Driving forces

Demographic change

The European population is ageing: the proportion of citizens above 65 years of age is expected to increase from 17 percent in 2010 to 28 percent in 2040 (source: Eurostat). This trend is often more marked in sparsely populated areas: young people tend to migrate to nearby cities in order to find jobs, cut travel time, and enjoy an urban lifestyle.

Ageing is a major issue in many of the SmartMove implementing regions. In Kreis Euskirchen (Germany), for example, the proportion of older people is expected to grow by almost 50 percent between 2010 and 2030. In the county of Langadas (Greece), the proportion of people over 65 years of age is already 28 percent, far higher than in the prefecture of Thessaloniki as a whole (13 percent). There are similar trends in Vogtland (Germany), where the average age rose from 41 in 1990 to 48 in 2010. By 2025, the number of people older than 65 is expected to increase by a third, and the number of people younger than 20 will be reduced by half.

Ageing has major implications for mobility that extend far beyond the issue of accessibility. Timetables, travel routes and customer services are among the many areas where adjustments may be needed. Since the EU declared 2012 as European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, much research has been carried out in the field of sustainable mobility for older people. (To find out about the results, please visit the AENEAS website.)  

Photo credit: Salzburg AG

First rural mile

This expression refers to the problematics of reaching the nearest bus or train stop. While in urban areas it is relatively easy to design a transport network in which most stops are within easy walking distance for most residents, in rural areas low population density tends to make this difficult to achieve, necessitating the creation of a public transport feeder system (comprising taxi-buses, car-pooling service or cycling).

In many rural areas in Europe the problem is becoming increasingly complex. In the SmartMove implementing region of Wittenberg (Germany), for example, the population fell from 147,000 in 2005 to 139,000 in 2011. Demographic projections suggest a population of only 105,000 by 2025, and a population density of 54 inhabitants per km². In Vogtland (Germany), the population density decreased from 210 inhabitants per km² in 1990 to 173 inhabitants per km² in 2010.

Energy and cost efficiency

Motorised and non-motorised feeder systems not only consume far less energy per passenger-kilometer, but also allow for significant cost savings. This is an important reason why cycling is already the most significant form of mobility after private car use in most European rural regions.

An EC Eurobarometer survey in 2011 found that 19.1 percent of Hungarians used a bicycle as their main mode of transport, putting them in second place in Europe behind the Dutch (source: Mobile 2020). Compared to a modal share of between 1 and 10 percent in larger cities, it is clear that cycling is the preferred means of transport in villages. In the Netherlands, the continent’s cycling leader, bicycles are the top feeder tool for local and regional railway lines. Economics is clearly a major driving force for reliance on non-motorised forms of mobility: the European record is held by the northern Albanian city of Shkodra, which has a modal share of 43 percent pedestrians and 29 percent cyclists (source: Eltis).

Health and climate change

Although the impacts of ongoing climate change are becoming clearer, it remains an abstract concept that is hard to translate into changes in personal mobility behaviour. However, what is climate friendly is often healthy, whether it means cycling or taking a taxi-bus to the nearest bus stop, then reaching a final destination on foot.

The adverse health effects of commuting by car are often underestimated. According to research carried out by of Planetizen, there is a clear correlation between the spatial distribution of high levels of car-based commuting and obesity and diabetes. Research undertaken at Umeå University in Sweden also suggests a link between long-distance car commuting and obesity, neck pain, loneliness, divorce, stress and insomnia.

Organising effective public transport feeder networks in rural areas and encouraging reliance on active mobility modes rather than the private car therefore contributes to climate change mitigation and to maintaining public health.