The term “livable city” has been kicking around since the 1980s, but it’s never had much of a definition. It’s clearly a good thing for attracting residents, businesses, and investors. Yet depending on who wants to live how and where, it entails elements of mobility and sustainability, investment and entrepeneurship.
Today, 15 tech companies devoted to reshaping the way we move came together to define the euphemism. These ride-sharing, bike-sharing, and transit companies signed a joint pledge to “prioritize people over vehicles”, lower emissions, encourage data sharing, and other lofty goals that should make cities nicer places to live—if everyone can just get on board.
The “Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities” is the work of Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase, along with a group of city and transport organizations. They’re heavy on future-gazing talking points. The word mobility comes up a lot. “For most cities, urban planners, legislators and residents, there is a cacophony of advice,” says Chase. She wants the shared principles to cut through it all with simple, sensible guidelines.
Here, then, are the new 10 commandments for the livable city of the future:
You can read about each in detail here, but the general idea is do all the things that make cities accessible to everyone, no matter how they get around. No more private cars, hogging space on roads and in parking structures, in this utopian vision of a future city.
So, it’s no surprise that the 15 companies signing up—including Lyft, Uber, Zipcar, and Mobike—all benefit from a decline in private car use. They’re car-, ride-, or bike-sharing companies. “We think working together, there’s a chance to unlock enormous amounts of value, and move the shared mobility pot into a bigger share overall,” says Andrew Salzberg, Head of Transportation Policy and Research at Uber. It’s also little wonder the big automakers, which want to join in on the mobility bus, but still rely on selling individual cars, aren’t on the list. There’s also no sign of their ride-sharing experiments like GM’s Maven or Daimler’s car2go.
Susan Shaheen, who studies innovation and adoption of new technologies at UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center, isn’t surprised by the early sign-ups. “A lot of these companies were founded around the principle of providing people choices that didn’t exist, and enable people to not have to buy or rely on a car.”
The next step is holding the companies to their promises. How do you make sure Uber—which has a habit of ignoring or bending rules it finds inconvenient—plays nice with everybody? Or that bike-share provider Motivate integrates with other services?
One of the most important principles on the list is number eight: “The data infrastructure underpinning shared transport services must enable interoperability, competition and innovation, while ensuring privacy, security, and accountability.” Data on traffic flow, car and bike usage, and where people start and end their journeys could be hugely useful to city planners figuring out new transport options. But to ride-sharing companies, that data is their business, and they don’t usually share it without a fight.
“When I see Lyft and Uber on number 8, what goes through my mind is, ‘How do they define open data?'” says Shaheen. Remember, commandments aren’t much good without the promise of paradise or the threat of a good smiting to back them up.
Maybe “guidelines” is more apt. “The principles are really helping with conversations,” says Clement Michel, an international regional director at Keolis, a French train and bus operator, and one of the signatories. “When we’re talking about land use, and projects to increase mobility, we can talk about the efficient use of space and assets, fair user fees, and the benefits of open data,” he says—all principles included in the list.
Many cities around the world are onboard with these ideas, even if details on how to implement them are in short supply. Jean-Louis Missika, Deputy Mayor of Paris, is a champion—the French capital has thriving bike and transit networks, and is working to get ride of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles. Missika says Paris can start with its existing toolbox of regulations, and ask the French government for more if necessary, to force this vision of the future into existence. Other cities can do the same. “I’m not saying it’ll be easy,” he says. “But we think that a post-car metropolis is a goal for healthy, prosperous, attractive, livable cities for our citizens.”
It’s a vision that will tempt a lot of people, and agreeing on some basic tenets is always a good place to start. Just wait to give the signatories credit until you see change on the roads around you.
Uber and Lyft get blamed for making traffic congestion worse, at the expense of public transit ridership. But that’s not the real picture.
The automakers aren’t just sitting back and waiting for the changes in mobility to happen. Ford’s evolving into an operating system.
If you want an insight into what’s to come, check out these eight cities that show us the future.
© 2018 Condé Nast. All rights reserved.
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