Gridlocked highways, smog over buildings and armies of unhappy and angry commuters are images seen in cities around the world. But a different vision – one of people on bicycles, buses, trains and shared electric vehicles – is part of the global community’s imagination. How do we get there?

Individual action is a powerful tool, but given the scale of urbanization globally, it’s simply not enough. Institutions in our cities must lead the change in order to seriously shift direction. There are important agreements and goals – specifically the Urban Agenda, the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities dealing with transport. One of the important messages of these agreements is the need to engage both the public and the private sector through programmes that can be replicated and scaled.

What companies can do now

We cannot overstate the affect companies have on shaping mobility – referenced here as the movement of people – in cities. Companies can influence their respective sectors and peers more broadly. Moreover, strong collaboration with local authorities could ultimately help shift public perception and create a ripple effect in society at large. And companies' roles are not determined by their size, number of employees or sector. Large or small, services or industry, all companies have a unique role to play in the urban sphere.

Resources, infrastructure and regulations vary greatly from region to region, and it’s clear context matters. From examining needs to educating and motivating staff to investing in high-tech solutions, companies can find ways to move employees and products in a more efficient and sustainable way.

Accelerating Climate Action

A 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found we have until 2030 – just 11 more years – to avert climate change.

The run-up to 2020 is a crucial period for delivering sufficient climate action to limit global warming to 1.5°C, as countries move to expand their climate commitments.

To help meet this global challenge, the World Economic Forum's 2019 Sustainable Development Impact summit has made Accelerating Climate Action one of four focus areas.

Following the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit this month, this meeting will bring together stakeholders to cap global warming at 1.5°C through innovative partnerships and smart technologies. The action areas include heavy industries and transport, energy innovation, nature-based climate solutions, restoring ocean health and the role cities, among others.

Three steps to sustainable commuting

1. Diagnosis

The first step in solving a problem entails accepting that a problem exists. Companies have an opportunity to lead the way to sustainable mobility by recognizing issues with the current status quo, understanding their role in exasperating these issues of congestion, emissions and exclusivity, and, therefore, their important role in developing the path towards a better future.

In order to move forward, companies should invest the resources – financial, human and time –to conduct a thorough examination of their current transportation practices. Gathering information through surveys, employee interviews and other tools is crucial in crafting an appropriate response. Here, context is also important. For instance, in Europe, incentivizing people to travel to work by public transport is not such a difficult proposition. But in the Global South, mass transport systems and infrastructure are often deficient to the point that this kind of approach is not always a realistic option. Notwithstanding the fact each company has its own particular configuration, all must confront the reality that mobility challenges have a direct impact on performance. In this way, the important thing is to start somewhere and progress incrementally.

Global Ridership Evolution (in Millions)
Global metro ridership (in millions). Encouraging the use of shared public transportation is just one way to make mobility more sustainable.
Image: CityLab

2. Educating and encouraging

To ensure programmes will last, it’s fundamental to raise awareness about the need to change. Acknowledging commuting shapes our life and ultimately determines a large part of its quality, companies must identify the low-hanging fruit to get the conversation started and engage individuals effectively.

Giving people real choices through the provision of options (such as bicycles, rideshare options or a corporate shuttle, often referred to as “new mobility”) as well as providing ways to have fun (through gamification tactics) are key to expanding a commuter’s perspective on transportation. Providing incentives by building reward systems (such as cash reimbursements, time off or public recognition) to ease the “on-boarding” process is equally important – so much so that some local authorities in the United States are testing loyalty programmes to attract people to public transport and compete with ride-hailing companies. Similarly, national governments in places including Costa Rica recently began providing tax incentives to companies encouraging bicycle commutes.

3. Technological solutions

Investing in digital platforms might not be possible for all companies due to limited resources, but there are many possible concepts being implemented across the globe. From free smartphone apps, which provide maps, intermodal integration options and traffic information, to tailor-made digital solutions allowing all employees to find a suitable commute option, technology can fit within a company’s resources and culture. Popular programmes do both – they use existing tools for vehicle sharing (carpooling, bicycle share, etc.) while incorporating and branding them into their corporate realm. Likewise, other companies have expanded their thinking to include electric vehicle incentives, as well as using telecommunications technology to create flexible work opportunities.

Where do we go from here?

More sustainable corporate mobility can lead to improved performance, an improved corporate profile and secondary effects across sectors through facilitating programmatic replication by other companies facing similar challenges.

With this in mind, the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Mobility launched the Corporate Mobility Transport Challenge earlier this year. Over the past six months, it has attracted cases from cities across the world, with stories highlighting how different entities are challenging the status quo – catalysing a transition towards more sustainable commuting and product distribution in their hometowns.