Are rural communities being left behind in the drive towards sustainable, green mobility?

The EU's SMARTA project is exploring ways to support sustainable shared mobility in Europe’s rural areas.
The EU's SMARTA project is exploring ways to support sustainable shared mobility in Europe’s rural areas. Copyright Pexels
Copyright Pexels
By Aisling Ní Chúláin
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The logic persists that the car is king when it comes to getting around in the countryside but what are the solutions for decarbonising mobility in rural areas?


As the effects of climate change become ever more tangible and destructive, governments around the world are stepping up efforts to decarbonise modes of transport and move towards greener mobility.

This, at least, is true of our cities.

But what about the mobility of our often overlooked rural communities where the logic persists that the car is king when it comes to getting around?

Laurie Pickup,  International Director at transport planning consultancy Vectos/SLR, has been working with the EU’s SMARTA project, an initiative looking at ways to support sustainable, shared mobility in Europe’s rural areas.

Despite the project’s efforts, even he is quick to highlight the neglect this issue has faced from policymakers.

“I've been involved with the European Commission on projects since 1979.I was involved in a rural transport project in 2003. And then there was virtually nothing till about 2018, 2019,” Pickup told Euronews Next.

“The European Commission, in putting forward its drive for sustainable mobility, very much had sustainable urban mobility in mind, and rural transport fell by the wayside over the last 20 years,” he said.

The SMARTA project is exploring solutions for rural communities that include Demand Responsive Transport with flexible demand-driven routes: e-hitchiking, bike sharing, community-run buses,
car pooling networks and mobility hubs.

According to Pickup, what the SMARTA project found was that the initiative for setting up rural transport schemes at a local level already exists in these areas. What they lack is the institutional support to make them successful.

“People in the communities are looking for a national advisory service,” said Pickup.

“If they want to set something up, what do they do? The very practical things. How do they register the bus, who can drive it, Should we interview the drivers on particular aspects? health and safety etc.

“These types of regional or national advisory units are needed to make sure that the local DNA. gets into the transport services and that the community can flourish and begin to grow”.

A big part of the problem, Pickup notes, is that for these schemes to be successful, they need to be part of a comprehensive policy for rural areas incorporating rural regeneration and improving communities’ access to services.

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged urban planners to focus on localising essential services, workplaces and community centres, Pickup notes that the same ideas can be used to regenerate rural communities as well.

“We've seen through covid that we can try and reduce the need to travel and also to try and localise trips,” he said. “I'm not necessarily saying working from home, but the fantastic potential for local work centres, perhaps built around mobility hubs. And that can be urban or rural”.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

This story is part of Mobility Week on Euronews. From September 13 - 17 2021, we are exploring the trends shaping the future of transport and personal mobility. See more stories here.

Video editor • Aisling Ní Chúláin

Additional sources • Graphics: Matthew Ashe

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