Sustainable Urban Mobility — Opening Statement

Posted April 30, 2024 | Sustainability | Amplify
Sustainable Urban Mobility
In this issue:


In recent years, transportation and mobility systems have become extremely vulnerable to disruptions caused by geopolitical instabilities, intensified global trade, increased urbanization, changes in migration patterns, new business models across transport and mobility chains, and climate disasters. Meanwhile, urban transportation systems led to a substantial increase in urban energy demand, accounting for almost 30% of energy consumption globally, mostly of fossil fuels. Urban road transport accounts for 40% of all CO2 emissions and up to 70% of other pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.1

This highlights the importance of investments in renewable energy infrastructure, public transport infrastructure, improved battery technology, and multinational cooperation to generate new technologies in the domain. A wide range of innovative technologies such as blockchain, big data, Internet of Things, augmented reality, AI, autonomous driving, and digital twins are being implemented to decarbonize transportation and mobility systems. Another technological innovation, mobility as a service (MaaS), has the potential to revolutionize the urban mobility paradigm, triggering a societal shift toward more sustainable travel behaviors.

Our first article in this issue of Amplify addresses the hurdles faced by MaaS implementations and what cities can do to overcome them. François-Joseph Van Audenhove and Hans Arby look at recent MaaS trends and detail four causes for slow progress: lack of demand, offerings that don’t match demand, suboptimal enablement, and lack of viable business cases. The answer, they believe, lies in cities setting priorities to help extract value at the system level. Van Audenhove and Arby advocate for a comprehensive framework that includes framing dimensions (e.g., mobility patterns and system characteristics and creating the right conditions for mobility service providers) and enabling dimensions (e.g., integration support, regulations that allow open collaboration, and systems to ensure learnings from experimentation are extracted and shared). “One size fits all” is not the answer for MaaS, write the authors. Rather, comprehensive approaches and increased collaboration between public and private stakeholders are needed.

These types of shared services (e.g., car sharing) also need corresponding dynamic pricing mechanisms, which is the topic of our second article, by Christian Müller, Jochen Gönsch, Louisa Albrecht, and Max Staskiewicz. Given the convenience of free-floating car-sharing systems (customers can pick up a car and drop it off anywhere in a given area), they could contribute substantially to reducing road density and CO2 emissions. The difficulty is the imbalance of vehicle distribution caused by uneven travel patterns, and the authors propose mitigating this with an anticipative customer-centric pricing approach. Their data-driven model predicts future vehicle movements and the expected profit of each vehicle, then uses machine learning and AI to combine various data sources. This results in different prices for the same vehicle for different customers, depending on their location, thus rebalancing cars in the pickup/drop-off zone without the operator having to relocate cars (adding emissions). According to the authors, an extensive computational study and a case study showed the approach outperforms all benchmarks, saves providers operational costs, and improves sustainability via clear decarbonization benefits.

Aligning Available Technologies with Sustainability Goals

The decarbonization process enabled by advanced technologies and respective pricing schemes often goes further than reductions in greenhouse gas emissions: it aligns with broader societal goals such as climate adaptation, social equity/inclusion, and institutional transitions. Thus, effective and socially acceptable decarbonization strategies need to limit costs for industries and households (low abatement costs), be administratively manageable (low administrative costs), promote the development and deployment of new technologies (stimulate innovation), and contribute to broader socioeconomic goals, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

Any interaction between societal benefits and sustainable urban mobility, such as public health aspects, should be examined holistically, including considering the urban built environment. This has been done by Kerstin Kopal and Dirk Wittowsky, who authored our next piece. As integrated as these functions are, public health concerns are usually included too late or not at all in urban planning processes today. The authors use a survey on walkability conducted in 2021 in Essen, Germany, to show how cities can identify key relationships between the built environment and healthy mobility behavior. The goal is to promote active mobility interventions by city planners; along the way, Kopal and Wittowsky describe how walkability data can be used by stakeholders like real estate companies and public transportation operators.

Public transportation planning systems must also consider ways to create dense, mixed-use zones close to transportation hubs. In our fourth article, Sk. Riad Bin Ashraf, Denis Daus, and Tobias Kuester-Campioni delve into transport-oriented development (TOD) by describing a proposal to municipal authorities in Dortmund, Germany, to help the city achieve its sustainable development objectives. Although Dortmund has a comprehensive public transportation system, it’s not convenient enough to discourage private car use, especially given the city’s urban sprawl. The proposal includes adding micromobility hubs at major transit points; installing AI-based adjustable bus routing; adding pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly infrastructure; and adding high-density, mixed-use development near transit hubs. Finally, the authors point to TOD projects in India, China, Indonesia, and Australia that can serve as examples for urban planners as they work on their sustainable development objectives.

The Role of SUMPs in Achieving Net Zero

The complex evolution of urban mobility planning concepts, pricing systems, technologies, and policies means that cities, governments, and organizations have undertaken a variety of initiatives to shape modern societies’ sustainable urban mobility future.

Starting in 2009, the European Commission endorsed an action plan on urban mobility to promote and support local, regional, and national governments. The related white paper “Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area — Towards a Competitive and Resource-Efficient Transport System” was published in 2011. In December 2013, the European Commission developed an urban mobility package advising European cities to develop a sustainable urban mobility plan (SUMP). SUMPs are designed to satisfy the mobility needs of modern urban society while connecting the urban-rural continuum for better quality of life.

SUMPs strengthen current planning practices by considering the essential principles of integration, participation, and evaluation. They include urban freight distribution, urban access regulations, deployment of an intelligent transportation system, and road traffic safety. In our final contribution, Andrea Lorenzini explains how SUMPs can help local and regional authorities meet targets set out in the European Green Deal.

Six laboratories (in Belgium, Romania, the UK, Lithuania, Italy, and Greece) were set up to show how cities can develop the next generation of SUMPs and “put mobility at the heart of sustainable urban transformation.” These labs are finding a need for strong coordination and collaboration at the local and regional levels (including cross-sectoral links), and Lorenzini describes what this could look like.

For example, in Lucca, Italy, the local public authority is involved in high-level planning, has legal responsibility for urban infrastructure and health, and runs daily operations to control urban logistics processes and ensure compliance with defined rules related to environmental impacts (e.g., traffic congestion and pollution).

Lorenzini points out that achieving net zero carbon by 2025 will require radical changes in transport and governance, followed by a periodic realignment of local planning objectives, partnerships, and frameworks with the high-level policy goals set at EU, national, and regional levels.

This issue of Amplify highlights the potential for technologies and new actors to develop mobility services so innovative that they can transform the current system into a more widely accepted, sustainable, resilient, and integrated model.


Sustainable and Smart Urban Transport.” European Parliament, January 2021.

About The Author
Ani Melkonyan Gottschalk
Ani Melkonyan-Gottschalk is Professor for Sustainability and Socio-Technical Transformation at TU Clausthal. Previously, she was Professor and Executive Director of the Centre for Logistics and Traffic at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. She has been involved in research and teaching for over 15 years in the areas of sustainable economies and frameworks for transitioning toward both sustainable and smart governance. Prof. Dr. Melkonyan… Read More