The future of urban mobility

The scope and nature of urban mobility is changing at a rapid pace. Increasing urbanization, the digitization of our society, new modes of transport and transport services – all these and even more developments have an impact on our mobility and transport choices. Rural areas and smaller cities face major challenges: urban sprawl, migration of young people in particular, and an aging society also have an impact on transport. Ensuring mobility without dependence on your own car is a key task. Car traffic has become a heavy burden in many cities: noise, crowded inner cities, congestion, particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions have sparked a controversial discussion on the future of mobility.


 Diversification in behavior

A first important main development is the increasing diversification in mobility behavior . This trend started a few decades ago with the individualization of society, which has made our behavior as a whole – including our mobility behavior – more varied. A series of recent developments ensures that the range of mobility behaviors is only increasing. For example, consider the following:

Demographic developments, such as the growth of the population, ‘vital’ aging (more elderly people who also stay healthy for longer), a reduction in household size and an increase in the number of single-person households. This has consequences for the population density and for displacement patterns.

Changing value patterns. Values ​​often differ per social group. Examples are: being less attached to ‘ownership’ and more focused on ‘use’ (sharing economy, with possible influence on car ownership), assigning more value to ‘connectivity’ (for example via social networks) than to ‘proximity’ and ‘mobility’ , and more attention to the quality of the living environment and health (more interest in active modes and more sustainable mobility solutions).
Increasing social and ethnic diversity, greater differences in prosperity. This leads to more diversity in travel habits (activities, destinations, choice of transport).

Participation society. More citizen participation, mutual care and self-care, with the resulting mobility choices associated with informal care, childcare and voluntary work.These trends lead to an enormous variation in mobility patterns in terms of travel motives, origins, destinations, travel chains and travel periods. Although large groups of people will still stick to more or less regular patterns, future transport patterns are likely to be more difficult to predict. This requires a much greater flexibility of the urban transport system.

Another consequence is that traditional thinking in ‘main categories of travel motives’, namely home / work, business and socio-recreational traffic, can go overboard, including the (economic) interest and the value that we tend to assign to these categories. The traditional classification does not do justice to the complexity and interdependencies. The ‘social’ traffic – traffic for informal care, childcare etc. – will increase in importance, for example. In addition, recreational traffic is gaining ever greater (economic) value: a great deal of money is simply earned from tourism and recreation. A review of traditional valuation would therefore be appropriate.

The digital age

A second important trend is digitization. Thanks to smart technology and (mobile) internet, we always have access to information and smart services. This also influences our mobility in the city. At the transport mode selection level , multimodal route information services already play an important role. But if these services are expanded with, for example, payment and reservation options for shared cars (‘just reserve a car’), the popularity and impact of those services will gradually increase. Mobility as a Service , in short MaaS, is a good example of what will make the increasing availability of information possible – see also the heading New modes of transport, new services.

Regarding route choice , in-vehicle systems and handhelds are increasingly able to provide the traveler with reliable traffic information. The ubiquitous availability of up-to-date information makes it possible for travelers to make choices, even on the road, about the best route – and possibly about transport mode (‘I am faster with the tram’) and destination or activity. This of course goes well with the need for flexibility of certain groups of travelers.

In terms of traffic management, this abundance of information can be seen as a blessing, but also as a curse. In principle, travelers can be quickly and adequately informed of the current and expected traffic situation via the various information channels. But the benefits can turn into a disadvantage if the information is conflicting or outright wrong. Particularly in the case of major disruptions or calamities, misinformation that can be spread at lightning speed via social networks, for example, can lead to system instability.

Another concern is our dependence on a reliable and robust information and telecommunication system. The busier it gets in the city, the more accessibility depends on good information and communication. If something goes wrong (spontaneous failures, weather conditions, deliberate disturbances), it goes very wrong: thanks to all those information systems, we use the capacity of our mobility system to the bottom. This requires the development of fall-back scenarios for network management.

Finally, privacy and security also remain points for attention. Judging by our social media behavior, we seem to have little concern about who all have access to our information. But that carelessness can quickly change as soon as it appears that our data is being misused.

Spatial developments

Given a somewhat higher scale, there is a continuing strong trend towards urbanization throughout the world and Europe. It is estimated that by 2030 more than 75% of the European population will live in urban areas. The Netherlands is already highly urbanized, but even here the trend is continuing, as a result of both domestic and foreign migration.

Such a concentration leads in principle to a greater ‘proximity’: destinations are closer together. Traveling less far is already an advantage, but there are more advantages from a transport perspective. The proximity, for example, makes the frequent use of bicycles and walking easier – see also figure 2. Public transport can also be set up more finely meshed, which makes it even more attractive for travelers. But we do not say for nothing that it will happen ‘in principle’. In fact, the population density in Dutch urbanized areas is not very high compared to highly urbanized areas elsewhere in the world. From a transport perspective, we are actually sitting between the napkin (good options for the car) and the tablecloth (good options for high-quality fine-meshed public transport and active modes).

That situation will not necessarily improve in the coming years. Within the global trend of urbanization there are some complicating sub-trends. Although successful attempts are being made to get more people to live in urban centers (for a better mix of functions, not just shops in the center for example), there is also talk of ‘petrifying’ urban peripheral and intermediate areas. That sub-trend, on the other hand, reduces resident density.
In addition, the aforementioned digitization is changing our needs with regard to workplaces, shops and recreational facilities: we do more from home, buy more online and enjoy ourselves more online. Large, central office locations, main shopping areas, centers with a specific appearance, unique recreational facilities, large-scale training centers and large hospitals still retain their appeal. But the small and medium-sized centers for working, shopping and recreation make it more difficult due to digitization and may disappear. This increases the travel distances in the urban areas (from the peripheral areas all the way to the center if you do go shopping or want to go to the cinema) and lead to more criss-cross movements.

New modes of transport, new services

A final ‘main trend’ that we discuss is that of new modes of transport and new services. On both levels everything is in motion.With the introduction of electric drive, driver support and gradual automation of driving tasks, traditional modes of transport are gradually evolving into ‘new’ modes of transport.
E-bikes offer us a much wider cycling range, without this leading to side effects such as odor and noise nuisance that we know from mopeds and scooters. Cars become more comfortable and safer due to driving task support systems, and electrification allows more intensive car use due to the lower environmental nuisance. These evolutions are favorable for individual users, but do not yet have a major impact on the system.

Coordinated driving and full automation of driving tasks do, however, have the potential to revolutionize the transport system. With coordinated driving, it is in principle possible to use road capacity much more efficiently, certainly on through roads. Automation also has such an efficiency effect in the first instance. But it is also quite conceivable that the so comfortable and easy automatic driving will ultimately lead to a significant increase in the load on the car network and a significant boost to public transport.

Then the new services. Another possible revolution is combining (new) means of transport via services. It is precisely these services that make a completely different use of means of transport possible. Standalone, for example by using residual capacity of vehicles (Uber, shared cars, shared bicycles), and as a combination, in the form of intermodal services. Most mobilists now often arrange intermodal transport themselves, but they are increasingly supported in this by information and payment services. The step to MaaS is no longer that big, certainly in the Netherlands with the internationally enviable public transport chip card system.

But how smooth will the service revolution go? It is clear that the transition path is not without bumps. We have to deal with existing laws and regulations (for example regarding taxi transport) and existing organizational structures and interests. The new concepts have yet to prove and develop and they have to be accepted. Suitable physical facilities are also needed, such as parking places for shared cars and intermodal transfer facilities.With regard to intermodal mobility services, such as MaaS, the Netherlands is at the forefront in many respects. An important challenge is shaping healthy business cases of which the (public, subsidized) public transport services are an integral part. An interesting question is to what extent transport services should interact with mobility and network management.


This digitization, electrification, driving task support, automation, new services, etc. offer enormous opportunities for improving reach and accessibility, reducing noise nuisance, use of space and local emissions. But: if properly applied. Because scenarios where it all turns out slightly differently are also conceivable. In that regard, urban developments in the coming years will demand the necessary from road authorities. Mobility policy and also network management will have to be set up in such a way that they can take full advantage of opportunities and can intervene (early) in time if the opportunities turn into threats. Thinking scenarios, anticipating, being able to respond quickly and flexibly therefore become crucial conditions for effective traffic and transport policy and traffic management.

Another challenge for road authorities is that they will have to deal with completely new parties. Companies, often from abroad, who do not know our ‘mores’, who sometimes find current laws and regulations obstructive, who have different accountability relationships and objectives and who sometimes see mobility services as only a small part of a much larger product / service package. All of this can have an alienating effect. Who – apart from the initiators – could ever have imagined that there would be a company that would make highly accurate digital maps including fairly reliable traffic and public transport information (apparently) freely available? Or that a company deliberately violates laws and regulations and pays fines with love to open up a market? Governments must learn to deal with this kind of thinking and take it into account when developing mobility policies and management strategies.

The increasingly interwoven and becoming interdependent of different modalities, networks, sectors and domains will also give road managers headaches. With increasing intermodal use, the functioning of one network influences the functioning of the other. They can no longer be viewed separately from each other and therefore cannot be managed separately. Add to this the growing interdependence with the energy sector (storage and use of electrical energy) and telecom and IT sectors (as enablertraffic systems, as a complement to physical movements), and it is clear that ‘network management’ will mean much more than managing the road network alone. In these areas too, policy and management will at least have to be coordinated, if not integrated.

Decentralization is seen as a solution to keep this complexity manageable. Residents and local communities can then be involved in shaping and implementing policy, a concept that fits in perfectly with the idea of ​​a participatory society. This can also result in interesting local mobility concepts, such as better walking and cycling facilities in neighborhoods and car sharing systems. However, the urban road authorities must ensure that local initiatives do not interfere with the interests of higher levels of scale. It will still be a challenge to find a good balance here.

All these factors require a new role for governments in particular for (public) transport policy, infrastructure planning and traffic management. In view of their social responsibility, governments can act more prudently than those of companies, but they must be able to respond flexibly to developments in the sector. It is necessary to implement an adaptive policy to take advantage of opportunities and to reverse unwanted developments in time. That will not make work easier for road authorities in the coming years. But it certainly becomes interesting – and the (traffic) importance of good governance will only increase.