Three cities, three transformations

Accomplish • Pulse #7 • 7 MIN
By Tiphaine Clotault

Mobility supports a city’s growth and development, but it can also bring about genuine transformation. To understand how this dynamic works and continues to evolve, Pulse looks at three of the world’s major cities or capitals. We take in Vienna, where the city’s century‑old tram network remains the epicentre of demographic and societal transformations, Tokyo, where the world’s densest urban rail network is transcending its physical limits to become an integral part of this smart city, and Strasbourg, a pioneer of low‑carbon mobility which is bringing the bicycle back into today’s consumption equation.


With modal share up 9% in 25 years and 45% of people holding an annual travel pass, Vienna’s shared mobility performance is a European success story. Trams, metros and buses are used for 38% of trips, ahead of walking at 28%. And in recent years, it’s only the growth of bicycle use — modal share up from 3% to 7% in 25 years — that can compete.

The people of Vienna’s attachment to public transport is first and foremost the result of
proactive public policies. For 50 years, the city authorities have methodically curbed car use, which has seen its modal share fall by 13% since 1993. But it’s above all due to the choice to make inclusion the driving force behind all innovation projects on the network, which has expanded significantly to support the huge demographic boom in the Austrian capital, with 400,000 new people in 20 years.

Travel for a euro a day

In 2012, Wiener Linien the Vienna public transport authority, played a masterstroke by cutting the price of an annual pass by 20% from €449 to €365, which it offset by raising parking fines by 60%.
The upshot was 500,000 new pass subscribers in eight years. These savings have since enabled travellers to adopt the complementary shared modes (walk, bicycle, scooter, car) made available to complete the ‘last mile’ without resorting to a private car.

Over a million people have downloaded the WienMobil app, launched in 2017, which lets them combine and book the mobility services offered by 15 Wiener Linien partners.

Adapting to all vulnerabilities…

Vienna has also made accessibility a priority. All buses and metro trains are now wheel-chair accessible, as is every second tram. Most stations have tactile walking surface indicators and some also have multisensory information points (audio, touch, sign language). The city is developing route planners for each category of vulnerable passengers, which also give real-time alerts if accessibility provisions are temporarily unavailable.
The next step is to roll out ‘light’ public transport services, especially for senior travellers, wherever mass transit isn’t economically viable. Additionally, since June 2019, Wiener Linien has been testing two self-driving shuttles in real-world traffic conditions in the new Seestadt eco-district.

… and all rhythms of life

Just 25 minutes from the city centre by metro, Seestadt is a laboratory of equal and inclusive mobility for all rhythms of life. The objective? Ensure that 80% of routine journeys — school, work, shops, parks, etc. — can be made on foot, by bicycle or by public transport. This is underpinned by a local urban development plan based on the typical journeys of eight categories of people (working adults with/without children, students, pensioners, etc.). 20 years ago, Vienna was already thinking about gender equality in public spaces, which led to a complete redesign of transport stops, pavements and lighting. Today, it intends to prove it’s possible for people of all ages to stay mobile without a private car.


Will they be held this summer? With or without the expected millions of visitors? Already postponed for a year due to Covid-19, the Olympic Games are an opportunity to push the limits of a structurally overloaded public transport network, which operates at 150% capacity on average during peak periods. And because of its record density, there’s only marginal scope to grow (80% of the city’s 37 million population already live and work within a mile of a train or metro station). However, whether or not the Olympics go ahead, the network must adapt to continuous passenger growth and Tokyo’s tourism ambitions.

Optimising operations

In summer 2019, one year ahead of the original dates for the Olympics, Tokyo conducted an exercise over several days in near-real conditions, with an extra 660,000 passengers on its trains and metros. Its network may be the world’s busiest (30 million people), but its high levels of service frequency, reliability and availability means capacity can still be increased. Operating hours can be extended and frequency of departures — currently every two minutes — can be increased.

In stations, travel management is also in the starting blocks. A champion of contactless ticketing and floor-to-ceiling signage, Tokyo’s rail network is testing several ideas: translation devices for information officers, new layouts and upbeat mood music to help speed passenger flows. Posts have also been installed in front of entry gates to quickly split the flows. A delegation for the 2024 Paris Olympics recently visited Tokyo to draw inspiration from its innovations.

Changing behaviours

Tokyo is also testing its travel demand management (TDM) strategy to reduce road traffic in the city centre by 30% and on public transport. Almost 50,000 employees at 2,000 public and private-sector companies are taking part, with some working from home and others doing staggered hours. The aim is to spread out commuter numbers over the course of the day. Tokyo’s metro users are also kept informed of ridership statistics to encourage them to change their routines.

MaaS simulation to ease congestion

Beyond the Olympics, the most decisive step in easing congestion will undoubtedly be MaaS (mobility as a service), which combines multiple modes of mobility on a single platform. As MaaS is gradually rolled out, with government support, it will allow data to be shared between all operators across a region and solve a major issue in Japan: coordination. In central Tokyo alone, some 40 players share the operation of 121 rail lines. In 2020, to restrict the spread of coronavirus, Tokyo used MaaS to simulate a range of congestion-easing scenarios.

For now, Tokyo’s public transport system is taking advantage of the Olympics to improve accessibility: the metro is adding ramps, lifts and floor markings, while all 1,600 buses are now low-floor models.


The Urban Community of Strasbourg, which became a Eurometropolis in 2015, has been promoting bicycle as a daily mode of transport for 45 years. Critics will say that 49% of local people never use a bicycle and that restrictions on polluting vehicles don’t go far enough. For the more optimistic, 15% of journeys in the city centre are already by bicycle and in 2018 the French Federation of Bicycle Users (FUB) rated Strasbourg as the most cycle-friendly city in France with over 200,000 inhabitants. What’s certain is that, with a 33% modal share for walkers, Strasbourg is a model of active low-carbon mobility. In the last 10 years, however, the takeup of bicycle seems to have plateaued. So, how can Strasbourg shift up a gear?

Keeping pace with public transport

As early as its first bicycle blueprint in 1978, Strasbourg had anticipated the potential of intermodal travel with the future tram system, which entered service in 1993, by setting aside protected sections along its tracks. Today, the expansion of the rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) networks is being matched by the extension of lanes, bike parks and multimodal hubs to support the city’s growth. To make parking more secure, three large fee-paying VéloParks offering 1,790 spaces were opened near stations in 2017. In addition, Pass Mobilité holders benefit from access to 17 park & ride facilities free of charge and a carsharing offer.

A bicycle for everyone

If half of people in Strasbourg don’t use bicycle, it’s simply because most don’t actually have a bicycle.
The Eurometropolis has launched a vast plan to put this right. The first target beneficiaries are working people for their daily commute. Since 2019, thanks to public funding, 500 electric bicycles have been available for hire, attracting 1,800 users in two years. Since the start of lockdown, the 6,500 shared bicycles in this network have been available on a click & collect basis and offered to 1,545 grant-supported students for a token annual fee of €1. Strasbourg is also stepping up initiatives for people on low income. These include a purchase option for €2 a day, a used bicycle ecosystem and bicycle marketplaces. It’s also supporting community bicycle schools to get schoolchildren in the saddle.

Decarbonising the inner and outer suburbs

The further you go from the city centre, the fewer bicycle you see. Every day, 500,000 trips of under three miles (5 km) are still made by car.

The 80 mile (130 km) VéloStras express bike network will be completed in 2028, with the aim of converting a third more people to bicycle. Ten radial routes will link Strasbourg’s outer suburbs with the centre, while two circular routes will make it easier to cycle between the outlying communities. These routes will benefit from a high level of services, including regular maintenance.

This cyclable ‘highway’ will supplement the Réseau Express Métropolitain project launched in late 2020 to interconnect 13 existing stations in the towns around Strasbourg by train and bus. The ultimate goal is to offer a low-carbon mobility solution for everyone living and working in the Eurometropolis.


Viewpoints from Pontevedres

In 1999, the Spanish  city of Pontevedra started its transformation to become almost entirely car-free. Today, 72% of trips are done on foot or by bicycle.

Pulse #4 3 min

Pontevedra, a pedestrian’s paradise!

Almost all of this Spanish town, home to a population of 83,000, has been made a car-free zone. Pedestrians have reclaimed the streets and quality of life is improving by the day. What lies behind the scheme’s success? Explanations by Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores, mayor of Pontevedra.

Pulse #4 6 min