Creative commuting

Easing urban congestion for a better city experience

Karen McCandless
3 May 2013

6 min read

Inventive city transportation initiatives are ushering in a new era of travel that is efficient, affordable, clean and green. Experts predict these systems will transform travel in the years to come and shape the future of cities.

With 50% of the world’s population currently living in cities, according to the United Nations (UN), and a prediction from UNICEF that this will grow to 70% by 2050, urban congestion is a significant challenge that won’t solve itself. Indeed, growing mega-cities around the globe are placing significant strain upon their transportation systems. Traffic congestion is worsening and so is air pollution – reducing the quality of life for those cities’ residents.

“Cities with decent metro systems, such as London and Paris, are doing OK,” said Philip Gott, senior director of long-range planning at IHS Automotive, an independent automotive analyst firm. “There is congestion but there are, at least, alternatives to driving. However, in cities like Delhi and Los Angeles, the system is pretty broken, and owning a vehicle is the only way to get around.”

With the number of cars increasing – Gott estimates that, at the current rate of motorization, there will be 3 billion vehicles on the world’s roads by 2030 – governments are under pressure to create efficient, green transportation systems that can move thousands of people quickly, comfortably and affordably. As a result, cities around the world are exploring the latest innovations in urban travel to ease transportation issues.


In France, parking is a major problem and a significant contributor to urban congestion. Residents spend an average of 70 million hours each year as they look for a parking space, according to the French transport agency SARECO. To ease this problem in France’s biggest city, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoé introduced an electric one-way car-sharing system for the city and surrounding area in December 2011. The concept, known as Autolib, was conceived by the Bolloré Group, which runs the program in partnership with the city. The service is modeled on the successful French bicycle-sharing program Vélib (see below).

The Autolib service provides an emission-free, four-seat electric car on a 24x7 basis to drivers in the Paris area for short-distance trips. It aims to replace the number of private cars on the city’s roads while cutting pollution and noise.

“The service is simple and open to anyone who has a driving license,” said Vanessa Colombier, communications manager at Autolib. “It takes no more than six minutes to register for a day, a week, a month or a year in any of our subscription kiosks in Paris or the surrounding area.” Autolib currently offers more than 740 operating stations, spread throughout 47 partner cities, with three to eight parking slots each, plus charging points for the fleet and for private electric vehicles. “This makes it very convenient to find us and to pick up our cars,” Colombier said. “Moreover, all the fleet is electric, which means they are carbon- and noise-free.”


Another company that is trying to ease urban congestion is Streetline, whose patented smart parking platform, currently available in select US cities, detects a car’s presence in a parking space through a network of ultra-low- power wireless sensors. The sensors provide real-time status for on-street and off-street parking spaces. “For motorists, the ‘Parker by Streetline’ app guides drivers to available parking spaces in real time and shows parking locations, hours, rates and policy information,” said Debbie Tanguay, marketing specialist at Streetline. “Soon, Parker will be available on in-car navigation systems.”

70 million

In France alone, drivers spend an average of 70 million hours annually searching for a parking space, according to the French transport agency SARECO.

For cities, universities, transit agencies and other parking providers, Streetline provides a suite of real-time parking applications as well as historical analytics. “Our mission is to reduce the challenges associated with finding a parking space by helping drivers find parking spaces in real time, as well as helping them know in advance other parking information, and even to pay for parking with their phone (where available) and get walking directions back to their cars,” Tanguay said.


According to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, the total number of new car registrations in the European Union in 2012 fell 8.2%. With general car sales in decline, traditional automotive manufacturers are also launching solutions to meet the growing mobility challenge.

One initiative from French automotive manufacturer Renault is the Twizy Way car-sharing concept, which makes 50 of the company’s Twizy electric vehicles available to hire in the Paris area. “Users can book a Twizy car through a smartphone app, scan a QR code on the car to pick it up, and then return it to a station when they have finished their journey,” said Claire Martin, corporate social responsibility director. “Car sharing and car pooling decreases the number of cars in a city, frees up space and brings a feeling of freedom, as well as reducing pollution and improving air quality.”

Car-sharing systems, such as the Autolib system in Paris, allow users to drive off in an emissions- free electric car available from dozens of locations, then drop it off at a site near their destination. (Image © Pixel & Creation –

Renault also launched MOBILIZ, the first social business initiative in mobility from a French carmaker. “We launched MOBILIZ to provide a low-cost solution to help the more than 8 million people living under the poverty line in France,” said Martin, who also serves as general manager of Renault MOBILIZ. “The initiative provides services such as low-cost car rental, carpooling, and community transport, which eases urban congestion by providing shared transport facilities.”



Meanwhile, Toyota recently launched its i-ROAD emissions-free two-person mobility concept. In addition, the carmaker has developed a Harmonious Mobility Network. This combines a route-guidance system for automobiles and public transportation, with a car-sharing system using ultra- compact electric vehicles.

Ha:mo NAVI provides users with the optimum route to their destination, as well as encouraging people to commute along alternate routes or by alternate means. Toyota anticipates that this will help prevent traffic jams and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by promoting the use of public transportation, ecologically friendly driving, and off-peak automobile use. Ha:mo RIDE allows users to smoothly transfer from one form of public transportation to another or to share ultra-compact electric vehicles.

The General Motors Chevrolet EN-V mobility concept is another interesting approach. “It is like a Segueway with an engine and a roof,” said IHS Automotive analyst Gott. “It aims to alleviate traffic congestion while improving parking availability and air quality, and it works in all weather and road conditions.”


These transportation solutions are just the start of the mobility transformation that is gaining momentum worldwide. “New mobility services are a way to avoid systematic ownership of cars – instead of one or two cars per family, we could end up seeing six families sharing one car, for example,” said Renault’s Martin. “But we also need to look at connecting transportation systems. For example, with one ticket you can rent a car, take the bus or go by bike. And the user needs to be connected as well, so that they can more effectively plan their journey.”

For example, BMW’s ConnectedDrive technology, initially available in Germany, provides a driver with extensive, rapid and up-to-date reports on traffic and weather conditions, allowing them to avoid heavy traffic, easing congestion. Meanwhile, the CAR 2 CAR Communication Consortium, a non-profit organization of European vehicle manufacturers, is working to develop an open European standard for cooperative intelligent transport systems, improving the efficiency and reducing the environmental impact of road traffic.

Looking further into the future, cities that currently lack alternatives to cars can embrace connected virtual mobility – traveling online rather than physically.

“Connectivity is a major enabler,” said IHS Automotive’s Gott. “If we are all better connected to each other through videoconferencing and similar technologies, then we can reduce the number of journeys we make. Carefully timed innovation and new business models are the way forward.”

While new car concepts, products and proposals will help to ease urban congestion, many cities are encouraging their citizens to get onto bicycles instead.

The largest public bike-sharing system in the world is located in the city of Hangzhou, China. As of January 2013, it had 66,500 bicycles operating from 2,700 stations and was one of 19 bike-sharing systems operating in China. It plans to expand to 175,000 bikes by 2020.

Meanwhile, in May 2013, NYC Bike Share is launching a new bike-sharing program in New York City. Citi Bike is a self-service system that aims to provide members with easy access to a network of thousands of bicycles. The service will consist of 600 stations and 10,000 bikes in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

And then there is Vélib – the public bicycle-sharing system in Paris, France. Since it was launched in July 2007, the system has expanded to encompass around 16,000 bicycles and 1,200 bicycle stations located across Paris and in some surrounding municipalities. French advertising corporation JCDecaux operates the system.

London also has a bike-sharing program operated by Barclays Bank. It is nicknamed ‘Boris Bikes’ after the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who initiated the service.

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