow in accordance with a transit-oriented development plan known as the “Finger Plan.” The plan concept was five “fingers” extending from the palm of its dense city-center. Over the years, the residents of Copenhagen have achieved and further developed their vision. They have rail lines and other efficient transport systems. Additionally, Copenhagen has established the bicycle as a key transport mode and began investing in public transportation at an early stage. Most importantly, however, the areas around the mass transport system are dense, mixed-use, and highly accessible. Copenhagen has been recognized since the 1970s as a model city where public transport and land use fit like a glove — as highlighted by Robert Cervero in his landmark publication, The Transit Metropolis (1998). The second example is New York City, which started changing its approach at a relatively late stage of the game. In the 1960s and 1970s, the city built highways and removed parks, and in the 1980s and 1990s it was seen as a congested and unsafe place. A great push for recovery started in 2002. With PlaNYC 2030, the city has set up a holistic idea for sustainable urban development that will transform New York into a “greener and greater” city. The concept includes 14 specific action points for improving and expanding the transportation infrastructure, reducing congestion, and maintaining and improving the physical condition of the transit system and roads. PlaNYC sets up measures such as making bicycling safer and more convenient, and enhancing pedestrian access and safety. All of this will involve the use of groundbreaking systems, such as hybrid bus and taxi fleets, as well as price-based mechanisms such as congestion charges.

Chase: When we think about good examples of sustainable mobility, we have to think about transportation over the human lifecycle: We have different transportation needs depending on our age and each specific trip. If we think of the two extremes, Houston versus some very rural African village, we can see that they both use one mode only: In Houston, everything revolves around  cars, and in an under-served small village in Africa, the only choice is to walk. A diversity of options is actually the best solution. Some trips are best taken by walking, others are best suited for bikes, motorcycles , small shared cars, big shared cars, subways etc. Each one of these modes has its place based on one’s mobility needs. I walk when the distance is less than 1 km, and I prefer biking for distances of 1–3 or 4 km. For anything over 4 km, I take the subway, unless  it's more than 10 km, in which case I drive . If I am travelling with a group of people, or with small children, my needs change — and the transportation that best suits my needs might also change.

With regard to sustainable transportation, one option would be to reduce the need for mobility in cities. How can we do this?

Chase: When cities grew bigger with industrialization, the places where we lived were separated from the places where we worked. This is the reason why we now have to travel long distances. Today, we understand that the diversity of dense, close, and mixed-use areas is what serves us best. Take Paris, for example, where I have lived for the last two years. Here, almost everything that I need can be found within two blocks!

Dalkmann: I agree, we need to think about solutions built around accessibility and proximity. What people want is to easily reach their destinations and not waste time when traveling long distances. Now, if we shift our view away from Paris and observe emerging economies, we will discover a large share of favelas and slums. These under-served  areas will be redesigned and improved in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics. How will we develop these areas? If we set up new public spaces, safe walking and biking environments, and access to public transport, we will foster more sustainable mobility. If we stick to building roads, we will face increased motorcycle and car use and a higher level of negative externalities.

Massive urban growth in most of the world will be accompanied by the aging of the overall population . For example, , the UN predicts that in more developed regions, over 30 percent of the population will be over 60 in 2050. Which transportation solutions could especially serve the elderly?

Chase: A car-dependent transport infrastructure means that if you're under 16, you're  a prisoner, and if you're older than 82 or whatever age you stop driving, you also become a prisoner in your home. Older people in particular should live in a dense, mixed-use environment where they are not dependent on a car. A car-independent transportation system is actually the best option because it's a solution not just for older people but also for the whole society.

Cities are expanding faster in Asia than anywhere else. Where are urban leaders finding sustainable mobility solutions that also take the environment and climate into account?

Dalkmann: In Ahmedabad, India, a city with a population of more than 5.5 million, commuting options were limited until recently. Commuters could either drive, take an auto rickshaw, or take the overcrowded and unreliable municipal buses. An affordable public transport network was required so that people could reach their destinations in the shortest possible time and in the easiest possible manner. The Ahmedabad Bus Rapid Transport System was the solution the city came up with. It began operatiing in October 2009, and was later extended by 740 percent, from a route of 12 kilometers to 89 kilometers. It's also still growing — the network will total 135 kilometers by the end of 2015. Daily ridership has also gone up, from 18,000 at the start to nearly 145,000 today. Better access to mass transit has allowed Ahmedabad to keep itself dense and compact.

Another good example is Seoul, where the city government developed a vision of green growth, as reflected in the Cheonggyecheon Downtown Restoration Project. In 2003, the Seoul metropolitan government initiated the removal of a highway built over a creek in the 1970s. With the restoration of the stream, the historic legacy of the area was brought back and the central business district's economy revitalized. Cheonggyecheon today is a public recreation space that's popular among city residents and tourists. Along with mass transit investment, the project has also helped improve mobility in the heart of Seoul. The government reports that land values have increased, air quality has improved and the heat island effect has been reduced. More importantly, nine out of ten Seoul residents are satisfied or very satisfied with the project.

Analysts are predicting exponential growth in the carsharing market. Is this the future model of car ownership?

Chase: I hope so! We need to convince city dwellers that the really cool, most convenient, and cost-effective way of using a car is with a shared car. Carsharing has so many advantages: For one thing, I like to emphasize the idea of “collaborative consumption,” which means that by sharing, you're making better use of resources. Cars are only used an average of two out of 24 hours and most of them on the road have three empty seats available. So, by sharing, we make much better use of these expensive and bulky assets. Secondly, carsharing allows you to choose the car that fits the needs of each specific trip, and you simply pay as you use. Thirdly, you have access to a fleet of cars parked everywhere, and not just in front of your own house. Finally, maintenance is someone else’s problem. You don’t have to worry about it or do it yourself.

"Peer-to peer” carsharing goes a step further. Buzzcar offers one example here: We want to enable car owners to share their own cars, which are idle so much of the time, and which cost households about 15 percent of their budgets. Peer-to-peer carsharing reduces the numbers of cars needed to satisfy a given population and dramatically reduces the number of parked cars that clog our city streets, as well as the need for parking that makes our homes expensive, and the cost of owning or driving a car. So, to sum it up, people who carshare are acting sustainably, have a higher-quality driving experience, and are financially clever. Owning a car is old school — car sharing is part of the new easy urban lifestyle, and it should be marketed and pitched that way.

Who are the target groups for carsharing? Can you give us a profile of the typical carsharing customer?

Chase: Anyone who doesn’t need a car to get to work is ready for carsharing. This target group covers all ages. Right now, we find carsharing more heavily used by those with a college education, although there isn’t any good reason why this should be the case. And the younger generation is also slightly more heavily represented among carshare users than older people.

Urban congestion is becoming more critical in most of the world. Which policies can be successful in terms of making transportation in cities more sustainable?

Dalkmann: First of all, the cost of transport has an effect: Higher fuel prices and taxes reduce the use of cars. So up to a certain level of an increase in prices, fiscal policy represents one option. Fuel taxation in Europe, for instance, makes gasoline two to three times more expensive than in the U.S.

Secondly, there's the framework that enables cities to invest in the right sustainable solutions. India, for example, is likely to invest $300 billion in urban infrastructure over the next 20 years. The idea is not just to make the funds available but also to link planning to concrete solutions by prioritizing investment in mass transit systems such as subways and BRTs that are well integrated with land use. Similar national programs to support mass transit and sustainable urban development have been implemented in China, Brazil, and Mexico, to name a few countries.

Thirdly, we need to help cities get their own funding — for example, through congestion charges or city toll systems, and parking management schemes. The cities can use the income to improve public transport. The best examples are Singapore, London, and Sweden,. Which have congestion tolls, and San Francisco, which has implemented an online dynamically priced parking system.

The key is to implement combined spatial planning and transport policies that would reduce people’s need to travel in cities. Certain policies can help increase the use of public transport and reduce individual transport through speed lanes for buses, city centers closed off to cars, restricted use and purchase of cars etc.

Chase: I always find myself wishing we would recognize (and reduce) the amount of money we spend subsidizing driving and parking. In most cities, parking is nearly free of charge , yet the true cost of real estate in dense congested areas is very high. We also could complement the efforts described by Holger by adding extra incentives, such as abolishing parking fees for shared cars, offering dedicated or optimal  parking spaces to shared vehicles, and/or reducing taxes on car owners who share their cars.

How can we make the use of public transport more attractive — besides having a high-density public transport network?

Dalkmann: Going from door to door is becoming increasingly challenging as cities expand and new communities crop up that are disconnected from cities and from vital infrastructure that provides access to goods, services, and jobs. The series of “Last Mile” projects focuses on how people make that final leg of their journey and connect to transportation hubs or stations. Our organisation, EMBARQ, works with communities to integrate transport modes in order to help people get door to door safely, affordably and sustainably. This includes establishing and expanding bicycle usage through bike-sharing and bike lanes, creating pedestrian-only zones to eliminate the need for cars in congested service areas, and supporting innovative social entrepreneurs by formalizing informal sectors such as rickshaw services.

Chase: Many people look for car-based solutions for the last mile problem. But these are very expensive and extremely difficult to deliver logistically, since most travel is in one direction during peak commutes. Building dense living areas near transit stations and hubs is important;  providing safe and convenient walking and biking routes is also important. This is also the likely application for the autonomous vehicles that everyone is talking about. I see them having a role as shared vehicles in last mile situations.

What potential do information and communication technologies (ICT) have to change the way we will use transportation services in the future?

Dalkmann: Technology has transformed behaviors in many ways, and transport use is no exception here. People now have instant information on the best transport routes and modes, congestion, availability of parking, the next bus, how to walk or bike around a city, and many other things . Advanced fare collection systems using smart cards go beyond a single public transport service, since the cards can also be used for a host of integrated services, as well as for parking and even retail purchases. Modern smart card systems like the one used in Hanover, Germany, offer complete mobility services — from local and regional public transport to carsharing and taxis.

Technology is also helping to improve the management of overall transport systems : Centralized control systems help traffic managers respond better to congestion, and they also provide precise information to users. In addition, such systems improve the ability of bus drivers and train operators to remain on schedule— and vehicles networked to traffic lights can get priority, especially when running late.

These technological systems will continue evolving at a fast pace in the near future, making it much easier for people to make informed choices, avoid delays, and integrate payment procedures. The key, once again, is holistic and integrated approaches. If every component of the transport system evolves its technology in isolation, there will be wasted opportunities in terms of improved access.

Chase: It's thanks to ICT technology that we can do any sharing at all. It makes it easy to find, book, and pay for small bundles of services, while new rating systems and social networks help overcome trust issues. Technology — the Internet, wireless data transmission, and apps — are what makes it all possible: low cost and easy. Therefore,  and because carsharing and bikesharing depend heavily on technology for booking, payment, providing information to users on pick-up and drop-off points etc — ICT is a critical component of public and shared transport modes..

How will the smartphone in your hand change the way people use mobility services?

Dalkmann: We don't  have to wait for that; it's already happening with the thousands of apps now available, and as a result of open data trends. Just one example: The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston opened realtime data to the public, and developers then very rapidly created online apps to provide realtime information to users on bus schedules or route combinations. Online routing services are no longer limited to cars: People are able to find transit, biking and walking directions, including congestion information, right in the palm or their hands. This worked wonderfully in London in preparation for the Olympics, and it is expanding to many cities as we speak. One of the next developments will be the extended use of smartphones for the payment of transport services. The phones will replace transit fare cards and cash and credit cards at parking meters, gas stations, and in garages, while also offering the added value of realtime information.

What will the car of the future look like? What are the most promising drive systems - hybrid, fuel cell, e-car?

Dalkmann: We should not view sustainable drive systems  as the solution. All that does is take us from congestion to clean congestion, so it doesn't solve the problem at all. We need to understand that cars are part of mobility, but not the only path to mobility. We need to build our cities differently, so that it will be possible to enjoy urban spaces by walking, biking, and using public transport, with access offered to more opportunities in an equitable fashion. Such an approach also offers enormous advantages in terms of its impact on climate change and safety .

Nevertheless, the car has a role to play in mobility — for instance, as a transport mode for a portion of non-work trips and travel outside of cities. The car of the future will be more efficient and safer, and adapted in line with its use. In urban settings, it makes a lot of sense to have smaller vehicles that take up less road and parking space.

Chase: I agree with Holger. The car of the future will gradually evolve into a shared car, meaning that we will pay for it by the hour and by the day, choose the right vehicle for each trip, and fill that vehicle to capacity,or choose a right-sized one. All of this means that we will only use cars when they are the best transportation choice for a particular trip. The car will no longer be the default mode.

In a nutshell: What is your vision of the “mobility of the future?”

Chase: Multi-modal systems and shared vehicles.

Dalkmann: I agree…multi-modal and shared vehicles, complemented by and integrated into dense, mixed-use, and accessible urban environments.

Robin Chase, 55, is the founder and CEO of Buzzcar, a company that brings together car owners and drivers in a carsharing marketplace. Chase is also founder and CEO of GoLoco, an online ridesharing community, and of Zipcar, the world’s largest carsharing company, which recently received a takeover bid from Avis. She is on the Board of the World Resources Institute, the National Advisory Council for Innovation & Entrepreneurship for the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the OECD’s International Transport Forum Advisory Board. Chase lectures widely and has received many honors, including listings in the “Time 100 Most Influential People,”  “Fast Company Fast 50 Innovators,” and “BusinessWeek Top 10 Designers” rankings. Chase graduated with a triple major in English, French, and Philosophy from Wellesley College, has an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and was a Harvard University Loeb Fellow.

Holger Dalkmann, 43, has 15 years’ experience in the field of transport, sustainability, and climate change. He joined the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington, D.C. in 2011 as director of its EMBARQ program, which catalyzes environmentally and financially sustainable transport solutions to improve the quality of life in cities. Recently, he founded the Bridging the Gap Initiative and co-founded the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT). Dalkmann writes frequently for academic journals and major publications. He is the lead author of the Transport chapter of the United Nations Environmental Program’s Green Economy Report. Dalkmann graduated from the University of Trier, Germany, where he received a Masters in Geography.

Andrea Frost