EcoMobility works in the field of transportation all over the world within the Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) network. Ms. Tu My Tran, Head of the Sustainable Mobility Program at ICLEI World Secretariat, told EKOIQ about her views on sustainable transportation for cities.

Interview: Burcu Genç

EcoMobility is an ICLEI institution and does research nearly all over the world. During COVID-19, air pollution is the main theme regarding public health. In cities, one of the main polluters is vehicles. How this pandemic affects transport in cities?

ICLEI- Local Governments for Sustainability is a global network of over 1750 cities, regions, and towns committed to sustainable development. Within the Sustainable Mobility program, we have the EcoMobility and EcoLogistics Initiatives, which promote integrated, socially inclusive, and environmentally-friendly mobility for people and goods, respectively. The pandemic has made the invisible, more visible. The case of air pollution is emblematic – the powerful images we have all seen of clear skies in big cities showed us that congestion and air pollution are not inevitable. Studies have also shown the correlation of air pollution with the spread of the infection, another more reason to adopt cleaner technology and rethink how people move.

At the same time, in cities, people have experienced a different use of public space, underpinning the importance of streets and neighborhoods for people. The EcoMobility concept of prioritizing walking and cycling, public transport, shared mobility, and light green vehicles has never been so relevant. In cities, the pandemic has shown how fragile or resilient is a transportation system and highlighted opportunities as well as challenges. Many cities around the globe, such as Paris, Lima, Bogotà, have accelerated their implementation plans for cycling networks. Other cities, like Pasig City in the Philippines, have taken the opportunity to pilot pop-up bike lanes. Public transport operators have proven their capacity to adjust their operations quickly to heighten hygienic measures. In urban areas, public transport and urban freight transport have proven to be essential services needed to hail essential workers and goods during the lockdown.

How do you see the future of transportation in cities? How can be achieved sustainable transport in cities? Especially in developing countries, what kind of opportunity can be found regarding sustainable transportation?

The pandemic has created new awareness on how we use public spaces like streets and shown us that a lot can be done remotely, such as avoiding commutes through remote work and relying on the convenience of parcel and food delivery. The pandemic seems to have accelerated the increase in urban freight transport, calling for improved urban logistics planning in cities. At the same time, due to public transport perceived as unsafe, an increase in private modes of transportation will most likely happen from walking to cycling to motorized vehicles. Many public transport operators have reported 50-80% decrease in ticket revenue during the lockdown. As public transport is the backbone of cities, it will be essential to re-establish trust in mass transport as well as support this service that often caters to the most vulnerable population. Data and technology-enabled improvements will also play a substantial role, such as contactless ticket payments and other forms of digitalization.

Cities with sustainable mobility plans and ambitions seem to have been faster and more prepared to manage the emergency. Pilots or accelerated implementation are possible thanks to strong political commitment, resource availability, and dedicated staff. For cities in developing countries, the biggest challenge will be to improve and ensure health and safety in informal transportation. Another opportunity is represented by walking and cycling – studies show that many urban trips could be shifted from motorized transport to active mobility as they are within 5-10 km. Walking and cycling are the most sustainable, equitable, healthy, and resilient modes of transportation. Unfortunately, they often suffer from limited funding and, consequently, subpar infrastructure.

Do you think that COVID-19 could change the conventional ways of transportation?

While it is impossible to predict the future and the situation is constantly evolving, I believe that pursuing an integrated, socially inclusive, and environmentally-friendly mobility will be the way forward. People have discovered cities with no traffic jams and, mainly in Europe and in North America, people could see parking lots and streets repurposed as terraces for restaurants or turned into sidewalks and playgrounds. The question moving forward is, therefore, how to build back better – in other words, how can cities make sure to become sustainable and resilient by design and not because of temporary measures adopted during a crisis? The pandemic has provided us all with an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine our streets, neighborhood, and lifestyle and question how we should use public spaces like our squares and streets. Especially in cities, we cannot afford to accommodate more cars due to lack of space and the externalities associated, such as air and noise pollution and road fatalities. With the support of the national governments, progressive cities have increased their plans to expand sidewalks and bike paths as well as provide support to rebuild the trust in public transport.

I read CITIESShift report of EcoMobility which is a study on transportation habits of six cities in China, Uganda and India. What are the main challenges for achieving eco-friendly sustainable transport in developing countries like Uganda? And in crowded countries like China and India?

A sustainable and ecomobile transport system is not an overnight miracle but a continuous and committed process of nurturing and making the right decisions. This is true for cities all types of cities – in developed and developing countries, for scarcely populated as well as overpopulated ones. The CITIESShift project provided cities with support and peer-to-peer exchange opportunities to adopt and improve the EcoMobility SHIFT+, a useful tool for local authorities to measure, assess, and act to enhance sustainable mobility. It helps cities to make informed decisions for effective implementation.

Enabling factors for equitable access and mobility in cities is a functioning and well-informed governing institution to invest in excellent mobility services and infrastructure complemented with an integrated urban and land-use design. The project has identified three main trends. Firstly, national governments’ vision stimulates local change. In India and China, the national government framework enabled local changes, for instance, by providing funding and guidelines. However, especially in Uganda, the satellite cities Jinja and Entebbe, were not always aware of national plans, and successful implementation at the local level would have required stronger technical and financial capacity.

Secondly, new technology can create new opportunities but also disruption.

Public transportation services are being improved through the use of technology and supported integration between the transportation modes through digitalized ticketing and information systems. Efforts to provide efficient public transportation must be intensified in developing cities to provide for the urban poor. For instance, in Uganda, 7,000 people are killed in three years due to reckless boda drivers. As such, SafeBoda, a ride-hailing app for motorcycle taxis, addresses safety by providing the driver with training and introducing a customer rating system. Thirdly, walking, and cycling are gaining momentum. In many cities from the Global South, walking and cycling infrastructure is still subpar, which reinforces the idea that these modes of transport are reserved for the poor. The EcoMobility SHIFT+ helps cities analyze the transportation system by engaging stakeholders, as the first steps towards a more equitable and sustainable transport system.

EcoMobility is an ICLEI institution and there are many ICLEI member cities in Turkey. In “our impact” section of your website, we may find the data from cities but not from Turkey. Did EcoMobility do any study on Turkey? What is your opinion about Turkish cities concerning sustainable transport?

Indeed in the ICLEI network, we have about twenty Turkish cities. We would love to work more with Turkish cities on transportation. For instance, ICLEI Europe has interviewed Izmir as part of a study on the Green City Action Plans where one of the focus areas to tackle is air pollution. From a broader perspective, ICLEI has observed general densification of Turkish cities, which has led to a number of unplanned megalopoleis, which poses a challenge to sustainable urban development, including transportation. Moreover, at ICLEI, we would love to see Turkey ratifying the Paris Agreement.


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