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Cleaner air and fewer traffic jams: the challenges of urban mobility

Cities are experiencing a transition to a more sustainable mobility system that poses challenges for which innovative solutions are being implemented.

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Urban mobility is undergoing a profound transformation. In many large cities, residents are beginning to understand that the current model of ownership and use of a private vehicle often carries a very high cost in terms of pollution, energy consumption and public space occupation.

There are a number of requirements that need to be met in order to achieve the transition to a more sustainable mobility system, such as expanding the network for recharging electric vehicles, developing new specific legislation and promoting smart transport options, such as car-sharing.


How do we get around in Spain?

Passenger transport in Spanish cities is responsible for 70-80% of energy consumption and emissions in this sector, according to the conclusions of the study The Future of Sustainable Cities: Urban energy transition to 2030, published by Deloitte.

This, in turn, is greatly influenced by the size of the urban centre and its metropolitan area, the inhabitants of which travel daily for study, work, leisure, shopping or personal affairs.

  • In large cities, there is less penetration of non-motorised modes of transport compared to midsize cities (30% in large cities compared to 45-50% in midsize cities), owing to the higher average distance of travel.
  • The main factor that determines the use of public transport is the difficulty in using private vehicles. In large cities there is generally a higher level of congestion and greater difficulty in parking private vehicles, resulting in greater penetration of public transport than in midsize cities (30-35% versus 10-15%).
  • Transportation in a private vehicle is usually the preferred means of motorised transport when the user owns a vehicle, especially for non-optional travel. In midsize cities, transport by private car accounts for 50%, while in large cities this percentage drops to 30-35%..


Priority initiatives in the transport sector

According to the findings of the Deloitte report, in order to prioritise the initiatives with the largest impact in this sector, we should examine each initiative's capacity to lower GHG emissions, to reduce traffic jams and congestion in the city, and to free up public space and improve air quality.

“The key measure to be implemented is a modal shift in choice of transport, either towards public transport or non-motorised transport, such as cycling, electric scooters or walking”

Based on these criteria, the key measure to be implemented is a modal shift in choice of transport, either to public transport or non-motorised transport, such as cycling, electric scooters or walking. If travellers were to switch to public transport, emissions per passenger could be reduced by 70% in the case of the conventional bus, and more than 90% in the case of train and the metro.

Other initiatives include the use of smart mobility systems such as car-sharing or carpooling and the promotion of electric vehicles. Although sales of the latter have increased in Spain, with 41% growth in 2018 according to figures from the Spanish Association of Automobile and Truck Manufacturers, they represent just 6.4% of total car sales, still lagging far behind diesel cars (36.6%) and cars that run on gasoline (57.1%). In order to make progress in this area, Endesa has launched a highly ambitious plan to boost electricity mobility in Spain, which involves installing more than 8.500 public charging points between 2019 and 2023 at a cost of 65 million euro.

It is also proposed that drivers be discouraged from using the oldest and most polluting vehicles, since 40% of Spanish private cars do not reach the minimum requirements for a DGT environmental label. This would also bring about a significant increase (between 10% and 30%) in private car sales, with the ever-increasing adoption of self-driving and connected cars.

Finally, it is recommended that public transport vehicles be switched to less polluting vehicles, such as natural gas or electric buses or buses equipped with exhaust gas cleaning systems.


How can energy sustainability in transport be increased?

Owing to its high levels of pollution and energy consumption, passenger transport should be the main focus of the initiatives to be taken. The type of measures to be implemented in the transport sector will depend primarily on the size of the city, the size of the metropolitan areas relative to the city centre and the orography.

To increase the energy sustainability of this sector, the Deloitte study makes the following recommendations to city councils and municipal administrations:

Conduct regular studies to assess the mobility patterns of citizens, in order to define mobility plans.

Define mobility plans to reduce emissions and improve air quality.

Implement action plans for each municipality that include restrictions on access to urban centres, expand the public transport service, facilitate the use of non-motorised transport and enhance intermodality, i.e., the use of various forms of transport to avoid the use of private vehicles.

  • Conduct public awareness and information campaigns.
  • Develop regulations that facilitate the growth of smart mobility business models.
  • Encourage the penetration of electric vehicles and the removal of old vehicles.
  • Promote the development of the electric vehicle charging network.
  • Establish obligations for companies with more than 50 employees to develop corporate sustainable mobility plans.
  • Replace public transport vehicles with other less polluting vehicles.
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