Time to move from words to action. How can we build resilient, sustainable mobility?

Transportation and technology concept. ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems). Mobility as a service. | © Metamorworks, Shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us of an important lesson: the world is uncertain, and there is a lot that we do not know yet. The current post-pandemic recovery environment has created a need to revisit concepts taken for granted, ask new questions, and offer a fresh perspective on many issues, including transport and mobility. 

The Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) initiative seized the opportunity of the well-attended technical session at Transforming Transportation to take stock of how the initiative will contribute to efforts shaping the policy agenda on sustainable mobility. We bring a fresh perspective and solutions to the age-old issue of mobility. 

Firstly, SuM4All looks at transport in a non-conventional way. Generally, transport is viewed as the addition of public transportation, private cars, bikes, railways, and airplanes. At SuM4All, we look at transport as a complex system that aims to deliver on four goals – universal access, efficiency, safety, and green mobility. Of course, the transport system is not evolving all by itself. It is interacting with many other systems. The energy system is an obvious one. With the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen that the transport system also interacts with the health system, and those systems are interdependent. 

Secondly, SuM4All believes in the power of data and evidence to diagnose, quantity, and prioritize country issues in transport. We have seen much of the conversation on transport being driven by anecdotes or ad hoc assessments. With the vast amount of new data from the private sector, the right framework to enable data-sharing between public and private sources, and artificial intelligence, we can now bring a higher level of objectivity and precision in diagnosing country issues in transport. 

Thirdly, SuM4All offers a coherent global policy framework to act on issues identified in the diagnostic. The international transport community can leverage the Global Roadmap of Action toward Sustainable Mobility (GRA), a comprehensive catalog of policy measures, and its algorithm to generate a country-tailored action plan that comes into play. 

This new perspective offers a formidable opportunity to change the conversation with countries on policy reforms and investments required to embark on a more sustainable development path. But more is needed to translate these words into action. 

“We need to bring down the [GRA] policy recommendations from a 30,000-foot level to a 5,000-foot level,” said Aman Chitkara, Mobility Manager for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and Lead for the Data-Sharing Stream of SuM4All. For example, the GRA identifies “supporting data-sharing programs and platforms” as one of the 180 plus policy measures to achieve sustainable mobility. Advising and assisting country decision-makers in implementing this measure requires more specificity and practical guidance. Unpacking this recommendation revealed the need for a solid policy framework that looks at data collection/sharing, standards, infrastructure, governance and accountability, and final use. 

These building blocks are essential to ensure that the values of equity, privacy, and security are secured and that data sharing generates economic value. “It should not just be one tech company and one data company that holds all the data and can monetize this data,” Chitkara explained. 

Another policy measure from the GRA that required a deep-dive is the “integrate new mobility solutions to existing transport.” For Daniel Ernesto Moser, Management Head of Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative, GiZ, and co-lead with UITP of the e-mobility workstream under SuM4All, the COVID-19 crisis has created an unexpected and unplanned momentum for e-mobility solutions. “Worldwide, more than 17 national and local governments have already decided or planned the end of the internal combustion engine in passenger cars,” Ernest said. Adding, “There are some questions (we still needed to address) about the right policy framework for an integrated and sustainable introduction of electric mobility.” The workstream identified seven building blocks and recommendations to ensure that electric mobility generates expected sustainability benefits. 

For example, ensuring that policy combines the existing fleet’s electrification while promoting a shift towards more efficient modes such as walking, (electric) cycling, and public transport – simultaneously ‘greening’ the grid.

“As we plan to ‘recover better’ from the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time to discuss how sustainable energy and low-carbon mobility can be developed together to provide access to sustainable mobility for all,” said Clotilde Rossi di Schio, Senior Specialist for Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll) and co-lead of the Transport-Energy Nexus Workstream under SuM4All. Rossi di Schio added, “While the power sector has made great strides towards decarbonization, the transport sector has done relatively little, with transport sector emissions continuing to increase in most countries.”

Currently, only about 3.3 percent of transport is renewable energy powered. Thus, making it the energy-use sector with the least progress toward decarbonization. In that context, unless the policy measures are complemented by action on the energy front, they are unlikely to contribute to sustainability. For example, a “plan for integrated multimodal transport networks” is essential for freight transport efficiency. However, the sector relies almost entirely on fossil fuels, despite alternatives such as sustainable biofuels, electrification or hybridization, green hydrogen, and renewable e-fuels. “Unless fuel sources are taken into account, integrated multimodal transport networks will not generate expected benefits,” Rossi di Schio explained. We should complement the catalog of transport-specific measures in the GRA with concrete policy measures on the energy front. 

Following over 12 months of work, the three technical knowledge products will be launched by SuM4All in the coming months, starting with the Data Sharing stream on March 9, 2021

NOTE: The author appreciates the TT2021 High-Level Technical Session Moderator, Thoko Moyo, and speakers: Gurpreet Singh Sehmi, Dr. José Viegas, Mr. Aman Chitkara, Ms. Clotilde Rossi di Schio, and Mr. Daniel Ernesto Moser.


Nancy Vandycke

Program Manager, Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) and Lead Economist, World Bank

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