It has been last April that I flapped through fellow UIA Mobility projects to see how they are doing. It struck me how similar SASMob of Szeged and COMMUTE of Toulouse projects are both focusing on commuting. I realised how an opportunity it would be to make the two teams know about each other, to compare methods, approaches, developed tools, etc. And now here I am accompanying SASMob team representing the municipality, private companies and transport providers on a shining November morning to exchange practices. We are waiting for Pilar Vigil-Bessoles, project manager of COMMUTE UIA project to lead us to the Toulouse Metropole building.
Toulouse Metropole, an urban area of 1,3 million habitants with a population growth of 15 000 per year, has also a growing mobility and commuting challenge to face. The aim of COMMUTE project is to maximise the efficiency of traffic flow and to reduce the environmental impact of traffic within the industrial area around the airport where aeronautical industries – partners of COMMUTE – are concentrated. In contrast to Toulouse, Szeged is a smaller town, with 170 000 inhabitants. While Toulouse is already after large scale motorisation with 60% individual car use within the modal split, Szeged is right in the middle of this motorisation; use of public transport is not faded away yet (it is a valid option within most households and there is still little social stigma towards PT users). And Szeged is trying to implement preventive actions, before it is too late. There is indeed a lot to learn from each other.
There is already one clear common theme emerging across the two projects: whatever is the reason to start the project, whatever the inner motivations of the private companies: they are the real enthusiast, they are the key engines of the progress. This was the first thing that struck me during our meeting in Toulouse. Private companies are present with body and soul, they are engaged, active and progressive. In Toulouse they realised there is a loss in efficiency, workers are spending too much time in traffic jams, get to work stressed and tired. On the other hand, in Szeged the situation is not that much focused on mobility issues. Employers, from IT (evosoft) to food processing (Pick Szeged) companies are faced with a difficult labour shortage, which hits all industries and all strands of employment. Thus, employers are eager to care about the health and well-being of their employees, which also includes mobility issues.
This difference in understood problems explains the differences in the conception of the two UIA projects. In Toulouse private partners started to coordinate their individual commuting offers to their employees, came together and pushed the public authorities to react, to act. In fact, they were successful to persuade the local authorities to create a new tram line which connects the aeronautical industrial parks (for Airbus, SAFRAN, Regional Aircrafts ATR and the Toulouse Blagnac Airport itself) and the airport with the city centre. In fact, in terms of collaboration and co-governance, it was the private partners who initiated the project idea.
While in Szeged it was the municipality – before letting mobility problems escalating, trying the maintain the sustainability of the public transport system – who urged private partners to join the partnership. Private partners, while providing some benefits and developing some infrastructure for sustainable mobility options, were not structured in their approach. Employment based mobility planning is not wide-spread and support structures are not established for it, as it is already established and happening as a public service offered by public transport providers in France. Nevertheless, once private companies understood their interest and realised the benefits of the process, of the collaboration they became just as much engaged: they are hooked on, and they took over the role of initiators. What happened in Szeged is that they also became the engines of cooperation.
This is a striking revelation: whoever starts the cooperation for whatever reason: mobility is such a key factor for all of us living in cities that it will find partners, if will find support and cooperating partners. You may start it as a middle sized local authority or a private company employing 27 000 workers you will find your co-designers, co-implementers with whom to start structured collaboration. You will not be left alone.
The approach taken by the two projects is also different. The governance model of the Toulouse group evolves around the weekly Friday morning meetings, where all partners meet and plan the joint actions. This is the cornerstone of all actions: strict and structured way of project implementation. This governance model is also the working methodology of mobility planning in the Toulouse conurbation. Local authorities gave policy making power on 3 key issues to Tisséo, the local mobility agency, focusing on urban planning, urban mobility and air quality issues. A very structured, concerted and hierarchical system, where public authorities are keen to share responsibilities and build up joint services across different municipalities. Tisséo in turn not only focuses on public transport provision, but also responsibilities related to carpooling and cycling infrastructure developments.
Cooperation in Szeged on the other hand is more fluid and based on individual changemakers. Advocates. Ambassadors. You name it. The motivation of actions in Szeged comes from personal drive, from personal interests and is also built on good personal relationships among partner managers. Although at first look it seems more chaotic and looser, in terms of achieving change it could as well create similar results.
Concluding I would like to draw two conclusions. One is the importance of interdependence and understanding each other’s cultures. Private companies are the origins of commuting while municipalities have legal responsibility to manage this mobility. The two types of organisations have different mindsets, different language and different motivations. What is important that these partners are eager to understand each other. To create a platform for cooperation, let it be based on the Charter of COMMUTE, which only defines key principles of communications, the code of conduct and the style of dialogue or on the SASMob Pledge, incorporating corporate undertakings as well.
This is also new for both partnerships: this is first time ever to come together for public authorities and companies to create a common vision: in Toulouse for the area around the airport, in Szeged for the whole area of the city. Both cities are benefitting from the improved communication and collaboration.
The second conclusion goes like this: Regardless of the different governance structure, the different inner dynamics of the two projects there is one clear indicator of success in both cities. The interest among new companies and new employers who see the advantage of the projects, who want to join the partnership. And the determinism of the two groups to continue working together and further develop the network even after the end of UIA financing.
Author: Zsuzsa Kravalik, UIA Expert for SASMoB project