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  • Writer's pictureThe Citypreneurs Team

The Push for Sustainable Urban Mobility (2018 Citypreneurs Theme)

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the journey you take to get to work, school, or to visit family and friends every day. Can you choose freely between more than one method of travel? Is the method you use efficient? A pleasure to ride? Affordable? How does the experience of travel in your city impact your mood for the rest of the day?

Perhaps you don’t need to imagine – you might be on a subway car, city bus, car share, or even a water taxi as you read this. Maybe you have the convenience of not having to rely on anything but your own two feet (or two wheels) as you walk or bike to and from work.

Put yourself in the shoes of a tourist visiting your city. Is the transportation system easy enough for them to understand? Also, are the methods commonly used to get around inclusive for all members of society? Are older or disabled persons considered on equal footing in terms of urban mobility?

Whether it’s London’s underground tube and famously scarlet double decker buses or Amsterdam’s serene canals and fleet of savvy cyclists, cities around the world have iconic methods of transportation that (for better or worse) not only give character to the metropolitan area, but also impact the culture there. Hong Kong is renowned for its multi-use Octopus Card while New York is notorious for its finicky Metro Card and yellow cabs. Seoul features an integrated “smart” system that regulates traffic flow while offering citizens a by-the-minute estimate of when the next bus or train will arrive. Commuters across much of the developing world put their safety and health at risk on the congested roads of growing megacities, whilst in some places wealth lifts you above the fray through exclusive heliports to fly above it all.

Urban mobility can be defined as the ability to get from point A to point B using one or more methods of transportation to meet the basic needs of living in a city. Accessibility differs from mobility by measuring how well a transportation system serves all members of society. Two examples could be installing tactile paving for blind subway patrons or ensuring that poorer areas of the city can gain fair access to public transportation. Urban mobility policies and relevant startups should consider addressing accessibility, so all city residents can travel with ease. Far more than a mere ranking of subway systems, urban mobility can be measured worldwide by quality of life indicators such as safety, average commute time, or rate of ridership.

In the words of Robin Chase, American transportation entrepreneur and co-founder of Zipcar, “Transportation is the center of the world! It is the glue of our daily lives. When it goes well, we don't see it. When it goes wrong, it negatively colors our day, makes us feel angry and impotent, curtails our possibilities.” Zipcar is today the largest carsharing company in the world, however Ms. Chase has moved on to co-found Veniam, (an iot company), as well as write books and give talks on the topic of tomorrow’s transportation networks. To read up on her activities, look here.

Much of the innovation relating to transport is being done in Europe, but the solutions developed there won’t necessarily apply to Africa, Asia, or the Americas, so local startups should take a crack at finding innovative ways to improve their transportation systems.


A Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan

As stated by Eltis, Europe's main observatory on urban mobility, an ideal sustainable urban mobility plan would:

  • Offer transport options for all citizens to access key destinations and services

  • Improve safety and security.

  • Reduce air and noise pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy consumption.

  • Improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the transportation of persons and goods.

  • Enhance the attractiveness and quality of the urban environment and urban design for the benefits of citizens, the economy and society as a whole.

These objectives can act as potential guideposts or sources of inspiration for those of you interested in finding solutions to urban mobility issues. Sustainable transportation has the power to improve our quality of life, cut costs, and save the environment. It pays to investigate what makes transportation systems sustainable in their local context and how elements can be transplanted or modified to fit your city. Forbes, reporting on the 2017 Sustainable Cities Mobility Index from Arcadis, lists the following cities as having the most sustainable public transportation systems:

Even in these cities, there is still progress to be made as the highest rating is only 65.3%

While Seoul, the host of Citypreneurs, ranks highly thanks to its advanced public transportation system, the whole country is plagued by significant air pollution. In addition to fine dust, private cars are noted as top contributors to air pollution as well as traffic congestion, taking up nearly 80% of the roads.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government is encouraging a change in behavior to drive less and walk more through innovative urban renovation projects. These initiatives will not only help the environment but are expected to increase residents’ well-being. Those of you interested in solving Seoul’s urban mobility problems specifically should refer to these two in-depth reports from the OECD and SeoulSolution.


The Role of Startups

How can startups rise to meet the transportation challenges facing each city? The truth is, it is up to young innovators to find solutions to the mounting urban mobility issues. Right now, over half the world’s population resides in urban areas, and the number of people living in cities is projected to hit 6 billion by 2050. If you think your city is congested right now, imagine what it will be like by then if positive developments are not made! This McKinsey article offers suggestions ranging on what to do about the overabundance of personal automobiles, autonomous vehicles, pedestrian-only zones, and more for how to transform our urban spaces for the better.

Urban mobility startups can make the most impact by targeting a specific problem within the existing transportation infrastructure or by promoting novel ideas based on research. Improving the accessibility of public transportation to match the examples set by these cities is a good bet. Famous bike sharing initiatives have taken place in Paris and New York but, years later, the problems of these programs are beginning to show. Large projects such as shared bike programs and creating large pedestrian-only areas (like the proposed plan in Madrid) require partnerships between startups and city governments. Tech and auto companies are also testing out autonomous vehicles as part of a new wave of technologies associated with the 4th industrial revolution. These experimental methods of transportation will need to be developed in close partnership between governments and communities so that they can be accessible and sustainable.

To attain the clout necessary to be invited to the table with city planners, startups will need to capitalize on new transportation trends. People are moving away from individual car ownership as the sole means of travel. Cars are now being used more as an on-demand service as ride-sharing and car hailing services get more popular. Besides relying solely on public transport, private and public systems work in tandem, using data-driven systems to increase efficiency. Startups can try to tackle pollution, incentivize off-peak transportation, champion alternate means of transport, or improve shipping/delivery systems. Here are two lists of startups targeting urban mobility- may they serve as inspiration.


Applications to the competition open on June 1 and last until August 29. Your business model should ideally take into consideration the interlinked nature of the UN SDGs. The solutions for the future will come from urban mobility initiatives spearheaded by young people like you who will inherit our burgeoning cities. For more information, check out our website.

Feel free to get in touch with us via social media (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Youtube), we’re glad to assist you with any questions or enquiries you may have. The next blog post will cover the final theme: social protection. We look forward to your application!

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