Public transport in urban mobility

Many urban mobility solutions are available. They depend on the area concerned (city, town center, suburban area, etc.), population density, observed mobility, expressed (or not) travel needs, etc.

To understand the role of public transport in urban mobility, it is necessary to define these two concepts: urban mobility and public transport. This is what we will do first. We shall see how one cannot be fully articulated without the other.

Once this has been explained, we will be able to appreciate the notions of shared space, synergy of means of transport and movement of people within urban mobility. We shall see that the issues of congestion relief, trip creation and optimization, urban pollution and sustainable transport are all bundles that integrate urban mobility in France as in any other country.

Mobilité urbaine : quelle place pour les transports en commun ?-1

Defining urban mobility within a perimeter

To understand and define urban mobility, it is necessary to observe that it respects a determined geographical framework. The perimeter can be defined as a city, a city center, a suburb or even a peri-urban area. That said, urban mobility is always attached to an urban perimeter, i.e. a densely populated area.

In France, according to Article L1214-3 et seq. of the Transport Code, the urban travel plan (PDU) has been mandatory in certain territories since 1ᵉʳ January 2020. On January 1ᵉʳ, 2021, this UDP became the mobility plan (PDM) according to the Mobility Orientation Law. All of this indicates the degree of involvement of public authorities in addressing transportation and travel issues. At the same time, companies with more than 100 employees are invited to consider a company travel plan (PDE), which will become part of the broader reflection carried out by all the players:

  • data used by the public authorities and in particular CEREMA ;
  • consulting firms commissioned to carry out the projects envisaged
  • contributions from the public during surveys (drivers of cars, bicycles, heavy goods vehicles, public transport);
  • etc.

Urban mobility is therefore an in-depth and continuous study of a whole network of identified trips within an urban perimeter. Each mode of public transport (bus, metro, tramway, etc.), personal (car, bicycle, pedestrian, etc.) and professional (goods vehicles, cabs, cargo bicycles, etc.) is concerned and considered.

To give you an idea, in Paris in 2021, no less than 1.5 million daily trips and journeys have been counted. The stakes are therefore crucial (economic development, environment, social ties, personal services, quality of life for residents, urban planning, etc.).

Public transport must create desire and detect need

Public transport has a direct effect on urban mobility. It is necessary and it helps to bring an urban population into the heart of a city.

A little historical anecdote to understand the reasons for public transport

To introduce the subject of public transport, let us go back in time a few centuries. In France, before the beginning of the postal service to individuals under Henry IV, only the royal letter service existed. At that time, in Paris, the network had a horse-drawn carriage linking the royal palace to the capital's key points. It was proposed to make these trips "profitable" by authorizing the transport of individuals in this carriage for a financial contribution. The cab was born. However, in order to optimize the car, it only left when it had filled up with passengers, which had the effect of making the departure and arrival times rather vague and disparate. In addition, the mail suffered delays.

So it was decided at one point that, passengers or not, the car would leave at a specific time so that the mail would arrive on time. From then on, the departure time (and therefore the theoretical arrival time) being fixed and defined, the car was always full. Punctuality had triggered a need that was already latent, but poorly studied. Cars intended for urban passenger transport (the first cabs) were then created.

This historical anecdote lays the foundation for any mobility study and demonstrates that a good analysis of needs goes beyond those expressed. Mobility must meet a need, sometimes even create it.

Mobilité urbaine : quelle place pour les transports en commun ?-2

The arrival of public transport in France

Although the first streetcars and buses date back to the beginning of the 20th century, it was particularly during the post-war reconstruction period that public transport played an important role in the organization of France's major cities. As private cars were inaccessible to the incomes of the time, urban transport modes had to meet the travel needs of workers.

Thus, during the reconstruction, urban planning was designed around these modes of urban transport that had become indispensable (bus, tramway, metro, etc.). Infrastructures were built for this sole purpose of urban mobility, and the entire population lived to the rhythm of these urban transport schedules.

The private car modifies travel in urban areas

The thirty glorious years and the industrialization of France allowed the purchasing power of the French to increase. Every household began to be able to own a car. This individual means of transportation is comfortable, safe, available at any time and is a great success. However, roads are saturated, traffic jams are becoming daily and the impact on the environment is obvious.

The return of public transport today

Faced with these facts and the saturation of roads, cities are taking different paths to alleviate the problem of urban travel. Some cities are betting on keeping the individual car and investing in more roads, more parking lots, etc. Others understand the inevitability of the refurbishment of their roads. Others understand the inevitability of future urban mobility and are preparing to rethink the whole scheme.

The challenge is therefore to convince users (who are mostly in private cars) to trade their habits and comfort for the advantages of public transport. To do this, a number of studies have been carried out.

  1. Public transport benefits from dedicated sites (bus lanes, tramway or metro tracks, etc.) which allow it to reach a commercial speed higher than the speed of a car in the city.
  2. The cost of public transport competes with that of the private car to be attractive. In some cases, free public transport is even successful in attracting a large public and eliminating fare evasion.
  3. The intermodality of public transport (TER/metro, metro/bus, tram/metro, metro/carpooling parking, etc.) allows the connection between all types of transport.
  4. The possibility of including soft mobility with public transport (electric bicycle that can be taken on board buses, tramways, etc.) makes it possible to attract users of these forms of mobility.

It must be integrated that public transport has a real benefit, because, for example, a car "consumes" a surface of 4.5 m² per person transported (if 2 people on board), against 0.47 m² for a bus. At a time when urban space is inaccessible in terms of urban planning and parking, public transport is an obvious answer (among others) to urban mobility.

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