Summary of the two conferences on Day 2 of the 4th Annual Trottier Symposium on Sustainable Engineering, Energy and Design, held April 11-12, 2017, at Polytechnique Montréal.


Marie-Hélène Massot, a professor at École d’Urbanisme de Paris, took a critical look at measures taken in France to reduce people’s dependency on the automobile. The picture she painted in discussing four major levers that have not brought about the desired results is, all in all, one of failure.

Daily mobility, for the purposes of habitual, recurring activities, is an engine of social and economic integration. In France, 83% of trips during the week, and 90% on weekends, are made by car. Car travel represents 71% of CO2 emissions related to personal mobility.

Mobility: a matter of social practice
In Ms. Massot’s view, the problem with the automobile is not one of individual behaviour, but of coherent policy-making. The journeys we make daily stem from society’s expectations of us. They are squeezed into a system of spatial, time, economic and family constraints dictated by society and its institutions. Mobility is thus above all a matter of social practice.

And yet the way transport is dealt with in France is largely political. This explains the fact that in densely populated areas there are multiple services, with no optimization of supply in relation to demand. Conversely, practically no initiatives are being taken in sparsely populated areas other than short-distance carpooling headed for train stations.

We know that the number of trips per person has remained constant since the early 1980s. But urban sprawl has meant that distances travelled have jumped significantly. Urban developments have also highlighted the issue of accessibility and the associated luxury of available time—commodities that are today the preserve of a minority of the population.

Since workers choose to live in areas where rents are cheaper—and where, inevitably, services are scarcer—the traditional public-transit curve has been inverted. Rather than workers, the principal users of public transit are now the more affluent who are, ironically, reaping the benefits of flat-rate fares.

Meanwhile, car ownership continues to grow in more remote areas. On this point, Ms. Massot deplores the fact that “in sparsely populated areas, mobility will continue to mean automobility” as long as major population centres remain the focus of public policy.

The French have not embraced intermodality. In the Paris region, combining transport modes in a single trip is a feature of only 3.4% of movements. Also, since trip duration in provincial cities averages 17 minutes, the breaks involved in mode transfers are seen as taking up too much time and energy. In general, people are more inclined to accept a transfer in longer trips, those lasting 45 minutes or more.

Multimodality, on the other hand, is much more widespread. For various trips, 53% of residents of major cities such as Paris and Lyon will vary the mode of transport they use. Depending on their destination, the time of day, and their reasons for travelling, they will choose the mode that is most efficient—in terms of comfort, cost, and speed—and best suited to their needs.

Solo driving vs. modal transit
An inquiry into the possibility of replacing cars with public transit showed that the incentives put in place more often than not come up against the tenacious “time budget” argument. One of the aims of this study, which Ms. Massot helped to conduct, was to assess the proportion of trips in which the car could be replaced by a less polluting form of transport with no increase in travel time.

Results: in the Greater Lyon area, 82% of drivers could not change the way they travel. In the Paris region, the figure rises to 92%. This means that, despite the increase in public transit supply, drivers remain attached to the speed their car gives them. In short, when longer trips are involved, strategies to reduce car usage are not working.

Shared mobility
Over the past three decades, cars have been a strong symbol of a private space in France. Today, with the idea of shared mobility, this view has moved on. Cars can now be seen as a source of income, meetings and experiences.

But shared mobility has sprung up around business models that need further development, in Ms. Massot’s view. Superimposed on the fuzzy boundaries of current legislation, these models have also mainly been developed in densely populated areas, where there are already many alternatives to solo driving.

Small urban vehicles
Swapping one’s car for a small urban vehicle such as an electric scooter could help reduce fossil fuel consumption. However, people’s reservations about this solution are technical, economic and political.

After considering the questions “Are my trips feasible with a vehicle of this type?” and “Is there any economic benefit to acquiring a vehicle that only partly meets my mobility needs?”, only 27% of people would be well advised to replace their car. A threshold that, in the opinion of Ms. Massot, does not justify urging the political classes to review the ways that networks are operated.

Cars win by a knock-out
In view of the above, Ms. Massot concedes the triumph of the automobile, particularly for less affluent groups living on the periphery of major population centres.

So, if we want to kick the car habit, would it be better to attempt to reduce the need for mobility at source? Not a viable option, thinks Ms. Massot, because daily travel is intimately bound up with economic activity, vital to the structure of our society.

“In this context, to honour our environmental commitments we will need to act on automobile fleets in terms of their size, weight, and motorization, and on raising the price of mobility. The need to think carefully about what should be done to guarantee the right to mobility to the most vulnerable among us is becoming increasingly necessary,” she concludes.


With Hervé Levifve, transport adviser at Paris City Hall, the Symposium looked at the situation regarding mobility of goods. His talk highlighted the essential issues as they are addressed in the French capital.

With their strong concentration of jobs, buildings, businesses and visitors, major cities command a massive amount of traffic flows.

As far as personal mobility is concerned, public transit and active transport are steadily increasing in importance. For mobility of goods, however, far less progress is being made.

We are witnessing an increase in traffic flow stemming from new forms of consumption, together with a marked predominance of road transport. In the delivery industry, 90% of goods are carried by road. In Paris, this percentage holds for an average of 1.7 million movements of goods weekly.

The logistical ecosystem in place sustains economic activity. Raw materials, consumer goods, foodstuffs and other items are delivered to shops and to workers. Knowing that these transactions keep the city running, Paris gains from seeing goods transiting efficiently. However, this dynamic operates to the detriment of air quality and the free flow of traffic.

In this context, how can environmental requirements be met? In Mr. Levifve’s view, part of the solution lies in capitalizing on different spatial organization and more suitable vehicles.

At present, two contrary forces are at work: the big players are making efforts to rationalize, while for the smaller ones flows are multiplying.

A host of diverse small players are responding to the clamour for instant deliveries from increasingly demanding consumers doing their shopping online.

Meanwhile, communities and businesses are innovating in the search for solutions: tightening up access regulations, mobilizing property to serve logistics in urban areas, new forms of organization, solutions to suit parcel delivery to individuals. While none of these are miracle solutions, their advantage is that they take the diversity of urban fabrics into account, in addition to being adapted to the city’s fifty-odd economic sectors.

Spatial organization
Urban distribution centres (UDCs) have been set up so that all deliveries converge on a single entry point on the outskirts of the city. Clean vehicles then take goods into the city. In the 1990s, over 200 UDCs were created in Europe. Although there are fewer today, the model has been proven, and they are more robust.

Retailers such as Monoprix and Franprix have multimodal sites, enabling them to use river, rail and road transport to supply 170 stores in the city between them.

In a similar vein, Paris has created “urban logistical spaces” (ELUs) through the rehabilitation of 10 plots of city land. Parcel shipments are received once a day for same-day delivery using clean vehicles. Once their daily rounds are complete, the vehicles can be parked directly on these spaces, avoiding the need to be stationed at warehouses outside Paris.

Means of transport
There is a shortage of city-friendly vehicles. Most are designed for highways and are unsuitable for urban environments.

Swap bodies have the wind in their sails, too. These smaller containers optimize the delivery process through the handling of a single-size item. They have even led to renewed use of barges, which become floating warehouses aboard which workers sort merchandise, thereby maximizing trip profitability. Once in Paris, small electric vehicles are used for unloading and delivery. Serving various points in the city, this system of “cabotage” is an appropriate response to the scarcity of physical spaces available in densely populated zones and to the problems of road traffic.

After looking at spatial organization and the suitability of means of transport, Hervé Levifve turned his attention to a third link in the chain: the customer.

“The customer today is both the player over whom we have the least control, and the player with the greatest clout. As long as the customer has strong demands, better organization of deliveries will be difficult.”

Educational initiatives will be vital in raising people’s awareness of the impacts of their purchasing behaviour. This is because the general public may not understand the implications of new offers of 24-hour delivery: this form of “piecemeal” delivery generates additional flows. And, to meet deadlines, these new movements in the city are often carried out during peak traffic times, since operators do not have the luxury of waiting for road traffic to dissipate.

“Re-learning how to wait” is an avenue that Mr. Levifve suggested in conclusion.




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