Twelve months ago few people could have predicted a worldwide pandemic sending countries into lockdown, with self-isolation and social distancing becoming the new norm. People have worked from home, children have stayed away from school, and fewer vehicles on the road have resulted in improved air quality and lower CO2 emissions.
The question is, how will this reshape our future? Commenting on the theme of a twin summit at the 2021 World Economic Forum, António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations said: 'The Great Reset is a welcome recognition that this human tragedy must be a wake-up call. We must build more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies (...).'
This includes our relationship with transport but with fears over virus transmission remaining, how can local government and public transport authorities (PTAs) persuade citizens away from their private cars and prevent an increase in carbon emissions? The answer may lie in how major European cities use Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and the steps they are taking to encourage active and greener travel.
MaaS organises transport efficiently, allowing passengers to plan, book and pay for multiple transport types from a single app. It offers convenience and provides an opportunity for travellers to personalise trips, for example by prioritising carbon-friendly routes.
Alongside public transit and on-demand services, MaaS apps support a growing range of transport types: electric vehicle hire, e-scooters, e-bikes, kick scooters and active travel, adding cycling and walking into the mix. Making all available modes easily accessible through a mobile device is an effective way to increase awareness of travel options. But how does MaaS work in practice?
Helsinki is often seen as a blueprint for MaaS, with a high level of public-private collaboration. Travellers access multimodal routes with journeys paid for individually or via monthly subscription, all within a MaaS app. Finland also passed legislation to pave the way for MaaS and the digitalisation of transport, ahead of many other countries.
The Netherlands is another interesting example. It implemented, combining bike and train, with the project rolled out in Liverpool, Belgium, Barcelona and Milan. The pilots resulted in an annual reduction in CO2 emissions (approximately 1,000 tonnes), with a cumulative reduction of more than 40,000 tonnes by 2020.
Elsewhere, Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) officially launched its MaaS app last September, providing access to trains, trams, the metro, ferries and shared mobility – from cycles, e-scooters and e-kick scooters to shuttles and car sharing.
Bolder sustainability goals
Given the pandemic, the focus has turned to active travel. This provides an opportunity to gain citizen buy-in on multiple levels from social distancing to sustainability and well-being, encouraging people to leave their cars at home and reduce carbon emissions. Now is the time for governments and local public transport authorities to take bold, decisive action.
Countries across Europe are already seizing this chance. Permanent and ‘pop up’ infrastructures are being implemented in, for example, Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Milan. The UK government announced a £2bn package to encourage walking and cycling, while Leicester City Council and Leicestershire County Council received more than £1m of funds to extend their active travel partnership.
From business grants for showers, electric bike fleets and minibuses to the Wheels 2 Work programme offering low-cost bike hire for new employees and apprentices, sustainable travel has a chance to thrive – and MaaS has a major role to play in supporting this shift.
An appetite for change
The European Green Deal has ambitions to create ‘the first climate-neutral continent’. Given that road traffic accounts for around three-quarters of transport emissions, the EU wants to achieve a 90% reduction by 2050 through sustainable mobility. The pandemic has thankfully not dampened this enthusiasm.
It is sobering to think the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air reported 11,000 fewer deaths related to air-pollution in Europe because of lower pollution during the pandemic. Cleaner air is a matter of urgency too. With active travel and sustainable transport at its core, MaaS can provide easy and convenient access to all available modes – including active travel – to support the drive for more ‘liveable’ environments in our towns and cities. Local governments and PTAs must not ignore this wake-up call if they are to foster permanent change and start the ‘great reset’ for the benefit of society and future generations.
Sandra Witzel is head of marketing for SkedGo