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A Commuter Revolution: How Cities Are Collaborating to Solve the Challenges of Sustainable Urban Transport

By Mark Watts, Executive Director C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, & Hany Fam, EVP Enterprise Partnerships, Mastercard

More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas (by 2050 this number is expected to rise to two thirds) and cities are responsible for more than 70 percent of global energy related carbon dioxide emissions.

Research by C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) and SEI? found that urban policy decisions made before 2020 could lock in one-third of the remaining safe global carbon budget. This means that mayors in office today have just 4 years left to consider some major questions about priorities for their cities: Should they build more new roads or modernize public transport?  Are they allowing more urban sprawl or encouraging the development of a compact city? How will they fund the sustainable infrastructure and programmes that they know are needed to tackle climate change?

These are always tough questions and the urgency to tackle them in the context of a rapidly changing climate, only exacerbates the challenge.

One of the sectors where these questions are most urgent is in transportation. By connecting people to employment, leisure and education opportunities, transport networks are essential to making cities such dynamic places to live. Yet it is also the sector where global greenhouse gas emissions are rising most quickly. Research by C40 has found that the transportation sector accounts for an average of 27% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated in C40 cities.

Air pollution in cities, much of it caused by vehicles, has become a major public health challenge. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 5.5 million premature deaths globally each year due to urban air pollution.

Congestion also has a major economic impact. In Rio de Janeiro, it is estimated that congestion costs about 2.5% of GDP, while road congestion already costs Asian economies an estimated 2–5% of GDP every year due to lost productivity as commuters are stuck in their vehicles.

The good news is that mayors, city officials and the private sector are working together to find solutions to these urgent challenges. At COP21 in Paris, C40 and MasterCard launched the C40 Mobility Management Network, a network of the world’s mega-cities who want to talk about mobility challenges and transform the way people move in their cities.

This month in the lead up to COP22, the Mobility Management Network will meet in Paris, the lead city of the Network. Hosted by Mayor Anne Hidalgo, representatives of fifteen cities as diverse as Auckland, Boston, Kolkata, Mexico City, Nairobi, Quito, Stockholm and Wuhan will come together to tackle complex transportation issues and share ideas to transform cities.

Mobility management is the art of encouraging citizens to make better decisions about how they move around the city. This means providing them with more transport options and making it easier for citizens to choose the transport options that will most benefit public health, social equity and the climate. The theme of the network is therefore about making public transit a more attractive option for citizens through measures to reduce private car use and increasing walking and cycling options.

In practice this will mean Los Angeles talking about how they are in the midst of a transformation from the car capital of the world to a city with world-class transit and transportation options. Wuhan will present on their bicycle sharing scheme which is set to become one of the largest in the world. Stockholm will discuss the challenges it faced in implementing congestion pricing and the benefits it has seen from the policy.

In Anne Hidalgo, we could not hope for a better host. From her efforts to close the right bank of the Seine to cars and banning the most polluting vehicles from entering the city to leading a group of European mayors calling for the EU to impose stricter limits on diesel engines, Mayor Hidalgo is a leader who has taken decisive action to transform her city and change the way that people move.

Why networks and collaboration are key

The network model is a proven tool for cities to share ideas, experiences and innovations. A recent C40 report has shown that roughly a third of C40 cities’ action is delivered by knowledge sharing – in other words by adopting measures that other cities have already implemented.

The private sector also has a vital role to play in supporting cities and citizens to make the right transport decisions.  Public and private sectors need to work hand in hand, sharing technical and logistical expertise, agreeing on common standards and finding new ways to finance investments.

This is why C40 and MasterCard came together to establish the Mobility Management network – aimed at helping cities to move from ideas to action in order to reduce emissions, save cost and improve the quality of life for their citizens – to move faster and with more impact. As a growing number of cities share knowledge and best practices to drive climate action, we have a unique opportunity to create more sustainable, inclusive, livable cities. MasterCard and C40 are ready to support cities in delivering that commuter revolution.