Sustainable Urban Mobility Is Integral to Green Cities

As pointed out in our recent blog post, decarbonizing urban transportation is crucial in creating and maintaining a sustainable city. Many metropolitan areas have come a long way in Electric Vehicle (EV) adoption, but the work toward sustainable mobility does not end there. Indeed, officials and operators should also consider the usefulness of micromobility, smart parking applications, and urban traffic management for the future of transportation.

Electric Vehicle Adoption 

The first way urban mobility can be more sustainable is through the mass adoption of electric vehicles. Unfortunately, purchasing an EV is not a feasible mobility option for many city goers, and many more just don’t see the benefit of doing so. For example, the average price for an EV in the United States is US$66,000—making it a tough ask.

As evidenced by places like London and Barcelona, city officials need to think outside the box to get residents to fully buy into EVs.

Some large cities set up low-emissions zones to encourage people to purchase EVs. In a low-emissions zone, drivers must pay a fee if their vehicle doesn’t meet the emissions standards that the city puts forth. For example, London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) affects 3.8 million people, resulting in an impressive 92% of vehicles complying with city sustainability regulations.

This sustainable mobility best practice can also be pushed through citizen incentives.

In Barcelona, the city provides a range of incentives to motivate residents to switch to EVs. Among those incentives are hefty tax cuts and free parking in some city areas. Adding to consumer EVs, electrifying taxi fleets like  Addison Lee, London’s largest taxi company, has committed to full electrification by 2023, possibly setting a precedent for other cities. 

Electrifying public transportation systems is another area that can promote sustainable urban mobility. As helpful as it is to get more city goers to use public transit instead of their own diesel-fueled vehicles, decarbonization efforts are enhanced even further when public transportation is electrified. According to CALSTART, 3,533 full-size zero-emissions buses are operating in the United States, a 27% increase since 2020.

In Europe, there is even greater traction in making e-buses the new normal, and there were 48% more electric bus registrations in 2021 than in 2020. That brings the total number of e-buses in Europe to more than 8,500. Germany, the United Kingdom, and France lead the way with the most significant number of e-bus shipments.

Equally as important is considering the railroads that connect cities too. To make inter-city transportation more eco-friendly, governments can consider transforming railway lines similar to what the UK government plans to do for Turkey.

North America and Europe aren't alone in the shift to sustainable mobility. Indeed,  at least 2,000 e-buses operate across 10 Latin American countries, while Australia and some Asian nations have also invested in electrified public transportation. Shenzhen, China—a city with the world’s first and largest fully electric bus and taxi fleets—has 16,000 e-buses and 22,000 e-taxis. Further, Japan is overseeing a 5-year demonstration of its first all-electric bus fleet using BYD J6 buses that seat 29 people each.

Electric Bikes and Electric Scooters

The next aspect of creating sustainable mobility in a city is to encourage the adoption of shared micromobility services. In addition to car sharing, electric bike and electric scooter ridesharing services have grown in popularity in recent years and offer a practical way to replace diesel-fueled vehicles.

Micromobility has become especially useful in reducing congestion for first-mile and last-mile trips. Given that roughly 50% of car trips are less than 3 miles, electric bikes and electric scooters could potentially replace most trips in cities. For example, someone exiting the subway station can rent an e-bike to reach their final destination. That's far more eco-friendly than hailing a taxi, which is a culprit of air pollution.

As an example of this sustainability best practice, the city of Providence, Rhode Island, recently announced the increased stock of electric bikes and scooters that can be accessed through sharing service partners Bird, Spin, and Veo. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, these micromobility services minimize traffic congestion and provide an affordable means of transportation for low-income residents. Providence is just one of many urban areas going all-in with alternative mobility.

Sustainable mobility also extends to delivery service vehicles. Berlin-based startup Cycle has shown the value of e-bikes and e-scooters for delivery services, focusing on electric last-mile delivery for couriers and logistics companies. In a world where on-demand retail, grocery, and food delivery are becoming the norm, finding ways to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution stemming from delivery services will only become more needed. Companies in over 50 European cities can subscribe to Cycle’s electric fleet or individual e-bike service.

Not only are these forms of mobility better for the environment, but they also promote a better quality of life. In a 12-week study, Australian researchers concluded that using e-bikes positively correlated with improved mental and physical well-being for obese individuals.

Smart Parking Apps 

Finding a parking spot can be a massive nuisance in a busy city. Not only is this frustrating for the driver, but it also increases their carbon footprint, as searching for an empty parking space requires the vehicle’s engine to continue running. Indeed, 30% of city traffic stems from folks looking for a parking space.

While automated valet parking helps alleviate this common occurrence, smart parking apps can take a city's sustainability efforts to another level. Smart parking is still in its infancy and is an up-and-coming solution that significantly decreases traffic. To make this sustainable practice more widespread, city officials must educate residents or incentivize them to use the numerous smart parking apps available, such as SpotHero, Parker, and EasyPark.

On the technology front, sensors and ticketing systems are key enablers of smart parking for gathering data and processing digital payments.

From a recent Silver Springs Networks consumer survey, it’s evident that the average person isn’t even aware of digital parking solutions. The results indicated that just 36% of Americans are familiar with parking management as a smart city application.

In Europe, 29% of people currently use smart parking apps, according to an EasyPark survey. Nordic countries are more likely to use parking apps than other parts of the continent, with Sweden leading the way, where more than two out of three people use parking apps. And this isn’t surprising as the Nordic nations have been sustainable leaders worldwide for quite some time.

Energy-Efficient Traffic Management Solutions

As noted in ABI Research’s Urban Vehicle Traffic and People Flow Management research analysis report, traffic management is viewed as an essential aspect of addressing sustainable urban mobility. Therefore, enabling technology suppliers will make it a big focus in marketing.

Consider the following technologies:

  • LED Traffic Lights: Cities can begin replacing their existing traffic light bulbs with Light-Emitting Diode (LED) technologies, which are far more efficient than fluorescent and incandescent lights. 
  • Dynamic Traffic Signaling: Traffic lights can also be replaced with new ones that are dynamically controlled and enable vehicle preemption and “green waves.” Traffic light cameras and sensors can give priority right-of-way at intersections so that traffic congestion and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission levels are significantly reduced. At some point in the future, vehicle preemption can provide cities with a new revenue stream, as delivery services and logistics companies will be willing to pay for priority at intersections.
  • AI-Based Traffic Solutions: City vehicle congestion is a primary reason why cities invest in sustainable technologies, and it can be dialed back with better incident reporting. Traffic cameras packed with smart Artificial Intelligence (AI) can automate the process of reporting a crash, breakdown, or other scenarios resulting in traffic buildup. In addition, real-time traffic information services from providers like INRIX, TomTom, HERE, and Google notify users of urban roads to avoid and recommend alternative routes. These traffic updates greatly benefit from smart city technologies and user reporting. With timelier and more efficient incident reporting, far fewer vehicles will be stuck sitting idle in traffic.
  • V2X Technologies: To avoid incidents in the first place, cities can deploy Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) technologies. By doing this, sensors can communicate with a vehicle or the smartphone of a driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist to warn them of an imminent threat. V2X also extends to inter-vehicle communication. For example, a driver will be notified when a vehicle ahead abruptly presses the brakes.
  • LiDAR-Based Vehicle Monitoring: Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) is one of the more promising sensor technologies available for promoting sustainable urban mobility because it provides High-Definition (HD) radar and granular real-time traffic analytics. The German city of Rüsselsheim am Main leverages 16 LiDAR-based monitoring stations installed on busy roads. This allows the city to detect when 7.5-ton trucks, which are banned in the city due to traffic congestion and air quality concerns, are on the streets.

Chart 1: Installed Base LiDAR Sensors by Smart City Category: 2020 to 2030

Chart of LiDAR sensors install base by smart city category for 2020 to 2030

A Defining Moment for City Decarbonization

As we reported in our 2023 technology trends whitepaper, smart mobility is one of the most critical challenges cities will face in the coming years to address climate change. All the efforts toward urban decarbonization are for naught if our modes of transportation don't meet low-emissions goals. With nearly a third of all GHG emissions in developed countries coming from transportation, city officials must invest the time and resources needed to address this common issue. The actions taken now will lay the foundation for the future of sustainable mobility.

Learn more by downloading the report.


Below is an infographic providing a few ways to make mobility in cities more sustainable.

Download the Sustainable Mobility in Cities Infographic

Infographic showing three ways to achieve sustainable mobility in a city

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