Is the Civitas city network really promoting cleaner, better transport?

When it comes to solving Europe’s congested urban streets, each city has its own issues, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But cities can learn from one another, especially now that smart technologies are being increasingly applied to improving urban transport.

The European Union has helped nurture cooperation and exchanges, notably through the Civitas initiative, which helps cities across Europe introduce ambitious transport measures and policies towards sustainable urban mobility.

CivitasCIty-VITAlity-Sustainability – is co-funded by the EU’s framework programme for research. It hastested and implemented over 800 measures and urban transport solutions as part of demonstration projects in more than 80 Living Lab cities. The current Civitas 2020 framework programme focuses on the transferability of tested mobility and transport solutions in the areas of smart, green and integrated transport. Projects cover new schemes charging on roads and parking, introducing clean vehicle fleets, and making the most of transport telematics.

CityScape

When Civitas launched in 2002, electric car technology was in its infancy, but now all major carmakers have electric or hybrid programmes. During that time, Civitas has provided a platform for European cities to turn their visions of electromobility into reality. But can ICT projects deliver success in reducing both emissions and congestion?

The answer was an emphatic ‘yes’, according to the hundreds of policymakers, city representatives, academics, and practitioners at Civitas’s annual Forum Conference, held in Umeå, Sweden from September 19 to 21. The conference banner was ‘Mobility for U and Me’, and the audience heard about an array of pioneering sustainable urban mobility measures moving Europe towards an inclusive and multimodal mobility future.

Clean Urban Transport

Initiatives like Civitas matter because urban transport matters. If we are to address issues like climate change, emissions and congestion, we have to think about all the challenges and opportunities of urban mobility.

More than two-thirds of Europeans live in cities, creating some 80% of the EU’s gross domestic product, consuming around 70% of its total energy supply and accounting for 75% of its greenhouse gas emissions. Urban transport is responsible for one-quarter of all road transport emissions, and that congestion costs Europe about 1% of its GDP every year. All of which makes it understandable that the EU and urban authorities are taking a particular interest in finding ways to make cities more efficient.

Technology is helping. ‘Smart-city’ projects are spreading across the world, using wireless and 3/4G to collect traffic and other data. Integrated systems for collecting, processing and acting on data are being hailed as offering a “second electrification” to the world’s cities.

The EU is hoping to make the most of these innovations to drive change. And it is putting its money where its mouth is: under the current programming period, the EU will allocate a total of €70 billion for transport (27%), and €12.4 billion specifically to boost ‘clean urban transport’ (18%) through the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund.

Civitas is a tiny initiative compared to this. The Civitas 2020 programme has a budget of just €21 million between 2016 and 2020. But it is nonetheless useful in nurturing ideas and exchanges on the many challenges facing cities.