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‘NICHES’ a highlight at POLIS 2007

The EU-funded NICHES initiative held its final event in Toulouse on 16 March 2007, as part of the POLIS 2007 conference on ‘Innovation in local transport for attractive cities and regions’. The occasion was attended by more than 300 participants from across Europe and featured the presentation of the ‘OSMOSE’ Awards by EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot.

Road traffic © Peter Gutierrez
Keeping cities on the move
© Peter Gutierrez

Launched in November 2004, NICHES (New and innovative concepts for helping European transport sustainability) is a Coordination Action aimed at stimulating a wide debate on innovative urban transport and mobility. It represents a small but efficient partnership, including the three major European associations of cities and regions: POLIS, EUROCITIES and CEMR (Council of European Municipalities and Regions).

“NICHES is clearly helping local urban mobility decision makers to exchange ideas and to bring those ideas into practice,” said EU Project Officer Patrick Mercier-Handisyde. “It has assembled players from different sectors and disciplines across the EU and accession countries in order to promote the most promising new concepts, initiatives and projects, elevating them from their current ‘niche’ positions to more ‘mainstream’ urban transport applications.”

The OSMOSE Awards

Patrick Mercier-Handisyde
Patrick Mercier-Handisyde

A major conference highlight was the OSMOSE Awards ceremony. The OSMOSE Awards are aimed at rewarding local authorities who have shown courage in implementing daring and innovative measures to meet today’s urban transport challenges.

EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot, together with Toulouse Mayor and President of POLIS Jean-Luc Moudenc, presented awards in four categories, corresponding to the NICHES priority areas:

  • New seamless mobility services; Bremen (Germany), for the introduction of car-sharing
  • Innovative approaches in city logistics; Region of Emilia Romagna (Italy), for an integrated approach to freight management
  • New non-polluting and energy-efficient vehicles; Graz (Austria), for the use of recycled cooking oils in city buses;
  • Innovative demand management strategies; Barcelona (Spain), for the introduction of demand management systems to support freight deliveries.

Two ‘Gold Star’ awards were also presented:

  • Freiburg (Germany), for its integrated land use and transport planning
  • Stockholm (Sweden), for its long-term clean vehicles strategy.

EU research for sustainable urban mobility

Jacques Barrot
Jacques Barrot

NICHES is just one in a number of important initiatives being funded by the Union in the area of urban transport and mobility. In his opening speech, Mercier-Handisyde cited several other examples, including the CIVITAS initiative, which has so far allocated €100 million in EU funding to 36 cities across Europe, testing and implementing integrated strategies for clean urban transport.

Another example, the CITYMOBIL project, is promoting the effective and sustainable implementation of automated urban transport systems. This €40 million project will demonstrate innovative solutions in three European cities, including a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system at London-Heathrow airport, advanced dual-mode buses in the city of Castellon (Valencia) and ‘cyber-cars’ in Rome.

Successful outcome

The conference culminated with a roundtable session and closing speeches by Moudenc and Commissioner Barrot. EU officials have called the POLIS conference a major success, giving participants a unique opportunity to debate, exchange best practices and review the results of research projects supporting European transport policy, of particular importance this year in view of the preparation of the Green Paper on Urban Transport.

The success of the event also reflected the collaborative efforts between different European Commission services, namely DG TREN and DG RTD.