Mobility has become even more of a buzzword thanks to the coronavirus outbreak and its hard-to-predict effects. While some major cities have been struggling to keep their public transport systems going, despite increased costs and declining revenues, others seem to be a bit more prepared to take on the next stage of urban mobility. We lined up the top cities in 2020 that seem to have found the recipe for a safe way to travel now and in the coming months and years, as shown in Deloitte’s City Mobility Index.
The research spans a two-year period, from March 2018 to March 2020, and while it did not actually overlap the pandemic period, it does make note of its unpredictable consequences on the way we move about in cities. The report details four main trends that are reshaping mobility in the 56 global cities that have been included in the research and how well each is progressing in areas like performance and resilience, vision and leadership, service and inclusion. These trends are built around four main concepts that are being rethought by cities: Cars, regulation, digital and data.
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For each of these pillars, changes are noticeable, but the biggest change might be the fact that the basics of city transport are shifting. “Repainting intersections to make them safer” and “using inexpensive plastic bollards to create protected cycle lanes” are just two of the old school methods that are making a comeback in cities, the report says. Bicycle lanes are especially important now, as the pandemic has determined more people to get around by cycling. Cities like Milan, Paris or Boston are making the bike lanes created during the lockdown a permanent feature to encourage what the media now calls a “green recovery” from the COVID-19 outbreak. To help implement this resurgence policy, the mayors of Milan and Los Angeles together with C40 Chair Eric Garcetti launched the C40 Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, which includes leaders that are also part of the C40 organization, currently counting 96 affiliated cities. The initiative’s goal is to establish 15-minute cities that allow residents to get where they need to be via a short bike ride or walk.
How Cities Are Transforming
Going back to the four pillars mentioned above—when it comes to cars, things are quite controversial at the moment. Not long ago, car ownership was a phenomenon on the brink of extinction due to the rise of ride-share services, advances in the industry of autonomous vehicles, rise in popularity of greener ways to get around, environmental issues and even lifestyle choices such as minimalism (there are quite a few websites, articles and even movies on the topic, if interested to learn more). As commuting has become more about safety and hygiene than ever before, driving the personal car to work (or anywhere, for that matter) has (re)become appealing.
Deloitte’s report points out to the efforts made by cities to eliminate traffic and use of personal cars through various measures, including special taxes for drivers—inspired by London’s congestion charging zone. Remember, the research has been completed before the pandemic took a strong grip on urban living and local travel. Still, Deloitte does point out in a section entitled COVID-19 and Urban Mobility that the outbreak actually accelerated cities’ plans to go green and have less cars on the streets. The question here remains: How successful will these measures be since some commuters have no intention to use public transport and cannot rely on a bike for their long-distance commute? The answer is still not clear.
Regulation is another area that is seeing increased attention and the main factors here are actually mobility and micromobility. Ride-hailing, e-scooters and bike sharing systems and services have caused many cities to rethink the rules of local travel and come up with updated guidelines that include this new means of transportation. In many cases, the new regulation meant limiting the number of vendors and vehicles.
When it comes to the digital part, efforts of city leaders are centered around various technologies and apps. The Deloitte report quotes Building a Hyperconnected City, a survey from November 2019, interviewing leaders from about 100 global cities, which found that more than two thirds are piloting or have deployed smart traffic signals or vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technologies. Contactless ticketing and payments systems are also on the list. The most interesting part, related to the digital world of urban transport, is data. Data sharing has become a big deal in various cities. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation created Mobility Data Specification (MDS), a regulatory mechanism to deal with emerging mobility technologies and services. Dockless scooter providers are among the entities that used MDS to share data on their vehicles with city authorities. The biggest challenges when it comes to this chapter in the future of mobility are privacy, security and biased data.
Top Cities for the Future of Mobility
In 2018, 35 cities have been analyzed in Deloitte’s index compared to only 21 in 2020. The ranking of the urban areas based on readiness for the future of mobility evolved quite a lot from 2018 to 2020. Two years ago, the top five mostly included northern European capitals: Berlin, Oslo, Helsinki, Copenhagen and Canada’s Montreal. Fast-forward to 2020, and the ranking looks like this:
6. Los Angeles
Each city obtained a grade—emerging, aspiring, contender, top performer, global leader—for a series of factors that were grouped in three main sectors named below. Overall, none of the cities managed to hit the ‘global leader’ status—which required getting the highest score in all sections—but Sweden’s capital Stockholm came closest, being described as proactive and with few barriers in reaching the goal, same as Singapore. One of Stockholm’s most controversial but beneficial measures to improve local transport was the congestion charging trial in 2006. However, a year later, after experiencing the benefits, the residents voted to make it permanent. New York introduced a congestion charge for a large part of lower Manhattan last year, pioneering this program in America.
Each of the cities were analyzed around three main areas: performance and resilience, vision and leadership, service and inclusion. Stockholm is a global leader in areas like modal diversity, public transport density, and accessibility. Also, the city is a top performer in areas like congestion management, public transport reliability, integrated mobility, and innovation. In the Swedish capital, about 46 percent of residents prefer driving, while 32 percent choose public transport. Also, 15 percent walk, while about 7 percent cycle around the city.
Runner-up Singapore has gained the global leader status for integrated mobility, investment and accessibility, and is a top performer in categories such as public transport reliability, vision and strategy, innovation, regulatory environment, affordability and customer satisfaction, outperforming Stockholm for this particular and very important segment. All these are backed by the fact that roughly 53 percent of residents in Singapore use public transport to get around and only 33 percent choose the private car. Also, 12 percent of residents prefer walking, while only 2 percent use the bicycle.
The index also provides a monthly cost for the transport pass, which is $95 in the Swedish city and $84 in Singapore. Los Angeles, the only American city included in the 2020 ranking, has not ticked the global leader box in any of the categories, but is a top performer in areas like public transport reliability, modal diversity, transport affordability and accessibility, as well as (surprisingly) environmental sustainability initiatives.
It will take creativity and vision, backed by serious funding and the right tech tools, in order for a city to reach the top performer status when it comes to mobility. Addressing major issues like cars, regulation, digital and data is at the core of a winning strategy. So is experimenting with various solutions (even if at first they don’t appeal to the public) and doing a fair share of trial and error. Another thing that the top cities for the future of mobility have in common—an aspect often overlooked—is their disciplined residents. Maybe this is a good place to start the journey towards successful mobility.