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Going beyond ‘niche’: innovative public transport for the masses

The EU-supported ‘Niches+’ project recently held its final conference, which included the prize ceremony for the Osmose Awards, honouring local and regional authorities that have introduced new measures for sustainable urban transport.

Novel urban mobility schemes © Niches+

Getting around is a fact of life for any of us living in or visiting a city. When combined with issues of social exclusion and environmental impact, it’s a problem in need of innovative solutions. Launched in March 2008, Niches+external link, a ‘Coordination and support action’ funded under the EU’s Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7), studied and promoted 12 innovative urban transport concepts in different thematic areas.

“The aim was to encourage the uptake of new transport solutions, from niche status to mainstream acceptance,” explains Peter Staelens, Niches+ dissemination leader at the European cities network Polisexternal link.

The project studied at a variety of exciting ideas:

  • Automated and space-efficient group and personal rapid transit systems;
  • Car-sharing schemes using electric vehicles;
  • Passenger-friendly interchanges to help people move more efficiently between different transport modes, including bicycles;
  • Information, training and planning schemes to improve public transport for socially-excluded individuals and communities.

A team of ‘champions’

Project partners also developed plans for the introduction of selected innovations with the local and regional authorities of six ‘Champion cities’ in France, Ireland, Norway, Spain and the UK. Each of these authorities organised national seminars and wrote a set of ‘Guidelines for implementers’ to promote similar solutions in other European cities.

During the project’s final conference, in April 2011, five European cities were presented with an 'Osmose Awardexternal link '. These are prizes for innovative approaches in local traffic management, especially promising new initiatives that today still occupy a ‘niche’ position but clearly have the potential to become mainstream urban transport policy.

“The awarded cities are all innovative forerunners in their field,” says Patrick Mercier-Handisyde, the European Commission’s Project Officer for Niches+.

For example, Madrid won an award for its Transport Interchanges Plan – an ambitious and possibly unique strategy to create interchange stations for each of the seven main highways that connect the surrounding region with the city. These will link metropolitan and urban bus lines, the underground network, and long-distance and commuter train lines. San Sebastián was also selected for its scheme to operate additional minibus lines and shuttle taxis to provide access to public transport for the 50% of users who live in the hilly areas outside the city.