By Beatrice Ch’ng, Sustainable Mobility Senior Officer, ICLEI
Urban mobility weaves the urban and social fabric of our cities, affecting the quality of life and livability of people. It also determines the arbitrariness of people’s lives, presenting as a challenge or an opportunity depending on the different social profiles. Planning and providing a multimodal transportation system is a complex and complicated process requiring well-informed stakeholders, wise transport investments, and a functioning institutional framework. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the current mobility ecosystem of a city and identify the approaches to work towards a climate- and people-friendly mobility system.
The “Cities SHIFT: Capacity Building and Networking for climate- and people-friendly mobility” project is to support cities to identify challenges and opportunities of its urban mobility system with in the hope that the city could shift towards more ecomobile modes of travel, i.e., walking, cycling, shared and public transport. Funded by the Hewlett Foundation and the EcoMobility Alliance, this project is implemented through three intervention points: (1) performance measurement of the mobility system through EcoMobility SHIFT+ methodology; (2) capacity building; and (3) global dissemination.
Six project cities are Foshan and Kaili, China; Ludhiana and Visakhapatnam, India; and Entebbe and Jinja, Uganda. This article presents the key trends and observations from the different cities and the project outcome.
National government’s vision on sustainable mobility stimulates local change
There are increasing awareness and support for sustainable mobility at the national level in all three countries, especially on active mobility and public transport. Since 2017, China stipulated policies to promote green transportation and active mobility, such as the Green Transport Action Plan 2019 – 2022. Ludhiana and Visakhapatnam’s sustainable mobility progress catapulted from India’s Smart Cities Missions, which identified transport as one of the central tenets, although implementation success is not yet evident. The Indian government also funds this. Uganda developed the National Non-Motorized Transport Policy 2012, although both cities are unaware of the policies.
Many global and national policies, targets, and efforts are not reaching to the second- and third-tier cities, resulting in sluggish implementation at the local level. Successful implementation is strongly influenced by communication and technical and financial capacities. For example, Kaili, a Chinese city of only 522,601 people, receives excellent technical and financial support by the national government by working with the Center of Academy for Transportation Sciences under the Ministry of Transportation. This allows the latest national and international trends to diffuse to the local level.
Technology and digitalization are disrupting the existing mobility systems
A digital wave is disrupting the transportation system by leveraging new information technology, mobile phone penetration, etc., enabling new mobility services to develop in numerous forms. Such a scenario is not just familiar to developed cities but even in growing cities in Uganda, reconfiguring the relationship between transport modes and users. Public transportation services are being improved through the use of technology and supported integration between the transportation modes through digitalized ticketing and information systems. Efforts to provide efficient public transportation must be intensified in developing cities to provide for the urban poor.
New mobility services such as ride-hailing penetrated all cities and impacted the cities differently. Foshan, China, presents another intriguing case. The emergence of shared bicycle and ride-hailing services reduced public transport ridership. The bike-sharing trips are used as last-mile connectivity (25%) or trips for daily necessities such as shopping (75%), replacing short-distance public transport trips. However, ride-hailing services induced more car trips, by 3.2%, representing 80,000 cars. The survey also revealed that 78.9% of passengers would have used public transport, walk or cycle if ride-hailing services did not exist. Only 12.3% and 7.4% of passengers gave up car or taxi trips. Indian cities appear to reflect a similar trend, although this phenomenon is yet to be validated by studies. In Uganda, 7,000 people are killed in three years due to the reckless boda drivers. As such, SafeBoda, a ride-hailing app for motorcycle taxis, addresses safety by providing the driver with training and introducing a customer rating system.
Walking and cycling are gaining prominence
Walking and cycling are gaining recognition, although the quality of the infrastructure is still subpar in most cities, especially in the Indian and Ugandan cities, where it is almost non-existent. The lack of a quality environment reinforces the perception that these transport modes are for the poor. The situation is ameliorated in China with better infrastructure and the prevalence of shared bicycles. In Foshan, the shared bikes replaced 18% of private and ride-hailing car trips. Besides, pedestrian and cyclist safety is a crucial concern. In Uganda, 48% of road fatalities are pedestrians and cyclists, raising key equity concerns.
The CitiesSHIFT project helped the project cities to advance in their quest to offer an ecomobile and multi-modal mobility system through close analysis of each city’s transportation system. Tailored interventions are recommended and discussed by engaging the different stakeholders, ranging from public officials to the national transportation research center to informal transport operator representatives. Additionally, the peer-to-peer city collaboration transport experts visited the project cities, offering intimate exchange and learnings.
One of the main impacts is that the stakeholder discussions led to a paradigm shift in transport planning. In Uganda, the mayor and vice mayor took a lead role in instigating change. For example, Jinja won the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI) Global Mobility Challenge 2019 to upgrade the flow of people and goods in and around their central market area by implementing an infrastructure that supports non-motorized and environmentally-friendly transport.
A sustainable and ecomobile transport system is not an overnight miracle but a continuous and committed process of nurturing and making the right decisions. The first step to the thousand miles is by analyzing the transportation system by engaging stakeholders.
 Foshan Transport Development Annual Report. 2017.
 Torben Heinemann, the Head of Department for General Planning, City of Leipzig, Office of Traffic Planning and Road Construction; Marc Iglesias, the Project Director of the Barcelona Metropolitan Government; and Patrick Analo Akivaga, Urban Planner, Department of Urban Policy and Research, Naroibi, Kenya visited India, China and Uganda respectively.