Mobility : an urban policy issue 

Mobility is no longer about choosing between ways of travelling from one place to another. It has become a major issue for a nation’s development which requires more equal distribution and strong ethical choices regarding urban policy. Not everyone takes an Uber to avoid public transport, and not everyone wants to become a pizza delivery cyclist.

At the “le Grand Paris bouge-t-il?” (“does Greater Paris move?”) Forum which was held at the beginning of 2018, all major players and stakeholders involved in the project – which some described as an issue that just won’t go away – helped to spread the message that employment, culture and public spaces were a feature of the landscape in the same way as energy resources and pollution. After all, “freedom of movement” is a citizen’s fundamental freedom which precedes human rights, as noted by Jacques Lévy, a professor at the Federal Polytechnic School (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale) in Lausanne.

The President and CEO of RATP, Catherine Guillouard, confirmed that “new forms of mobility can be a real accelerator of equality.” For example, RATP invests in start-ups such as Citizen mobility (for frail or dependent people) or Cityscoot (to develop the electric scooter). Will the individual and private car that we adored in the 20th century become a thing of the past?

What future for vehicles?

The observations are poor because a car is actually only driven for 2.7% of its life (taking into account the time spent in traffic jams and being parked up). As a result, 40% of the new generation of 18-35 year olds have adopted the French unicorn Blablacar. However, even though the scourge of the private vehicle is stigmatised by many, digitisation and collaborative economics do not solve all the problems: “The problem is that public spaces were designed for cars”, adds Daniel Guiraud, mayor of Lilas and vice-president of Greater Paris.

Can the autonomous and shared car restore the balance and ensure more equal means of transportation?

Rolling these cars out in peri-urban areas could bring about improved links between the “suburbs” and the centres of towns or cities. You might consider just parking them on the fringes of areas with heavy traffic, therefore helping to prevent overloading traffic as well as clearing and decongesting conventional parking areas. But in such cases, public and local authorities must protect the initiative at the risk of losing all control. Philippe Dewost, director of Leonard, the Vinci group’s forward-looking and innovation platform, warns that “the pressures exerted by private operators to acquire secure spaces for their autonomous vehicles and to have control over data could lead to these actors becoming the new rulers of urban mobility”.

Another perspective recommends formally developing the cycling plan in Paris, on the grounds that using clean or non-polluting energies can help the public to understand that the cheapest energy option for society is in our legs! Proof of this is the expansion of the assisted (partially electric) bicycles market which requires swift community action to redistribute them across our cities’ roads. In fact, the La Poste group has just announced the release of a new electric bicycle which has been designed by its Lab Yellow Innovation. These bikes will be equipped with a built-in screen with 180-degree rear vision to help improve the safety of cyclists.