By: Beatriz Navarro, public affairs and government relations professional.
Sustainable and shared mobility is not only an international commitment acquired by the government of Spain to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal, but it is also an urgent need in a context of profound changes and challenges in the urban environment. New technologies, environmental problems and the gradual and progressive concentration of the population in large cities force us to rethink the classic paradigms of mobility. Also requires new models and solutions with the collaboration and participation of all the agents involved in the mobility ecosystem. In this context, Personal Mobility Vehicles (hereinafter, PMVs), such as electric scooters, as well as bicycles, have proven to be mobility alternatives that guarantee fast, safe, efficient and environmentally sustainable displacements, under the framework of the so-called collaborative economy.
Spain has already taken significant steps to move towards sustainable and shared mobility, which are reflected in Law 7/2021 on climate change and energy transition. It introduces the establishment of Low Emission Zones (LEZ) for municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, the Sustainable and Connected Mobility Strategy 2030 and the Draft Law on Sustainable Mobility.
My intention in the following article is to focus on the Weaknesses, Threats, Strengths and Opportunities of sustainable mobility in Spain, basing myself in part on the statements made by senior institutional officials in the field of sustainable mobility made at the event of the Pons Foundation and Pons Mobility. I had the opportunity to attend on March 9.
THE INCIPIENT LOCAL REGULATION: Spanish municipalities are still in an incipient stage with respect to sustainable mobility regulation. While it is true that in recent years many have adopted Sustainable Mobility By-Laws to create a regulatory framework, and that some municipalities have launched pilot projects to offer residents and visitors bicycle services or shared scooters, much still needs to be done to consolidate a new mobility paradigm in Spanish cities.
The biggest threat to the development of mobility alternatives in Spain, is the lack of uniformity in the criteria adopted by municipalities in their municipal by-laws on sustainable mobility. Except for some general indications by the national legislation or the General Directorate of Traffic (hereinafter, DGT), each municipality has created, from scratch, its own regulation. This not only means municipalities have to dedicate enormous resources and time to regulating a new sector, but also generates huge uncertainty for alternative mobility service providers, struggling to understand what they have to comply with in each municipality.
THE PROBLEMS OF URBAN PLANNING: Moreover, the initial deployment of PMVs in Spain has been chaotic on some occasions, especially during the first years, mainly due to the lack of experience of users and City Councils, generating certain problems of urban planning, which favored that a part of public opinion was reluctant and critical of these new forms of mobility.
In turn, this contributed to further delay the decision-making, once again, by both municipal authorities and mobility service providers in building the necessary homogenous framework and planning to allow for mobility alternatives to flourish across Spain.
THE IMPACT OF COVID-19: Likewise, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the priorities of the national political agenda and of municipal authorities, relegating sustainable mobility projects and initiatives to the backburner, when these alternatives represented a safer way to travel and avoid infection.
ROAD SAFETY AS A KEY ELEMENT OF SUSTAINABLE MOBILITY AND THE RISKS OF LIMITING COMPETITION: Road safety is a key element and an essential requirement to guarantee new models of sustainable mobility. The different agents of the mobility ecosystem agree on the need to regulate fundamental aspects to reduce the risk of accidents. As an example, José Félix Gómez, Chief of the Local Police of Alcobendas City Council, highlights that the helmet and lighting are key factors to guarantee the safety of bicycle and scooter users.
As a result, mobility service providers are trying to be able to implement solutions for the use of helmets as part of the mobility alternative experience, conscious that doing so can make the alternative less attractive to users and presents serious logistical challenges. In fact, the Deputy Director General of Mobility Management and Technology of the DGT, Jorge Ordás, has acknowledged that the helmet can have a negative effect on shared mobility.
Companies, for their part, are continuously adopting innovative measures and initiatives to ensure the safety of users. In the case of Bolt, for instance, it has introduced a speed that is limited for beginner users, an alcohol test at night or a detection tool of more than one person on the scooter. The recent publication of the Manual of Technical Characteristics of Personal Mobility Vehicles by the DGT, which includes technical requirements related to the lighting system or braking capacity, will also undoubtedly contribute to ensuring road safety, thus reinforcing the commitment to new models of sustainable mobility.
DISPARITY OF CRITERIA IN AWARDING AUTHORIZATIONS TO OPERATE: The aforementioned disparity of criteria in the local regulation of shared mobility, is manifested in the way that the municipalities have in awarding (or not awarding at all) the aforementioned service.
Moreover, in some municipalities there is a tendency to move from a system of open authorizations for shared PMVs (with the advantages that this system entails for competition) to a system of restricted public tendering. Marc Realp, Director General of the Catalan Competition Authority (ACCO), points out that limiting competition can end up harming users. In his opinion, it is very important to justify well the delimitation of the activity so as not to prejudice free competition. On the other hand, it should be noted that a situation of oligopoly/monopoly can end up affecting prices, technological innovation, security, and even the maintenance of the service itself over time.
CITIZEN AWARENESS AND SUPPORT: The COVID-19 pandemic, despite having caused huge imbalances, has also highlighted the urgent need to move towards sustainable mobility to help combat climate change and boost the circular economy. Moreover, citizens are increasingly aware of the enormous advantages and benefits offered by new sustainable mobility models. To a large extent, it is the users of bicycles and VMPs who are driving the trend change. Moreover, citizens prefer public authorities to invest more resources in active, everyday mobility, rather than continuing the traditional policy of investing in airport, road or rail networks.
REINVENTING BUSINESS: COVID-19 has encouraged some of sustainable mobility companies to reconfigure their business models and implement more ambitious strategies to support sustainable mobility for more and more citizens. For example, Bolt launched a super-app that includes, in addition to bicycle and scooter services, ride-hailing services, taxis, and food and goods delivery services: Bolt Food and Bolt Market.
THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT’S FIRM COMMITMENT TO SUSTAINABLE MOBILITY: Finally, the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (hereinafter, MITMA) has considered sustainable mobility as a corner stone of all policies and is determined to support and encourage companies and entrepreneurs in the Spanish economic sectors associated with the new decarbonized and digital mobility.
Opportunities to boost sustainable and shared mobility
EUROPEAN FUNDS: The European Recovery Plan (Next Generation EU) is undoubtedly a unique opportunity for Spain to strengthen the economy and, specifically in the transport sector, to carry out a set of investments in the short to medium term to transform the mobility system, taking into account sustainability and digitalization criteria. At Influence Spain we strongly believe that synergy and collaboration between public and private sectors can favor the implementation of initiatives to promote sustainable mobility. Some initiatives are the Sustainable Mobility Observatories, Monitoring and Evaluation Offices for Sustainable Mobility plans and strategies, promotional events and bike and scooter sharing services.
THE GLOBAL MOBILITY CALL: The Global Mobility Call, the world’s first event on sustainable mobility, will take place from 14 to 16 June at IFEMA – Madrid. The event can be a unique opportunity to promote and boost sustainable mobility, as well as for the different public and private agents to acquire greater weight and prominence on the international scene. This was confirmed by MITMA’s General Secretary for Transport and Mobility, María José Rallo. She said that the event will help companies to increase their relevance on the international scene and to place sustainable mobility as an urgent challenge on urban agendas.
Sustainable and shared mobility is fundamental to achieve safe, resilient and inclusive 21st century cities, capable of meeting environmental goals, and undoubtedly increasing the well-being and quality of life of citizens. The government should ensure a multimodal, efficient and interconnected transport system and exploit its enormous economic, employment and competitiveness potential. The policy initiatives planned for the coming years, which will require regulatory changes to existing legislation and a considerable economic effort, represent a unique opportunity to move towards sustainable mobility.