Countries of the Pan-European region can seize the COVID-19 recovery as a turning point for green and healthy transport and mobility as a foundation to build a better future for all, urges a UN Task Force.
Bringing together over 50 experts from member States, international institutions, academia, public transport operators and industry experts, the Task Force set up in April 2020 by UNECE under the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP) has developed a set of key recommendations that member States can implement to support these efforts.
The recommendations are part of a policy document looking at the immediate effects of the pandemic and highlighting examples of what countries have done to deal with the crisis by introducing green and healthy mobility solutions. These cover a range of targeted actions aimed at promoting active mobility, increasing the protection of those who travel and increasing road safety. The recommendations were developed along seven key themes:
- Public space allocation for transport and spatial planning
Mobility systems need to be designed in a manner that encourages walking, cycling and other forms of non-motorised transport, with an emphasis on connectivity at the start and end of journeys and interchange along the route. This is vital to tackle urban congestion, which costs hundreds of billions of dollars globally each year, and to accelerate the decarbonization of the transport sector.
Good examples highlighted in the recommendations include the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy which aims by 2041 for 80 per cent of journeys to be made by walking, cycling and public transport, for all Londoners to get 10 minutes of active travel twice each day, and for 70 per cent of Londoners to live within 400m of the London-wide cycle network.
- Increasing investment in public transport
According to data from the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), 60 billion passenger journeys were made per year on public transport in Europe before the pandemic. This contributed between €130 billion and €150 billion per year to the economy of the European Union alone. A UNECE/ILO study under THE PEP showed that doubling investment in public transport in the UNECE region would create almost 5 million new jobs worldwide by 2030, including 2.5 million jobs in the UNECE region.
To regain people’s confidence in public transport after the COVID-19 crisis, the recovery plan of France devotes €1.2 billion to the development of public transport, such as metro, tram, bus and metropolitan train services, to provide eco-friendly mobility solutions in the densest urban areas. These resources complement financing by local authorities and could allow for total investment in public transport to be close to €5 billion. This measure will generate over 55,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
- Encouraging the adoption of e-mobility solutions
The electrification of public transport is a key tool for increasing the sustainability of urban mobility. The switch away from diesel-powered buses can have a strong direct impact on emissions in cities as well as making the use of public transport more desirable.
The use of electric private cars and electric micromobility solutions such as e-bikes and e-scooters is also growing across the region. Among country initiatives highlighted, the Government of Italy introduced a “mobility bonus” during the COVID-19 crisis, giving citizens living in larger urban areas a one-off voucher of up to €500 (or 60 per cent of the purchase cost) to buy bicycles, e-bikes or scooters. Recent surveys show that more than 2.5 per cent of the population owned an e-scooter by September 2020 and Italian bicycle retailers remarked a 60 per cent increase in sales in May 2020 in comparison to the year before.
The recommendations also point to the need for regulation and clear rules (for example, on speed limits and priority) for some new forms of micromobility, to ensure they are used safely and work in harmony with conventional transport.
- Introducing mobility management solutions
Designing and implementing Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) can vastly improve the overall quality of life by addressing major challenges such as congestion, air and noise pollution, climate change, road accidents, unsightly on-street parking and the integration of new mobility services.
Successful examples include Austria’s national “Klimaaktiv mobil” campaign, through which 15,000 climate-friendly mobility projects have been initiated, implemented by around 12,500 businesses, 1,200 cities, municipalities and regions, 900 tourism and leisure organizations and 400 schools. Approximately 450,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions have been avoided through the initiative, which has also secured or created around 7,000 “green jobs”.
- Facilitating the adoption of innovation and technology
The challenge ahead for a green recovery, enhanced by technological innovation, will be to prioritize active travel and more integrated mass transit, accompanied by the move to more affordable e-mobility and zero-emission vehicles.
Innovation and smart mobility solutions, utilizing technologies including GPS, radio frequency identification, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data analysis, will be the cornerstone of a swift move towards sustainable transport solutions and the public and private sectors need to be in a position to embrace these developments. At the same time these new technologies need to be introduced in a manner that makes take-up by the consumer easy and inclusive.
- Supporting active mobility as a sustainable and healthy mode of transport
Active mobility in the form of walking and cycling, as the healthiest and most affordable travel modes, can help to mitigate the adverse effects of current transport trends, especially in urban areas.
During the pandemic, the role of cycling and walking has grown as they emerged as viable mobility options for essential trips, while supporting physical distancing and relieving the burden on public transport. Despite fewer people travelling overall during the crisis, the United Kingdom has seen an approximate doubling in weekday cycling. After the initial lockdown in 2020, Germans were cycling twice as much as they did before COVID-19; in the USA, sales of bicycles, related equipment and repair services almost doubled in March 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.
Recognizing the need for a strong policy and regulatory framework to scale up cycling in the long run, ministers of transport, health and environment decided to initiate the development of a pan-European Master Plan for Cycling Promotion, which should be adopted at THE PEP High Level Meeting in May.
- Rebuilding the transport system in a fair and inclusive way
To avoid exacerbating inequalities, efforts to rebuild transport systems after the pandemic must consider the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, such as older populations, youth, persons with reduced mobility and those living in informal settlements.
The recommendations highlight positive examples including a project for the first Bus Rapid Transport line in Almaty, Kazakhstan, with minimum station-to-sidewalk distance and high accessibility for people with reduced mobility; and a €250 million jobs stimulus package implemented by the Government of Ireland, including €40 million for pedestrian infrastructure, €42 million to support urban and rural cyclists, €21 million towards improving rail journeys, €10 million for the adaptation of the road network to protect it in respect of climate change, €2 million for new and expanded local bus services and €250,000 to support the transition of local link services to zero emission vehicles in areas of rural Ireland.
The Recommendations have been developed as part of the preparations for the Fifth High-Level Ministerial Meeting of THE PEP to be held on 17-18 May 2021 and hosted by Austria, where the main recommendations will be included as part of the Vienna Declaration.
A dedicated Partnership will be created within THE PEP to assist member States in the implementation of these Recommendations.