Smart and Sustainable Mobility. A multi-layered governance strategy

Smart and Sustainable Mobility. A multi-layered governance strategy

 The story behind pollution 

The modern world requires speed, adaptability, and precision. All these three adjectives are not meant to be a statement for people, they are more suitable for a car advertisement. From the beginning, starting with Ford Model T by Henry Ford (1908), the urban context was profoundly changed by cars, at the point that old Victorian and Medieval streets left the scene to flat and bright highways (Ratti, Claudel, 2017). 

Car selling increased and the consequence was a reduced rate of investments in public transportation, benefitting instead new roads (Ratti. Claudel. 2017). Population in cities started to increase, and the esteems tell us that nearly 70% of the global population will live in cities by 2050 (Lyons, 2016). The end of the story is well known, beyond traffic congestion and its stressful consequences on the people, GHG emissions started to increase causing considerable problems for the resident population. 

The so-called smog, which can be revealed by the AQI Index, is becoming more and more integrated inside commonly used navigation app and sometimes influence the choice to get out. Nevertheless, GHG emissions in the transportation sector increased more in absolute terms than any other sector (, 2024). But a possible way out exists, or at least there is a space for debate on implementing it. The solution is called smart mobility and relies on the fact that: 

“Urban mobility of the future could be transformed, with developments such as: new forms of propulsion; new forms of vehicle control; changing business models of ownership and use; mobile technologies that equip and empower individuals; and opportunities to undertake activities without the need to travel. ‘Smart’ is the order of the day.” (Lyons, 2016)


Smart Mobility is: getting smart about mobility 

The previous quote pretty much says everything over the topic and specifically focus on the relation between a technology and its management. Governance therefore is a practice that should be taken more into account if we want to manage the issue. As a matter of fact, smart solution already exists, at least in the Global North. Think about scooters, e-bikes, e-cars, hybrid cars; and even the newest governance way, for example: car-pooling, car sharing, and all the sharing apps that let us ride a scooter or a bike. 

Which is the problem? The management and governance of these means has not been explored enough to say it is smart. How are we going to match citizens needs if there are only private players in this market aiming to make a profit, and we always follow the demand side? 


A multi layered governance of mobility 

To act in the governance field, it is needed to specify the level and the actors involved. As first, where do people go when there is too much congestion? The very basic and common commuting that everybody does each day is going to work or school. That is why usually there is congestion, and in the weekend, it feels like everybody disappeared from the city. 

To answer this problem people usually say that everybody should use bikes, walk, or get on the public bus to avoid causing more congestion. The thing is people have different attitudes towards the tasks they outperform, even if they seem to be similar. 

Therefore, there are three kinds of layers through which the problem can be tackled: Governance, Local zones-local attitudes, and finally the transportation mean. The mean is in the last position because of the problem already stated, it is not the kind of means you use, is the way you use it that causes problems. 


There are a lot of strategies but sometimes they are poorly applied. Because people think about relying on what pollutes the less, instead they should focus on what is the management that better accommodates the needs of the people working/living there. Are they going to work in the same neighbourhood, or they are moving outside the city? Different needs, different means, different rules over the usage of it, this is the point. 

Local zones-local attitudes 

Each solution should be tailored on a very restricted group of people and on a defined area of interest. This goes in line with other policies related to sustainability, for example in the energy field. If a building has solar panels, a part of the energy can charge the e-vehicles that will be used by the community. A different thing may happen instead in a central part of the city where public transportation is pretty much available. 

The transportation mean 

Finally, after assessing the environment and having explored the existence of its peculiarities, as well as identifying common traits among the population residing there, it is possible to select the most suitable option. 

If there is an event, a problem, or something extraordinary, every citizen should be advised about it. Cities as London implemented a service of rapid communication and monitoring with citizens in order to speed up the resolution of a problem. The city of Rome instead suffers from an extended problem of lack of funding in the public transportation, and a common sense of affection to car (Barbieri, 2016). In this last case welcoming new so called smart means, will just create more congestion, and public transportation should be preferred instead. 


Reaching the Social Agreement 

Who is going to apply the strategy? Or connect with the people understanding their profile? The State has the right number of tools to apply the strategy. In this way it will be possible to capture the real public value coming from the new smart mobility (Docherty, 2017). 

In the future a study of the attitudes of the people towards transportation should be a primary input in the management of climate change. It is not less important than preventing heatwaves, it is rather part of the solution towards them. Therefore, needs and attitudes of the people could be mapped and updated the moment they change so to better optimize space and mobility. 

The State should hold information regarding the home-to-work journey of citizens taking into account their needs. The ones who can only go by car could be allowed, while those who benefit from public transportation or other sharing services (for instance if they have solar panels) could organize their journey on a different basis. A more organized city, with the right amount of space for everybody, is less congested, less polluted, and happier. 





Barbieri, Lorenzo. ‘Prossima fermata: adattamento: trasporti pubblici urbani e cambiamenti climatici a Roma: il caso del trasporto di superficie’. Doctoral Thesis, Università degli studi Roma Tre, 2016. 

Docherty, Iain, Greg Marsden, and Jillian Anable. ‘The Governance of Smart Mobility’. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 115 (September 2018): 114–25. 

Lyons, Glenn. ‘Getting Smart about Urban Mobility – Aligning the Paradigms of Smart and Sustainable’. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 115 (September 2018): 4–14. 

Matters, Transport for London | Every Journey. ‘Tube, Overground, Elizabeth Line, DLR & Tram Status Updates’. Transport for London. Accessed 11 May 2024. 

Matters, Transport for London | Every Journey. ‘Tube, Overground, Elizabeth Line, DLR & Tram Status Updates’. Transport for London. Accessed 11 May 2024. 

Ratti, Claudel. ‘La città di domani. Come le reti stanno cambiando il futuro urbano’. Giulio Einaudi editore s.p.a., Torino (September 2017). ISBN 978-88-06-22522-3. 

The World Air Quality Index. ‘World’s Air Pollution: Real-Time Air Quality Index’. Accessed 12 May 2024. 

US EPA, OAR. ‘Carbon Pollution from Transportation’. Overviews and Factsheets, 10 September 2015.