Urban mobility research


Urban-specific research on intelligent transport systems, interoperability and land use planning is being carried out to resolve the multiple problems faced by Europe’s bustling cities.

The Commission's 2001 White Paper on Transport aspired to change the direction of EU transport policy to deal with the increasing challenges of congestion, noise pollution and accidents, largely caused by excessive use of the private car. 

It aimed to break the link between growth in transport and economic growth by urging a shift towards more sustainable transport modes (inter-modality), such as railways and water transport, and promoting the modernisation of public transport (see LinksDossier on Transport White Paper). 

But, with the continued rise in transport demand, the Commission's mid-term review of the White Paper, adopted in June 2006, shifts the focus from curbing overall transport growth to "decoupling of transport growth from its negative effects". It notably emphasises the concept of "co-modality", whereby each transport mode is optimised and integrated into efficient logistics chains. 

The Commission then presented a Green Paper on Urban Transport in September 2007 with a view to opening a debate on how the EU can contribute to improved urban mobility. The paper pinpoints key functions where the EU can bring "added-value" to local or national policies, including establishing common standards and encouraging research on applications that will make it possible to bring about improvements in mobility safety and environmental performance. 


  • 80% of EU citizens live in cities. 
  • Growing congestion and parking issues. 
  • Air and noise pollution. 
  • Growing health and safety concerns. 
  • Urban sprawl, spatial fragmentation. 
  • Quality of public transport. 

Needs and goals: 

  • Increased interoperability of transport infrastructures for different modes (road, rail and waterborne). 
  • Alternatives to traditional fossil fuels and increased fuel efficiency of vehicles. 
  • Noise and pollutant emission reduction technologies. 
  • Intelligent Transport Systems. 
  • Increased accessibility and comfort of public transport. 
  • More sustainable urban structures. 
  • Public acceptance of measures to create more sustainable transport systems. 

EU activities: 

The EU sets its research priorities based on the conclusions of "Technology Platforms" (TPs), set up by the Commission several years ago with a view to defining European research strategies for the various transport sectors (ERRAC for Rail, ERTRAC for Road, ACARE for air and WATERBORNE). 

No overriding Technology Platform exists specifically for urban transport matters or for intermodal research, but the EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7) for 2007-2013, includes, under the theme "transport", an activity area on "ensuring sustainable urban mobility".

This covers technical research, policy support and demonstration and deployment activities in the area of smart transport concepts, innovative demand management schemes, high-quality public transport and innovative strategies for clean urban transport. More information on many of these projects can be found on ELTIS, the European web portal on urban transport. 

A key project relating to urban mobility is the CIVITAS Initiative, launched in 2002 under the 5th Framework Research Programme. The initiative has already provided €100 million of EU funding to 36 towns and cities, and aims to help them develop, test and implement innovative and integrated sustainable urban transport strategies. CIVITAS-Plus was launched under FP7. Many stakeholders see the CIVITAS initiative as a first step towards a dedicated EU support programme for financing clean urban transport activities, outside the research framework. 

FP7 is also funding activities related to mobility and services under the theme "ICT". What's more, the Intelligent Energy Europe (IEE) Programme, financed under the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP), includes the ALTENER and STEER sub-programmes, which support initiatives relating to new and renewable energy sources and the promotion of energy efficiency in transport. 

Future Research Areas? 

There is increasing recognition by stakeholders that more attention needs to be paid to the "urban issue" due to the specific nature, size and complexity of the mobility problems that city centres are confronted with. 

In October 2007, a Commission project funded by the EU's FP6 – the European Research Forum for Urban Mobility (EURFORUM) – presented a "Strategic Research Agenda" (SRA) for urban mobility, highlighting the main areas where further research is needed to tackle the problems faced by European towns and cities. 

The report, which is based on the contributions of more than 50 stakeholders, including EU, national and local government representatives, public transport associations, urban freight distribution companies, infrastructure managers, vehicle manufacturers, fuel suppliers and research bodies, concludes that further technology- and policy-oriented research is required in the following areas: 

On the transport demand side, it highlights the need for more research and information on: 

  • Users' needs and behaviour: What are the social determinants of mobility behaviour (norms, social perception, age, personal security, comfort, etc)? What demands do transport systems have to meet to be accepted and successful without inducing new travel needs? Which activity patterns underlie human travel behaviour? How do information campaigns or new services, such as easy payment services, impact on user behaviour? How can acceptance of pricing policies be increased? 
  • Urban structure: What is the relationship between land use and transport demand? How can land value be calculated and the individual contribution of transport infrastructure on land value be quantified? 

As regards transport supply

  • Integrated mobility services: How can ICT-based services, like travel information, electronic ticketing and payment services, enable dynamic interaction between demand and supply? What new services can be developed to improve urban mobility (positioning systems for cyclists and pedestrians, interoperable payment systems for different transport modes and across borders, quiet night delivery systems for urban freight operators, etc.) and can they be made more affordable? How can car and bike sharing schemes be made more attractive?
  • Integrated transport systems: How can different transport systems (sharing of infrastructure between passenger and freight transport, tram-train systems, bus rapid transit lanes, park&ride facilities, urban freight distribution logistics terminals, etc.) be better integrated? Which new technologies can contribute to these goals? Which solutions can be found to avoid congestion created by the (un)loading of goods and for 'last-kilometre' delivery? What are the alternatives to the private, fossil fuel-based car (electric, hybrid, taxis)? What is the impact of the growing number of bicycles and motorbikes on road safety? How can passengers and systems be protected from terrorist attacks? 

The Commission notes that "research projects have a major impact on urban transport policy" and "urban mobility could benefit from integrating several policy sectors, such as urban planning, economic and social affairs, transport, etc." 

Luisa Prista, the head of the Commission's DG Research Surface Transport Unit, believes more cooperation is necessary between EU and national research authorities: "We have to be prepared to consider new forms of partnership and new forms of research governance with shared responsibility, for example linking FP7 funding with regional and national funds." However, she added: "The future is in front of us with clear research priorities on climate change and on urban mobility, but research cannot solve all problems. A more fundamental cultural change may also be necessary." 

In an own-initiative report on sustainable transport, the European Parliament calls on member states to invest more in research in the field of energy-efficient and CO2-emission-reducing technologies for transport. It further asks the Commission to significantly increase overall financing for environment, energy and transport R&D when it carries out the mid-term review of its multi-annual financial framework in 2009. 

The International Association for Public Transport (UITP) notes that "only the EU can efficiently tackle the problems of legal harmonisation, standardisation and interoperability". The association believes that the fact that current transport research advisory bodies (ERTRAC, ERRAC, etc.) are "modal platforms" is preventing Europe from finding innovative solutions to urban mobility problems. These Technology Platforms "can represent only to a limited extent a multimodal integral approach," it points out, saying they should link a broader range of stakeholders, including city planners. "Urban matters are in many cases very specific and cannot be compared with long-distance transport," it notably points out. 

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), which represents professionals involved in land, property and construction, agrees that research should take better account of the relationship between transport and the urban environment. It notably calls for more research into the relationship between public transport service provision, traffic flows and population density. Freight transport and the organisation of supply chains is also a key topic where more research is needed, it adds. "This does not only count for commercial freight transport, but also private 'freight' transport, for example doing groceries. Whilst numbers differ, it is clear that a huge part of the CO2 is emitted in the last kilometre to and from homes. Supply chains do not only need to be as economically efficient as possible, but also as environmentally efficient," it notes. 

According to City Logistics, which organises an annual fair focusing on urban distribution and the "last mile" in the logistics chain, heavily urbanised and congested city centres in Europe are in need of intelligent, efficacious and environmental logistics proposals and solutions. "50% of goods are transported less than 50 kilometres, almost never in a full load," it points out, adding that the rationalisation of this segment of logistics through improved research would be "decisive both in terms of business competitiveness, by lowering transport costs, and in terms of environmental protection both on the regional and global level, by reducing traffic and pollution". The "urban issue must be confronted as a whole," it stresses, including aspects related to street furniture, car parks, road signs, planning, management and control of traffic, and public transport. 

The European Conference of Transport Research Institutes (ECTRI) stresses the importance of getting existing Technology Platforms more involved in the field of urban mobility, especially public transport. In its response to the Commission's Green Paper on Urban Mobility, it notes its "satisfaction" that research on urban mobility has been acknowledged as an important instrument and calls on the Commission to include a specific chapter on urban mobility research in its upcoming Action Plan for urban mobility. 

"The European Commission […] has a very important role to play in the future of research in the field of urban mobility. The possible calls for proposals to be launched during the FP7 on this issue are therefore of tremendous importance," he said, highlighting the integration of transport systems with urban planning as a priority area. "Travel demand is to a great extent determined by urban structure […] The number of trips is conditioned by land use and spatial separation. In addition, the way in which these trips are made (modal choice) is influenced by urban structure," ECTRI points out. The link between urban planning, housing policy and mobility policy therefore requires further research in order to better understand how urban structure can promote more sustainable mobility patterns, reduced energy consumption and higher social equity, it concludes. 

Green NGO Transport and Environment (T&E) has called for the establishment of a European platform for best practice exchange and research with regard to community travel planning, including networks of local and regional authorities, public transport companies, employers, schools, hospitals and other facilities. 

  • 25 Sep. 2007: Commission presents Green Paper on Urban Mobility.
  • Oct. 2008: Commission to adopt Action Plan based on Green Paper. 

Subscribe to our newsletters