New challenges for sustainable mobility: “mobility roaming”

Most cities are now characterised by large flows of vehicle traffic and share common issues regarding accessibility to authorised parking areas. These problems negatively impact the environment and the quality of life of citizens.


The concept of sustainable mobility and the consequent debates date back to the late 1990s. Today, however, the reorganisation of urban mobility has become a primary concern and one that is inseparable from the concept of territorial sustainability. The reorganisation is therefore oriented towards energy saving, the reduction of risks and pollution and the protection of health and public spaces for the common good.


In urban centres, numerous factors have drawn attention to the matter of improving the effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of the movement of people and goods. These factors include traffic congestion, a high number of accidents, polluting emissions, public transport that does not always meet the needs of citizens and the deterioration of urban areas (due to an excessive number of cars at the expense of pedestrian areas).


The cities considered to be most effective in tackling this issue have put in place a set of "guidelines" known as SUMP (Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans), which outline the strategic instructions required to meet a series of objectives.


The objectives of the SUMP are generally divided into four macro-categories which are based on the established concepts of sustainability: development, environment, society and economy. These four aspects must be addressed through the implementation of initiatives aimed at maximising their positive effects.


With the Decree of 4 August 2017, Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans became an obligation for all Italian cities with over 100,000 inhabitants. But just two years after the Decree came into effect, the web and global "digital platforms", in particular those for Mobility Sharing (car, bike, scooter, ...), have changed this sector, making the SUMP a reality that already requires adaptation and updating.

The new digital platforms have disrupted the methods of policy makers who are used to studying mobility, usually shared, as a simple grid of roads and junctions (intersections, car parks, transport stops) which incorporates private and public transport networks (priority lanes), transport interchanges (car parks where you can leave your car to take public transport), etc...


Today, however, the issue has reached a greater complexity: car-pooling, car sharing, bike sharing, ride-hailing and scooters, all of which can be electrically powered, have in fact transformed the concept of "networks and intersections", turning the urban transport system into a constantly changing matrix (referred to as “eco-mobility systems” by experts) and introducing the concept of "Smart Mobility".


Public administrations must therefore adapt continuously and rapidly, both in terms of studying mobility itself (in accordance with the traditional SUMP) and in terms of authorisation, i.e. where to build car parks, install electric recharging stations, what regulations to put in place for access to the historic centre and which routes to allocate to the various types of transport (a current example is the debate on the designated areas and classification of electric scooters and e-bikes).


In response to these rapid changes, the transport system is increasingly split between private multi-operators and micro-services which, if not properly regulated, will operate according to the commercial rule of profit maximisation, basing their service areas on profitability rather than on usefulness (e.g. no carsharing in peripheral or popular areas).


In a complex system like the one described above, central technical management is essential in order to guarantee efficient but also sustainable and inclusive mobility for all people.


The new challenge for policy makers in this sector is, therefore, the creation of an intermodality that is accessible to all. This can be achieved by adapting Urban Plans to emerging requirements and reimagining the city as a set of different but interconnected transport networks with the help of BIG DATA. The acronym mentioned above could therefore be redefined as SIUMP: Sustainable and Intelligent Urban Mobility Plans.


Both central and local public administrations will be required to issue rules promoting the integration and interconnection of the different transport systems through the use of instruments such as data sharing (infomobility) and the implementation of reservation and payment systems accessible by third parties (Open software with API interfaces).


Only through the intelligent integration of the systems will it be possible to switch from one method of transport to another in a simple way and in accordance with people’s individual needs at any given moment. Non-polluting or the least polluting means of transport will also be promoted: from public transport to bike sharing, from the metro to the scooter, and, taking inspiration from the mobile phone sector..."mobility roaming".


On an international scale, there are now many examples of best practice of this integration. Helsinki, Paris, Los Angeles and Singapore are all experimenting with mobility as a service (MaaS: Mobility as a Service), with the aim of unifying and integrating the planning, booking, electronic ticketing and end-to-end payment services for all means of transport, both public and private, into a single digital platform.


Furthermore, by promoting smart taxation or ticketing arrangements, users will be inclined to change their mobility habits and leave their private car in the garage until the need to own a private car is reduced.


However, we must bear in mind that the entry of autonomous vehicles into the market will lead to further changes to urban mobility policies.