Following his appointment as Senior Advisor of global management and consultancy firm Arthur D. Little, Alain Flausch speaks to Alex Kreetzer about how future mobility will flourish in urban ecosystems.  

Over your career, how have you seen transportation change and why do you think this is the case?  

My career in transportation is only 20 years long but, when I joined this industry, it is fair to say that the car mindset was still very dominant and the sustainable mobility concept was still in its infancy. Nowadays, thanks to the advocacy made in favour of sustainable mobility, but also because of the urban congestion, the awareness for our planet’s future, the impact of fossil fuels on human health and the wish of some more humanised and pleasant cities, there is now more concern or, better, more willingness to promote sustainable mobility. But there is still a lot to do when you look at how high the level of car sales are everywhere in the world. 

How will future mobility be funded?

I do not think future mobility should be funded differently from how it is today. It is not the role of the authorities to pay the costs of mobility, except for the large infrastructures or the incentives at the outset of new modes of mobility that help develop sustainability. The cost needs to be borne by the users and those that directly or indirectly benefit from more sustainable mobility. For instance, public transport is a great tool for economic development in cities and it is not fair to ask the authorities to carry the full burden of the required investments; while by the same token, the economic added wealth generated by those investments benefits exclusively the business community or the citizens residing along the lines. 

In the past, there has been nowhere near enough investment into infrastructure, which has prevented the development of public transport networks. This has led to outdated ecosystems that are under great strain each day, further depicting the need for an injection of funds. Where do you think this investment is going to come from and how will this help shape our cities?

This is all about favouring a really constructive dialogue and cooperation between the various stakeholders of any urban agglomeration. Authorities are the only legitimate stakeholder allowed to decide how we want cities to be developed because they have been elected democratically to play that role. But, authorities need to listen to the other urban stakeholders and integrate their needs and take advantage of their capacities. Hence the concept of public–private partnerships or ideas like land value capture, congestion charge and versement transport - all techniques that can complement the funding provided by the taxpayer. 

There is no doubt about it, public transport is the best way of attacking the environmental challenges we face today. But how do we improve this in the future and show city dwellers that this is the route to go, rather than owning your own vehicle? 

There is in this regard no silver bullet. Actions need to be taken on the supply and demand side though, as everybody knows, changing behaviours is a tough and long term effort. On the supply side, and because human beings are generally attracted by concrete benefits rather than by nice and high level concepts, public transport combined with other shared sustainable modes like cycling, car sharing, taxis and car pooling must become as efficient and easy to use as private cars. On the demand side, using a private car must become more and more expensive or difficult, at least in urban environments. Politicians, for the sake of promoting sustainable and smart cities, need to issue policies that allow a sustainable balance between PT, soft and active modes and the private car which is still a quite efficient mode of transport for certain missions and when preferably it is shared, clean and connected. 

How can future mobility in cities create economic opportunities? 

Public transport combined with shared and clean modes of transportation aimed at allowing a full journey from home to destination is the most effective way of transportation in terms of urban space usage and road congestion, environmental protection, population health and economic development. Besides the immediate economic benefits resulting from investing in infrastructure and rolling stock, the economic direct and indirect social and economic benefits resulting from investing into urban infrastructure have been demonstrated time and time again. Examples of Crossrail in London or the Grand Paris in Paris have been so convincing that the business communities of both cities have both advocated those mega-projects, but have also accepted wilfully to bear a part of the investment costs. 

If these cities do not harness future transportation in the correct way, they could end up with a disastrous outcome, as dense urban environments continue to put stress on natural resources and transport infrastructure year-on-year. How do we overcome this? 

Mega cities and even large cities which do not want to tackle mobility issues and the challenges that go together in terms of congestion, pollution and economic development will eventually collapse and be progressively deserted because, in the long run, they will be better places to live and work. Raising the awareness of governments and local leaders is critical and having frequent conversations between politicians of all levels is a critical need for future mobility solutions.  

Do you think that emerging cities - and even struggling settlements - can harness mobility to increase economic benefits and overcome challenges they have faced in the past? 

This is a major challenge for most of the cities of the developing world and it is a duty of the more developed cities to help their developing colleagues to take advantage of the lessons learned from previous mistakes to avoid repeating them during this phase. But this requires a major effort from all involved and I am not too optimistic when I see the energy placed by the western world in selling cars to the very last Chinese or Indian citizen. 

There is a perception issue when it comes to future mobility, with many of the public unsure and unaware of the drastic shift that is on the horizon. This has created a roadblock between the old way of transportation and the bright future we have ahead of us, with privatised cars still heavily preferred to mobility services and conventionally-fueled cars over EVs. How do we change consumer’s minds and convince them to welcome this shift? 

The only answers are making things easier and developing some sort of digital culture. Technology and know-how can transform our mobility habits because they will simplify the use of multi modes. Using a car is quite easy today, though traffic congestion does not make it always efficient, at least in urban environments. With a smart phone in cities today, you are already able to decide which mode you shall use for your daily journey, whether that is a car, car-sharing, cycling, carpooling, taxi or public transport, to meet your needs of the day. You can book the mode you want, pay for it automatically, know where you are going… By having this permanent digital assistance, using different modes depending on your immediate needs, you are provided with more efficient and affordable transportation. 

When it comes to mobility, there is an unparalleled need for collaboration, between a range of different companies and authorities. How do we welcome partnerships between mobility providers, automakers and authorities? 

Cooperation between all the stakeholders is of the essence and authorities should, through policies and some reasonable regulations and incentives, favour that cooperation. 

How do you see the world of transport changing over the next decade? 

I am afraid there is no other option than intermodality if we want to live in pleasant urban environments. But unfortunately, I don’t think that we have the same policymakers all over the world with forward thinking capacities and the courage to steer the world in the right direction for future mobility.  

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