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Infrastructure and sustainable mobility

Milan, 01/07/2019, National Roundtable

The theme of mobility is central to current reflections on economic development, and considerations on the mobility of persons and goods – to which approximately 29% of global CO2 emissions can be attributed – is a special focus.

Sustainability is understood in both the environmental sense as well as that more strictly economic. In the first place, in terms of micro aspects such as the durability of services and networks management conditions ensured by a firm and stabile regulatory context; and then in macro terms centered on development and competitiveness; and finally, in terms of social aspects involving adequate levels of employment, inclusion and access to services.

With regard to mobility, a fundamental role is played by a technology that allows for implementation of transportation services that respond to users’ needs. For instance, MaaS – Mobility as a Service – offers sharing and multimodal services in response to requests for generally shorter, faster and cheaper trips that take advantage of the opportunities offered by different modes of transport, including by sea.

If the hoped for future of the mobility of persons is that of interlinkage and multimodality, then concerted efforts and appropriate mechanisms are going to be needed that not only make those solutions attractive to users, but offer incentives to providers of the services to consider this option as strategic. Necessary, for example, is a new type of economic operator capable of managing an intermodal system in an integrated way without the possible distortions that a sectorial operator would have.

Planning decisions related to internal and external urban links also assume strategic importance. Urban and demographic development trends show that major metropolitan areas (Megalopolises) are going to be more important in the near future; although they account for approximately 3% of the European land surface, cities are already home to 50% of the population and generate between 50 and 70% of GDP. That they also contribute around 70% of pollution is  evidence of the lack of farsightedness and sensitivity to sustainability issues in strategic planning choices of the past.

In any case, sustainability is now on the upswing, and concrete signs of that include the adoption by public administrations of strategic national mobility plans and various urban level plans. An example is Milan’s “Full Electric” plan, which calls for the conversion of the entire fleet of city buses (1200 units) to electric, for an annual savings of 75,000 tons of CO2, and the construction of new modern, low environmental impact depots that restore back ample spaces to be used for citizen services.

The development of electric mobility is going to have to bring strategic reasoning to the theme of charging infrastructures, and of the impact that this could have on electricity bills in Italy (which are already high); in European best practices, much charging done at home or at work, which facilitates the management of peaks. Moreover, the theme of technology is central here, considering that the still high cost of batteries is one of the main economic obstacles to the dissemination of electric automobiles – the trend is a downward one, but predictions are that it will not go below €100/kWh before 2023.

Besides, it is probable and hopes are that there will not be only one solution to alternative mobility, but that various other options (electric, biomethane, hydrogen and so forth) will co-exist and contribute to replacing traditional fossil fuels. The transition phase foreseen for the coming 20 years is going to require careful planning and administration. Not only will this entail filling the infrastructure gap, but it will also require a change in the culture and in behavioral and consumer habits.