Urban Transformation

Cooperation is the key to improving urban transportation - just ask Amsterdam

A man rides his bike in a bicycle shed near Central Station Amsterdam January 17, 2007.

A cyclist rides past Amsterdam's Central Station Image: REUTERS/Koen van Weel

Ger Baron
Chief Technology Officer, City of Amsterdam
Lizann Tjon
Program Manager, City of Amsterdam
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  • The transition to new mobility modalities is challenging the status quo in cities around the world.
  • The key to a successful reshaping of urban mobility systems is cooperation and open communication - as the City of Amsterdam has found.
  • The city has collaborated with the World Economic Forum on a new report, entitled Guidelines for Transforming City Mobility Systems.

Humankind has always been innovative in developing ways to move ourselves and our goods. From inventing vessels that sail the world to trains, cars and airplanes, the focus has always been on faster, more comfortable and cheaper transportation.

Within the past decade, two new focus points have grown in importance: sustainability and, especially in cities, the use of public space. Parallel to this expanded focus, technology has yielded several mobility transitions. Today, old systems and new systems coexist - and this is challenging the status quo of mobility management.

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Reassessing our public spaces

Amsterdam is famous for being a cycling city; it contains around 850,000 bicycles, roughly one for every resident. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that in 2017, a bicycle-sharing company brought its services to Amsterdam. Two more companies followed suit soon afterwards. But with the city already managing congested bike lanes and limited parking, and with many residents already bicycle owners, these bike-sharing services were not widely adopted.

In an effort to rebalance the use of public space, the city enacted a temporary rule that removed the bike-sharing services from the city’s streets while we reassessed regulations. We also anticipated future services would want to share our streets, and so we needed to modify our policies in preparation. Following a review of our transportation system and public spaces, we released new policies to regulate shared modalities such as cars, bikes and e-scooters. National legislation currently does not permit e-scooters - but should that change, Amsterdam law already specifies that scooters cannot be dockless. We took this precaution in reaction to how users in other cities are operating and parking dockless e-scooters.

Today in Amsterdam, we see different mobility companies (cars, bikes, e-scooters and drones, for example) and shared platforms that provide users with varying modes of transport. As a city, we are excited about how innovation can challenge the mobility status quo and we see it as our responsibility to manage Amsterdam’s streets, waterways and airspace throughout this transition. It is important to know what’s happening throughout the city’s public spaces, who is operating transportation services and how mobility is flowing throughout the city. It is also Amsterdam’s role to know the businesses that operate mobility services in the city well and to understand their goals. Building a strong relationship is key to giving users the service they deserve.

Social charter

We see that new and existing companies or platforms are pursuing initiatives focused on improving sustainability, improving conditions for workers and sharing relevant data. Only when we do this will we ensure Amsterdammers have access to improved mobility solutions that have minimal impact on public space and which are sustainable.

In the spirit of improving the overall safety, sustainability and equity of Amsterdam’s mobility systems, Amsterdam and Uber collaborated on and endorsed a Social Charter in July 2019. The charter is the outcome of the Uber Task Force that was formed at the beginning of the year following a series of accidents in the Amsterdam area involving Uber drivers. In this charter, agreements were reached on traffic safety, independent research, data sharing and sustainability. Six months since the charter was enacted, we have open conversations with Uber on a regular basis about new insights related to elements of the Charter and innovation in mobility.

Alliances on an international level

The challenges faced by Amsterdam are similar to the challenges other cities face in the race to provide smart mobility services. We all want our cities to be attractive, livable and connected. These shared goals are best achieved through a sharing of practices at the international level and with businesses. Through collaboration on the World Economic Forum’s new Guidelines for Transforming City Mobility Systems, we learned that when communication between companies and cities is open, new understandings are fostered. The guidelines provide a common ground for partnerships with the companies providing mobility services in cities.

While working on the development of the guidelines, we learned that companies are just as willing as we are to find points of compromise. Through discussion, we learned that in many aspects, both parties were in alignment with a shared common vision to improve mobility services for users. The specifics of how this can be accomplished were up for debate, however. For Amsterdam, our next step is to apply the guidelines to our everyday transportation management.

Fair play for the future: Amsterdam’s terms and conditions

In 2018, Amsterdam regulated its public space around the use of shared bikes. In 2019, we entered into the social charter with Uber and participated in the drafting of the Guidelines for Transforming City Mobility Systems. With the mobility revolution continuing around us, we see it as an opportunity to anticipate our city’s future smart mobility needs. With the growth of different mobility services (shared taxis, bikes, cars, e-scooters and soon autonomous minivans), specific terms and conditions are needed for cities and companies to work together in both the physical and digital world.

Together with companies, knowledge institutions, other cities, governments and the local community, we are working on “Amsterdam’s Terms and Conditions”, which will regulate mobility service providers in the city. First, we will draft a manifesto that outlines all current regulations and policy gaps—which are often varied across modes. The Terms and Conditions will allow us create regulation under one umbrella, which will be committed to by multiple stakeholders. With this framework, we will organize the use of public space and facilitate a mix of different modalities.

We are in discussions with different companies and shared mobility platforms that feel challenged, like us, to work together in determining the future of mobility in Amsterdam. The insights from the Terms and Conditions will help us manage mobility throughout the city and work together on interoperability.

We want our communities to have multiple transportation options when they need to travel to work, school or social gatherings. It is important that these services are safe, sustainable and equitable. We need to foster trust and establish practices for sharing data, empowering workers and encouraging sustainability in order to improve the experience of users.

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