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Analysis

Health crisis: how can we reinvent mobility?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a shake-up for mobility. Private car use has increased by 4.4 points since the start of the pandemic, while bicycle use has jumped by 44%. How can we link the various modes of urban transport and restore the popularity of public transport to combine social cohesion, respect for the environment and economic efficiency?

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Use of public transport decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic remains the main reason for this reduction in public transport use: working from home and the closure of gyms and shops mean limited opportunities for entertainment and travel.

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Individual car use is the big winner

71% of French people are nevertheless aware that individual car use can adversely affect their quality of life due to the pollution it generates.

UTP MANIFESTO FOR SUSTAINABLE MOBILITY

 

The UTP is urging presidential candidates to strengthen France’s expertise in the sustainable mobility and public transport sectors in four key areas.

1# Urban public transport and railways that serve social and economic development

  • Long-term and costed State support for projects to develop services and infrastructure.
  • Rail networks upgrade.
  • Urban development around mobility hubs.
  • Stronger French leadership in public transport.

2# For green mobility

  • Freight transport transferred to rail and river.
  • Greening of public transport fleets.
  • Development of sustainable mobility (education, training, etc.).

3# Transport that is safe for everyone, in all circumstances and situations

  • Increased network accessibility.
  • Improvements to security and combating fare evasion.
  • Multi-modal transport boost.
  • Maintain service continuity.
  • 5.5% VAT on routine day-to-day travel.

4# For long-term funding and coherent governance for sustainable mobility

  • ‘Polluter pays’ principle.
  • Entrench the mobility allowance.
  • Tax on road transport deliveries.
  • Transport authorities to have jurisdiction over all matters relating to mobility if they so wish.
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"Walking and cycling are complementary to the use of public transport."

Stéphanie Lopes d’Azevedo
Acting director general of the UTP and director of its economic, technical and forecasting department

The UTP would like to see a doubling of the modal share of urban public transport and rail: with the health crisis, what challenges do public transport operators face as they try to persuade people back on to public transport, and hence reduce the solo use of private cars?

S.L.A. : The first challenge is to reassure users that public transport is not a source of infection, and approximately 30 studies have demonstrated this. For example, from the start of the pandemic, we led a working group of representatives of the UTP and all its component parts to study ventilation on different forms of public transport. Following the publication of the 4th part of the ComCor epidemiological study, we have been working with the Institut Pasteur to analyse and refine the results relating to public transport and are considering any protective measure that may be required.

The second challenge is to make public transport more attractive. In the Île-de-France region where teleworking is more prevalent, the reduction in passenger numbers at peak hours may attract new users who were previously put off by overcrowding. Elsewhere in France, we also firmly believe in the growth of public transport arising from geographical shifts during the health crisis. Many French people left large cities to live in smaller towns, taking their urban mobility habits with them, and this may be an opportunity for medium-sized cities to increase their public transport services.

 

More environmentally friendly transport modes, active mobility and, notably, the bicycle, are becoming increasingly popular with French people, and have seen considerable growth since the start of the pandemic. Do you think we are seeing a major mobility transition here? How can public transport reinvent itself to be more environmentally friendly?

S.L.A. : It is certainly gratifying to see the growth in active mobility, not only for environmental reasons but also for its public health benefits. Walking and cycling are complementary to the use of public transport. French people are multi-modal, and use different forms of transport on the same day or week, so for example a person who cycles to work may use public transport for their leisure activities. Public transport contributes to preserving the environment by reducing congestion and hence pollution, and also drives technological innovations such as the conversion of internal combustion vehicles to electric or the reduction of fine particulate emissions through innovative braking systems. This really is a major trend in the sector. Since the law on energy transition for green growth, public transport authorities have been forced to replace a portion of their fleet with low, or even very-low emission vehicles. As the average service life of a bus is 15 years, this change will take place very quickly.

Of course, it is also essential to increase the number of users – an extra ten people on the metro means eight fewer cars on the road (based on an average of 1.2 people per car), which will have an immediate and positive effect on the quality of life in the city.

 

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"Public transport plays the role of bringing people together"

Jean-Philippe Peuziat
Director of public affairs at the UTP

What impact in your opinion does public transport and rail have on social and regional cohesion?

J-P. P. : First of all, public transport plays the role of bringing people together: it allows you meet people you wouldn’t normally encounter in your daily life. Where the car is not accessible to the youngest, the oldest and sometimes people with disabilities, public transport is available to the vast majority of French people. It is used by people of all ages and from all socio-professional categories. Public transport also plays a decisive role in breathing new life into city centres, and is very often the last remaining public service in some neighbourhoods or cities.

Sources: 2019 Annual transport review, Ministry for the Ecological Transition. Paris Région institute, Brief Note, November 2021. 2021 Mobility Observatory – UTP.

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