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The Future of Sustainable Mobility: Why multimodal transportation is the way forward for the city

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Urban living requires that we start rethinking the way we design cities and transport solutions. And if there are many ideas about how to transform our economy to reduce waste, there are also many options when it comes to figuring out how to shift from growing metropolitan areas dominated by cars to more diverse and inclusive models of public and shared transportation. During this year’s Movin’ On world summit on sustainable mobility in Montreal, HSBC’s Greg Clark, Senior Advisor on Future Cities and New Industries, discussed how we can revolutionize our approach to mobility by focusing on multimodality.

A major shift in the way we move

For one hundred years, many cities have been organized around the motor car, especially those that have grown rapidly since its invention. In the last century, the car was a symbol of freedom, wealth, or success. But things are changing: the case for reducing cars in the city is gaining traction, especially as we observe similar trends around the world – clogged roads due to traffic congestion, aging infrastructure, and widespread air pollution causing global warming and substantial increases in respiratory diseases. “Because we’re much more aware of air quality and what it does to human health, and because we’re also aware of the health of the planet and climate change, there’s a major shift taking place in our cities,” says Clark. “People are incentivized to do things differently and alternatives are emerging. There’s a new and perhaps refreshing focus on public transportation as the key organizing principle of the city.”

In fast-growing cities like Singapore and Hong Kong, there’s massive investment in public transport systems in order to increase capacity, reliability and accessibility. Cities learn from each other: the concept of bus rapid transit (BRT) comes from Latin America, but it’s now spread across the globe. “Whether it’s taking your private car to the metro station or adding a bike or scooter to your daily commute, we need to make sure that people know how to use and integrate these various modes of transportation,” Clark explains. This is the key to the multimodal approach to city thinking. “All of this adds up into a kind of proposition where the idea of a car-free city isn’t as mad as it used to be.”

What does a car-free city look like?

It might eventually mean no cars at all, but we’re certainly not there yet, says Clark. Nonetheless, there are plenty of models currently under development or already adopted by cities worldwide. For example, Singapore stopped adding cars to roads last year, and Oslo recently banned car parking completely in the city centre. “One idea might be that there are certain zones where you can’t drive, or park, a car. Another is that vehicles of a certain size or a certain kind of polluting engine are forbidden. Or maybe you can only take your vehicle into the city at certain times of day, or with a certain number of riders in it. Or maybe it’s just about being charged whenever you take that car into town.”

There are many different ways to reduce the number of cars in metropolitan areas while promoting public and shared modes of transportation. As we shift towards solutions that work for everyone, people of different income levels and residential areas will have access to a transport system that actually enables them to move between neighbourhoods, thus contributing to making our cities more diverse and inclusive.

A new model to generate more revenue

Part of the reason why public transit doesn’t generate the revenue that it should is because in many cities it is still too fragmented a system. But there are many opportunities for coordination, greater investment and growth: better customer information using real-time data, integrated payment and ticketing systems, increased transport infrastructure investments, the use of transportation data as a currency, or charging people the real cost of driving cars on the road. For Clark, road user charging is a good example of how to correct a cost-benefit analysis framework that doesn’t always capture the value and benefits of the multimodal approach. Think of the positive externalities to the environment or public health, for example. “In every city, you need a guiding mind – an institution or person – trying to make the whole system work. Many cities and metropolitan areas don’t have that right now, but leadership is crucial if you want to succeed. With all these potentially transformative new modes of collective transportation, we must be agile in how we think about mobility, and how we regulate it.”

In the third part of this series, we will examine the financial implications of these major shifts in mobility for the banking sector. Learn more about the advantages and challenges of the circular economy in the first part of our series.


The information presented is not meant to be comprehensive and does not constitute financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained in this document without first obtaining specific professional advice. While reasonable care has been taken in preparing this document, HSBC does not make any guarantee, representation or warranty (express or implied) as to its accuracy or completeness. The information presented in this document is subject to change without notice.

Certain of the products and services offered by HSBC and its subsidiaries and affiliates are subject to credit adjudication and approval. This document does not constitute an offer to provide the services and products described and the provision of such services and products remains subject to contract.

Issued by HSBC Bank Canada ("HSBC")

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