Citizens have their say at 'Move Together' final meeting
The groundbreaking Move Together project gathered average citizens from all EU Member States to assess the current state of urban transport research. Partners, participants and mobility stakeholders discussed the results of their work at a final meeting in Brussels on 7 December 2009.
© Peter Gutierrez
"Urban mobility has become a key EU policy priority," says Arnoldas Milukas, Head of Unit at the European Commission's Transport Research Directorate. "The recent Action Plan on Urban Mobility calls for a new dialogue among stakeholders and a more open exchange of best practices. And this is why initiatives like the Move Together project are so important."
With the rejection of the draft Constitutional Treaty in 2005 by French and Dutch citizens, the European Union came face to face with a startling rift between policy makers and European citizens. Since then, the creation of a genuine 'citizen's ownership' of EU policies has become a key priority, making the work of the Union more understandable and accessible, and policy makers more accountable to those they serve.
The Move Together group is significant in that each of its 27 members comes from a different EU country. All are regular users of urban transport, both public and private, on a frequent basis. Their basic concerns included public health and well-being and the fostering of a genuine partnership among all stakeholders in city mobility.
Project coordinator Carlo Sessa of Italy's Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems ( ISIS) says, "The key belief of this project is that increased awareness of current or expected achievements of EU research will help citizens and decision makers across Europe to 'move together' towards a new and more sustainable urban mobility culture."
Analysis and recommendations
© Peter Gutierrez
The project included three main activities. First, a transnational focus group of citizens from different cities in the 27 EU member States participated in workshops and in a major conference with urban transport stakeholders. They also carried out a review of the current state of knowledge and research on urban transport.
Next, a randomly selected panel of 25 citizens living in different districts of the city of Rome and surrounding municipalities participated in two workshops and a final conference. The goal here was to raise awareness and appreciation of EU-funded research for sustainable mobility in Rome.
Finally, a programme of communication was undertaken, involving media events, a travelling exhibition, town exhibitions and other dissemination activities in a number of cities.
The final 'Citizens' Statement' put together by the participants calls for more work in four major areas:
- Public transportation
- Integrating with cars and trucks
Specific needs are said to include:
- More space for pedestrians and cyclers, and better connections between successive pedestrian zones and bicycle lanes
- Improved reliability of public transportation systems in order to better compete with individual car use
- Better social integration, including new pricing schemes for the less privileged
- Improved accessibility for the elderly, the young and the disabled
- Equal enforcement of rules for pedestrians, cyclers and vehicle drivers
- Increased safety with priority for slower and more vulnerable users
The group also calls for some key changes in the way research topics are selected and prioritised for funding. For example, projects need to be more closely aligned with the real interests of European citizens. That means earlier engagement of citizens in projects and a more intensive involvement throughout project life-cycles.
© Peter Gutierrez
Also, according to the Statement, there needs to be a move towards solutions that are informed by social and cultural contexts. More effort needs to be made to understand ways of changing people's behaviour, particularly through improving education, rather than always looking for technology-based solutions.
For the full Citizens' Statement, see the PDF file [111 KB]
Speaking on behalf of Move Together members, Linda Hadfield of the UK said, "Today we believe freedom of movement means having more available options. It means not always having to get in our cars when we want to go somewhere."
About the results of the group's review of EU research, Hanne Malmborg of Denmark said, "We are spending a lot of money on sustainable transport research, but if the goal is to have citizens change their behaviour, they need to feel a sense of ownership. The language and terminology has to be simplified so that average people can understand what's at stake; we need more communications experts to go along with the technical experts."
A new way of working
© Peter Gutierrez
"This has been a very important exercise," says EU project Officer Enzo Gueli. "The recommendations of the Move Together group represent a unique perspective on urban mobility that is too rarely available for consideration within the European institutions, and what they have to say is very interesting indeed. But what is also important to underline is that there is still room for widening this collaboration between policy makers and citizens."
"The recommendations of this forum are particularly useful to us as they are based on an analysis of actual European research projects," said Milukas. "We need user feedback to set transport research policy priorities, so that they get the kind of urban transport system, the innovations and new technologies that they want and need."
In addition to its team of citizens and stakeholders, the Move Together project has been supported by a strong coalition of EU institutions, as evidenced by the presence of Member of European Parliament Brian Simpson, Stephane Buffetaut of the European Economic and Social Committee ( EESC), which hosted the conference, and representatives of the European Commission.