Can the European Mobility Week really change our behaviour?

There are many reasons why we might choose to drive, cycle, or take the train. It could be related to nearby public transport connections, to the cost of owning a car, to a desire to get fit, to concerns about adding to greenhouse gas emissions, or to other, completely unrelated issues. But how do we get people to change their long-established behaviour?

The annual European Mobility Week, which runs from September 16 to 22, aims to make us more aware about the wider impact of our mobility decisions. It urges people to think about the environmental consequences of their choices – not just carbon emissions, but also in terms of congestion and noise. That usually means pushing them to skip the car in favour of a train, a bus, a bike ride or even a walk. The high point of the week is the Car Free Day: as the name suggests, it is when cars are banned from the streets.

The concept has grown since the Week was first held in 2002, involving 418 cities in 23 European countries. This year it could well surpass the 2017 total which involved a record-breaking 2,526 participating towns and cities in 50 countries (non-Europeans are also welcome), with 1,352 taking part in the Car-Free Day.

There has been a recent surge in cities joining from central and eastern Europe: Poland, Belarus, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania all saw marked improvements last year (although Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands all had lower figures than 2016).

The idea of Mobility Week is to promote clean mobility and sustainable urban transport through local projects: urban authorities can showcase the cleaner transport choices and work with local stakeholders to test new ideas.

For example, in Dublin, locals can try out free, driverless buses: the EZ10 bus, run by the Toulouse-based EasyMile company, can carry up to 15 passengers on a 1km, four-stop route from the Dublin Convention Centre to the 3 Arena.

This year’s edition is focused on ‘multimodality’, the mixing of transport modes within the same journey. The creator of Mobility Week, the European Commission, wants to encourage us to explore the different options for getting from A to B, and to think about the mode that best suits our particular journey. It points out that as well as beating the rush hour traffic, and avoiding parking fees, a cycle to work has multiple health benefits.

While the Commission sets the overall framework for Mobility Week, it is up to local authorities to implement it, and for individuals to devise personal responses. There is a recognition that no one size will fit all. The local engagement has a reinforcing effect: the more people create their own initiatives, and learn more about the issues at hand, the more they will demand of their policy-makers, and they will hand over a stronger mandate when it comes to international negotiations.

Of course, it is hard to calculate the direct effects of the European Mobility Week in changing behaviour. But if it helps people make more informed choices about how they travel, it must surely be welcomed.