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‘Sustainable Mobility Indicators’ – What are they?

What are the Sustainable Mobility Indicators (SMI)?
They are a set of indicators for cities to make a holistic evaluation of their existing mobility system. Designed within the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and reviewed by both the OECD* and ITF**, these SMI have been tested in 6 cities around the world.

What is it for?

It helps cities to define priorities and simulate the impact of these new solutions on one or several of the selected indicators. In short, the indicators are at the heart of a comprehensive city approach.

How does it work?

Cities are taken through a clearly defined 5-step approach:

1.       Analyse mobility situation and understand city projects

Cities need to ask themselves a lot of questions about what they want in the end. “Do we want to develop public transport? Or is it sufficient but citizens are not making use of it for reasons we do not understand.”

“Should we make it more affordable and how to better integrate the different forms of mobility (individual and public)? And what would be the impact on congestion and/or air quality?”

“Maybe we want to make reduced travelling time for commuters a priority, or rather accessibility for the impaired?”

2.       Understand and identify city priorities

One of the trickiest parts of the process is to make well balanced choices: what is the city’s mobility vision and what should be prioritized to ultimately get there? The SMIs guide cities in making these choices. Again, lots of questions like: “do we put cutting greenhouse gases before safety? Travel time before affordability? Comfort and pleasure before energy efficiency? And what is the interrelation between these different dimensions?”

3.       Select mobility solutions

Once priorities have been set, cities can then pick solutions from a toolbox called ‘solutions finder’. Some cities will swear by a bus rapid transit, others might opt for the integration of cycling and public transport. Yet other cities will benefit more from implementing park and ride schemes or offering real time online traffic information.

4.       Cross-check solutions through stakeholder engagements and trials + identify enablers

In this phase it’s crucial to verify/simulate whether the considered solution(s)

  • is/are sustainable? Based on a business model? What are the benefits, to whom? Cost implications?
  • will encourage behavioural change? Create pioneer groups. Simulate benefits.
  • Are all the enablers in place? For example: if a solution requires a certain infrastructure, which is not in place due to policy constraints, then it may not be wise to pursue this option because of the missing ‘enabler’

5.       Mobility plan

If all goes well the outcome should be an integrated mobility plan.

Ripple effect

The beauty of this systematic approach is that it allows economies of scale. At the start of the project cities around the world with similar characteristics (based on density, car ownership, energy use, …) have been grouped in 6 city clusters. It’s only logical that challenges and potential solutions are likely to be similar between cities belonging to the same category.

Toyota for example has been largely involved in smoothening the traffic flow in a busy main road in Bangkok, and is already studying the potential to scale the solutions put in place up to other parts of the city, before extending to the entire city and/or to other similar cities in other South East Asian countries.

Does this really work?

It’s fair to say that this is a new approach, not only to work with city authorities and get insights but also to discuss mobility issues in a comprehensive way. And more importantly, the financing mechanism is adding an actual business perspective to what sometimes somehow unfortunately remains at the CSR level. Rightly full of good intentions and a lot of enthusiasm, but not always economically viable and hence not really sustainable in the long run.

EU endorsement paving the way for future UN support?

April 2016 the European Commission has announced its endorsement of the Sustainable Mobility Indicators. Which is a big step for developing more sustainable cities.

And it’s not stopping there. The project members, including Toyota as a lead, have the ambition to present the final scale up model at the UN Habitat III conference end of 2016, where the UN will define the new urban agenda for the coming 20 years.

*OECD: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
**ITF: International Transport Forum, an intergovernmental organisation within the OECD