EUKN interview with Mr Nuno Pinto and Mr Gonçalo Correia

24 January 2017

The EUKN organised the Policy Lab for one of its members, the Czech Republic, on 14 December 2016 in Prague. Mr Gonçalo Correia and Mr Nuno Pinto are experts on urban mobility, and in this capacity they have provided input to the Policy Lab on urban mobility.  They gave insights on their background, their involvement in the Policy Lab, and their expectations concerning the Urban Agenda Partnership on urban mobility, led by the Czech Republic and the city of Karlsruhe. 


EUKN: Nuno, Gonçalo, could you both explain in what way your work is related to urban mobility?

NP: I am a lecturer in urban planning and urban design at the School of Environment, Education and Development of the University of Manchester (UK). My interests in urban mobility currently focus on the integration of transport and mobility planning in the wider spatial and strategic planning processes. In the past, I have worked in the elaboration of mobility plans in several municipalities, as well as on mobility of specific modes such as rail and cycling.

GC: I’m an Assistant Professor at the Department of Transport & Planning at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. We do research, teaching and valorisation in transportation systems. Urban mobility is part of a bigger system, but I would have to say it is the most critical part due to increasing urbanisation of the world. Urbanised regions are the places where the greater stress on mobility is created given the number of people living in a small area, needing to move every day to participate in key activities such as working or shopping. At TU Delft we study these mobility patterns, through mostly modelling techniques in order to be able to change them and make them more sustainable. Some decades ago traditional research in transportation was mostly focused on traffic systems, but with the need to increase the sustainability mobility, we have the need to approach the system from a transportation demand management approach which includes studying the operation of public transportation and other innovative modes, providing the so called soft modes (walking and cycling), but it also includes studying the market reforms that allow travellers to make more efficient decisions which include all externalities of travelling by car in urban areas.


EUKN:  What are the main challenges in European cities concerning urban mobility in the coming five to ten years in your opinion?

NP: Technology changes and its impacts in urban form and the new context of public (European and national/local) funding will perhaps be the main challenges that mobility planning will face and that requires its better integration with spatial planning and urban design.

GC: Cities are still growing so there is the need to keep on managing the mobility demand. With limited resources we need to be able to provide good public transportation while looking at the costs involved in that supply. Moreover there are new technologies and modes of transportation coming up such as automated vehicles and UBER that must be taken into account. These trends cannot be ignored otherwise the consequence is that some cities and countries may lag behind. The transportation system requires permanent monitoring because travel patterns and requirements from the populations change continuously. Moreover mobility is connected to land use. No point on managing very precisely the transportation system if the urban planning does not match that rigorous approach. We have learned much in the last decades about what should be the good practices, but also the bad practices, this must be taken into account in the policies of the future.


EUKN: Do you feel the topic of urban mobility is being addressed adequately by policy-makers in Europe? If not, what aspects are most problematic - commitment, resources, communication, or something else?

NP: Mobility is always a major issue in urban management and policy-makers are certainly aware of it, both technically and politically. As urban mobility is highly technology-oriented and has a very quick time scale, and urban planning has a slower pace and has to integrate different aspects of the complex urban system, there are many times gaps and lags between the two processes. These delays have links to governance, resources and funding and there is a great potential of bringing mobility and urban planning closer together to improve urban life.

GC: Well, Europe is comprised by a very diverse set of countries with different development levels as far as urban mobility is concerned. It truly depends on the country size and economy. I believe that the EU is a great forum to allow less developed countries to learn from the most developed. Their successes and their mistakes. There is no point on setting up strategies that mimic some of the failed strategies of the past. The most meaningful example being the high investment on car infrastructure accompanying economic growth. The paradigm has to shift and I feel that some of the tail countries are not being well advised and they are repeating some mistakes of the past. If this is being caused by poor communication or commitment I do not know but I think it’s not really a matter of resources but it is more about political will of the local and national governments.


EUKN: What is the role of local governments in tackling urban mobility? Do cities mainly support the approach set out on a national and European level?

NP: It varies a bit from country to country, but local governments are the main actor in managing urban mobility across Europe. This implies a good understanding of both European and national/local level strategies and policies to develop new mobility solutions, which many times is unfortunately much more linked to optimizing funding schemes rather than using mobility as a strategic tool for urban development.

GC: As I was saying there is a very diverse reality in Europe. I would say that it is not the place of the EU to impose restrictions on how cities should be planned. Transportation is an important component of the action of politicians hence it gives them degrees of freedom to get the support they need in the elections. This in practice, in some situations, leads to poor policy making because politicians will try to satisfy the immediate needs of the majority of the population which are most of the times simply more support for car usage. In my view there is the need to train the politicians but also to inform the populations who are frequently not aware of the negative effects of their individual choices in the collective performance of the system.


EUKN: On a global level, how well are European cities doing in terms of urban mobility?

NP: Urban mobility is in the centre of urban quality of life in cities across the continent, to different extents. Some countries provide better conditions to local governments to develop mobility policies with effective impact and with a correct use of public funding. Some others have, let’s say, less robust mobility frameworks that lead local governments to have more tactical approaches (more oriented to use available funds and to provide stand-alone mobility solutions) discarding the use of mobility as a more strategic tool for planning. 

GC: Having said that there are negative policies being followed in some countries and cities I have to say that European cities have very good indicators compared to cities in America or Asia. There was a great investment in public transportation in the past and these investments are still continuing. Information technologies have also been extensively implemented to help travellers using the system with lower costs. Traffic congestion exists but it is not comparable in most of the cities to what happens in the other continents. Pollution, apart from the notable example of Paris and a few others, is not a major concern in city centres, again in comparative terms with cities in other continents. From the point of view of energy needed for transport vs. density, Europe is in a very balanced position with no exaggerated densities and low energy spending in transport whilst for example the American cities have been planned with very low densities having the worst mobility patterns in mode choice and total kilometres driven, which makes them spend the highest amount of energy with mobility.


EUKN: Do you feel that the Urban Agenda, particularly via the thematic Partnerships, can provide a promising new approach to get urban mobility higher on the agenda and to promote viable solutions?

NP: The fact that the Commission is willing to develop a common Urban Agenda is very important in a context of global environmental (and urban) adaptation policies and global socioeconomic challenges to cities (economic crisis, public funding, increasing inequality and deprivation, terrorism to name a few). The development of these Partnerships is very promising by joining actors at different regional levels (national governments, regions and cities) and from different sectors of society (administration, knowledge sector and private industries) to bring together a more effective integration of the multiple aspects of mobility.

GC: I am a bit concerned with the mixed levels of decision making, not because there are different levels but because these levels differ between the countries. In some cases you may have a very small city joining the partnership which has very little power to influence the policy making of its country. This may hinder a greater impact of the action. It’s essential that the partners of the different countries attain the necessary support of their governments and that they are able to convey the most important conclusions of this group’s work.


EUKN: Following up on the Policy Lab: What are, in your eyes, the most essential points for the Partnership to take into account in its future work?

NP: The Partnership in Urban Mobility has to develop a broad perspective of mobility planning and management in the context of urban planning. There is a need to develop new approaches of planning and participation at local and higher levels that better inform urban planning by integrating the multiple systems in the urban system. The Partnership has a great potential of bringing together the multiple actors and to somehow move away from what has occurred more frequently in the past of focusing on technological and financial issues of mobility, leading to a myriad of investments across the continent that are to a great extent not delivering mobility services the way they were designed for.

GC: It’s important to focus more on the three pillars of the initiative: better policy, better funding, better knowledge. But this does not come naturally at least for the local decision makers whose concerns are much more focused on the daily management of their regions. This was noticeable in the meeting in Prague. I also have that difficulty coming from the academic world, my concerns are much more technical. In order for these partnerships to have positive results there must be guiding from the Urban Europe initiative as to what are the main goals of this type of partnerships.