Mobility of people in the city: what are the social and economic impacts?

In cities, the way people travel is changing with the implementation of policies that seek to limit car traffic and develop soft mobility. While this is a response to environmental protection, we must not forget the direct impacts on the population, employment and businesses.

What are the benefits of urban mobility solutions from a socio-economic perspective? They are numerous and concern traffic fluidity, health, quality of daily life, reduction of nuisances, economic development, reduction of the budget allocated to transport, etc. These are all elements directly affected by urban mobility policies, which concern all inhabitants, from the city center to the suburbs.

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Access to mobility: travel solutions for all

One of the challenges throughout the country, including in urban areas, isaccessibility to services, shops and public infrastructure for all inhabitants. The development and transport policy implemented can have a real social impact in this respect.

The deployment of a public transport network can, for example, make it possible to better connect the various districts. The introduction of self-service bicycles and scooters also contributes to this, particularly where there is no bus or streetcar network.

There are many examples of such facilities and services for urban mobility. They all have a role to play in improving physical accessibility, reducing social isolation, and making it possible for everyone to get around more cheaply. This is true for the inhabitants of remote neighborhoods, who must be able to access downtown activities, schools, public services, their workplace, etc. But it is also a reality for city dwellers in the center, who need to be able to go to shopping areas or to access parks on the edge of town, for example.

Urban travel and pollution: the impact of different transport modes

While pollution is considered an environmental hazard, it is also a social and economic problem. Especially since we are not only talking about air pollution, but also about noise pollution. According to a study by the World Health Organization, these two types of pollution are the two environmental factors that have the most health consequences in Europe. Respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, anxiety, sleep disorders, etc., are part of the long list of health problems that result from them. In addition to the direct impact on health, it is also a significant financial cost on a larger scale.

In cities, transport is known to be partly responsible for noise and pollution. A policy that encourages the use of electric cars and a soft and sustainable mobility will therefore have a positive impact on the daily life, but also on the health of the inhabitants. Silent and without greenhouse gas emissions, these transports can really change the cities, which are still described as noisy, polluted and stressful.

The evolution of urban mobility: other public health consequences

The social perspective of urban mobility cannot be mentioned without reference to its health impacts. Apart from the pollution issue already mentioned, there are other links between urban mobility and health.

Some modes of urban transport have an effective impact on the sedentary nature of city dwellers. Cars, buses, subways and tramways are all practical means of transport, but they encourage inactivity. When we already know that in France, a large proportion of citizens do not respect the recommendations in terms of physical activity, this raises questions. To remedy this, the municipalities have several strings to their bow and we can see various projects flourishing throughout the territory:

  • pedestrianization of the downtown area, encouraging people to walk rather than drive;
  • the development of bicycle lanes throughout the agglomeration, making it possible to replace the car or public transport for certain daily trips and encouraging city dwellers to walk in safer areas;
  • the systematic implementation of alternatives to elevators and escalators, by offering and encouraging the use of stairs, etc.

As part of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, many cities in France are also joining the "active design" project. The idea is to propose improvements to public spaces and infrastructures to make active mobility more attractive for young and old. For example: installation of climbing holds on city walls, hopscotch designs on the ground, messages on stair risers, etc.

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Attractiveness of city centers: safety, easy access and better quality of life through urban mobility

It is not uncommon to hear statements such as "I don't go downtown anymore because it is impossible to park" or "I avoid traveling at certain times of the day because of traffic jams". The increasing use of the car over the past decades, coupled with policies that now seek to counteract this habit, has effectively led drivers to prefer shopping areas to centers, online shopping to strolling through stores. This has repercussions for downtown businesses: a shrinking catchment area, difficulties in filling vacant jobs, an overall loss of attractiveness, etc.

The choice to develop soft mobility, to offer affordable parking and to better connect the urban area to the center via public transport can therefore have a positive impact. At the same time, urban transport policy must create a safe environment for residents. Many residents are reluctant to use electric scooters or bicycles in the city for fear of accidents or altercations with motorists. And this is even more true when it comes to traveling with children. Establishing dedicated areas for these new forms of mobility is therefore crucial to the development of an attractive urban environment.

Urban transport modes: impacts on household budgets

Another socio-economic impact of urban mobility is directly related to the expenses of city dwellers. Leaving all the space to the car means having to own one's own vehicle. This generates insurance, parking and, of course, fuel costs, which we know are always more expensive. Unless we implement a policy that encourages carpooling and self-service vehicles. Some initiatives go even further, with driving schools offering their services to drop off elderly people from one place to another during the learner's driving time. This makes it possible to benefit from low-cost journeys, while promoting social inclusion and exchanges between generations.

As for soft mobility, its development can also be beneficial to the wallets of city dwellers. A bike, a scooter or a gyropod is less expensive than a car to buy and maintain. In self-service, their cost per kilometer remains high. But the travel time saved compared to a car, or sometimes to public transport, makes them interesting solutions for city dwellers who value time.

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