Cécile MaisonneuveChief executive, La Fabrique de la Cité, France
"Urban mobility is undergoing a dramatic transformation shaped by the digital transition as well as increasing environmental awareness."
Getting Around the City of the Future: Urban Mobility Challenges
Urban mobility is undergoing a dramatic transformation, as evidenced by emerging trends such as multimodal mobility, car-sharing, the widening gap between usership and ownership, the slow but quickening move toward vehicle electrification, partnerships between public operators and on-demand mobility service companies and the imminent autonomous vehicle revolution. These trends are being shaped by the digital transition as well as increasing environmental awareness. In this article, Cécile Maisonneuve, Chief Executive of French think tank La Fabrique de la Cité, offers her analysis.
Despite considerable inertia in the field of mobility, the emergence of powerful, digital-related changes has created an impression of accelerating development. Just five years ago, no one had heard of names such as Waze, Citymapper, Uber and Blablacar, or YoTrain in New York and Kappo, the bike app, in Santiago de Chile, or even recent trends like two-wheel delivery of meals and packages. Today, however, they are fully integrated into mobility users’ everyday lives. This Copernican-like revolution in user behavior applies to the mobility of both people and goods. Over the past few years, we have gone from the notion of transportation, focused on infrastructure, to the concept of mobility, centered on users. In France, an initial semantic shift occurred on January 27, 2014 when the MAPTAM law aimed at reforming the country’s territorial organization replaced the former urban transportation authority, AOTU, with a new mobility authority called AOM. Then, in June 2017, the plural form “mobilities” entered the vernacular when the public transportation authority for the Greater Paris area, Syndicat des transports d’Ile-de-France, was rebaptized Ile-de-France mobilités.
Are these rapid changes sufficient to draw up a blueprint for sustainable mobility, one that ensures fluidity of movement and is compatible with our quest to create a city of well-being? Clearly, digital technology offers new services that reveal user behavior trends and allow consumers and mobility service operators to make more appropriate and better informed decisions. But how deeply does it change them? Because, at the same time, people continue to travel more, as can be seen by statistics on the number of kilometers driven per vehicle in the United States. In addition, traffic congestion figures confirm what users already know all too well. In New York City, for example, where competition between on-demand vehicles and public transportation is rife, gridlock is getting worse. According to a recent survey on mobility expectations in Europe conducted jointly by the Boston Consulting Group and Ipsos, Europeans spend a lot of time commuting (almost two hours per day), 65% drive to their place of work or study every day and 58% complain about rush-hour traffic jams.
What these statistics and surveys tell us is that the shift toward dense modes of transportation, such as public transit and full-car travel, has not taken place. Pollution figures bear this out. They also highlight the extreme complexity of the problems that need to be tackled – which aren’t new – beginning with the critical issue of urban traffic congestion. A smart city in which it is impossible to get around is meaningless. For all its revolutionary worth, digital technology is not the only key to providing genuine, future-need-based mobility. The other key lies in the physical world, that is, in urban planning and development. The city of Oslo, for example, has taken a direct shot at private cars by proposing to ban them from the city center.
The situation provides food for thought. No matter how innovative, there’s no magic solution to two contradictory demands: on the one hand, city dwellers’ growing concern about environmental and health issues, and on the other, their constant wish to be able to get around freely. In the future, usage-based mobility services will depend on our ability to combine the tools and players of the digital revolution with efficient and effective initiatives for improving infrastructure, buildings and public spaces. To put it another way, there must be continuous interaction between the physical and digital worlds.
This is in line with what the Europeans who participated in the above-mentioned survey are saying when they express their unwavering optimism in the ability of digital technology to improve everyday mobility, while at the same time exhorting government authorities to invest in roads, urban transportation networks and intermodal connections, not to mention railways and electric vehicle charging stations.
Cécile Maisonneuve is Chief Executive of La Fabrique de la Cité, a French urban-innovation think tank created and supported by the Vinci group. She is also a Senior Advisor at IFRI, a French research institute devoted to international issues, which she previously headed. Her research here focused on European energy policy and energy geopolitics. From 2007 to 2012, she was in charge of forecasting and European and international public affairs at Areva. Cécile began her career in the French National Assembly as a staffer. She is a graduate of École Normale Supérieure and of Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) and holds a degree in history from Université Paris IV-Sorbonne. She has co‑authored a biography of Benjamin Franklin (Perrin, 2008) and written various energy-related papers and studies. She is a member of Vox Femina, an association that promotes a higher profile for female experts in the media.