Thinking about mobility as changing the world and making it more sustainable it’s not only about improving technology with electrification but about changing the chip to make a real rupture with our current lifestyle and to use the immense volume of available data in order to improve people’s lives. This is the challenge put forward by Andrea San Gil León, environmental engineer, and sustainable cities’ consultant, in yet another online interview with the Portugal Mobi Summit from Costa Rica.
“We need to go beyond the idea of simply improving the technology because electrification by itself, will not solve the problem of environment and traffic congestion nor the inequality in the access to mobility,” said this Friday the co-founder of Agile City Partners, who help governments and organizations to implement sustainability programs in Latina America.
“We often see investments very much centered on improving the infrastructure in order to make it faster for cars to reach cities, forgetting that, without other interventions, it will perpetuate the problem of inequality in the access to mobility, since car users are being privileged”.
This is a core issue in Andrea León’s speech. “Mobility is a very important tool in order to reduce inequality and poverty since it’s directly linked to access to opportunities. Those who are farther away have to invest more time and money to get to school or work, and it’s clearly at disadvantage”. This is what research is done in Costa Rica shows, according to which “bus users take twice the time or even more to get to their destination than those who use the private car”, says.
For Andrea San Gil, “that time spent in transportation it’s something that it’s being subtracted from people” who could be using it for other things, from studying to working or leisure and family activities.
That is why she defends that we need to put other questions on the forefront: “Do we really need to travel that much?”. The answer to this question will give us clues to start rethinking urban planning and mobility, that is, how communities work, defends.
These are issues that go for example from the potential of smart-working, to something that urbanists are defending increasingly more, that is, to gradually evolve towards the so-called “15-minute neighborhoods” where a resident can have access to a varied number of services, from public offices to cultural spaces or leisure, all within a 15 minutes walk, bike or public transportation ride.
Every city’s challenges and its own sustainability have many different dimensions, being mobility a central axis. Therefore, “in this matter we cannot ignore major differences” and we must use the gigantic size of data collected digitally in order to improve the living standards of those who need it the most, emphasized San Gil.
It’s very important, underlines, to use this data from a gender perspective. Why? “We know that the majority of people who use public transportation are women and this is a vulnerable universe in matters such as safety”.
This is why Andrea León suggests that it’s better to reinforce positive examples that are already being used in cities such as Barcelona or London, where, from gathered data, it’s already possible to improve the safety of women in public transportation or in the walk between stops and final destination. For example, in Barcelona, it’s already possible for a woman during the night shift, to ask the bus driver to stop not at the official stop but before or after, making the walk to the final destination safer.
Another example is the work done by the London Metropolitan Police, who after analyzing the data of bus lines with more incidents of harassment towards women, is putting undercover police officers and localizers to catch criminals while improving safety for women that are using public transportation during those less safe hours. Also, improving lightning can do quite a bit for safety and for increasing the use of public transportation.
Other examples throughout the world are Mexico and Japan where there are spaces for the exclusive use of women. Although Andrea recognizes that this is not the solution. For this social drama, which is harassment towards women mainly in public transportation “we need to work with men to change the culture”.
Paradoxically, in the countries of the so-called Global South, where there are more problems such as the described above, is where there is less development in the treatment and sharing of data among official, transport, and police entities, crucial to be able to implement this type of measures. “Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest limitations of the Global South”, said San Gil.
On the other hand, if we want to improve mobility for all citizens in a sustainable way, we need to know our subjects. “Planning still works very much in the perspective of the middle-aged white man, but there is a very varied universe of public transportation users, from the old lady to the teenager going to school, and with very different needs.” Big cities are increasingly composed of a large diversity of people, who are increasingly adopting mixed models of mobility. Finally, it’s curious to learn that it was among women that the tendency for the use of the bicycle most increased during the pandemic, revealed Andrea San Gil León, in an interview conducted by Paulo Tavares and Charles Landry.