LOW-CARB Partner, Szeged, Scoops CIVITAS Award and Looks Beyond

A short while ago, within Issue 2 of the LOW-CARB Digest, Szeged’s Deputy Mayor, Sandor Nagy, spoke to us about the Hungarian city’s plans and progress towards realising a LOW-CARB future. Meanwhile, the city, was recognised by jurors of the CIVITAS Initiative for its inspiring contribution in realising sustainable urban mobility based on long-lasting innovative measures, when it recently received the CIVITAS ‘Legacy’ Award.

The winner’s press release highlights Szeged’s involvement in several EU projects as well as its hosting of Magyar CIVINET, the national CIVITAS network. Over the past 15 years the city has implemented various mobility solutions, including traffic calming zones; improved cycle infrastructure; new bus lanes; and expanded and reconstructed tram and trolleybus networks. It has also been involved in several neighbourhood regeneration projects.

Among the specifically climate-friendly innovative solutions designed to create a more liveable city, Szeged has done much to push the multimodality agenda: it now hosts eight bike and ride (B+R) facilities at the terminal stations of the city’s core public transport lines, while a park and ride (P+R) parking lot has been built in Újszeged to reduce congestion on one of the city’s main eastern entry points. According to common European practice, it has also offered off-peak cycle transport on trams. If there is a ‘downside’ to these measures, however, it is that patrons have switched to riding two wheels instead of public transport, which has contributed to a steady fall in the operator’s revenues and thus a rise in operating costs. So while cycling as a share of the modal split has leapt from 4 to 17 percent between 1994 and 2015, individual car-use remains at around 22 percent – although it is thought this figure would be higher, were it not for the growth in cycling.

Clearly there are lessons to be learned and in response, the city recently introduced free WiFi and contactless payment on board all its mass-transit vehicles to boost ridership. It has also introduced a scheme to attract non-regular users during major city events, by way of a single ticket that covers all modes of transport after 6 PM. Although it is early days, combining these measures – alongside new 24 and 72 hour tickets – have contributed to a rise in revenues during the first nine months of 2018. And that despite falling numbers of pensioners and students, and a price freeze on conventional tickets.

Targeting specific causes of congestion also means collaborating with large employers and those within the city’s business district, which is why the LOW-CARB project works towards the take-up of workplace mobility plans. Another novel approach has been to encourage property developers to reduce the legally requisite parking places at new office sites and deposit a share of the land purchase fee into a local ‘sustainable mobility fund’ and develop a 15 year mobility plan (with 5 year impact evaluations) instead.

These measures go beyond investments alone and seek to encourage behavioural change through incentives and plans. But policy frameworks remain critical too. Although Szeged only prepared its first ‘real’ SUMP in 2017, the city was among the first in Hungary to prepare a ‘sustainable mobility’ vision, back in 2007. Indeed, the CIVITAS jurors welcomed the fact that Szeged’s legacy of sustainable mobility measures have yielded results in terms of a friendlier city, rich in public transport, that have delivered measurable impact, whilst its SUMP (Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan) serves as a good example in regards to citizen participation. It’s by no means an accident that the city was also invited to share its experience within CIVITAS PROSPERITY – thereby contributing to European policy development and experience exchange too.

Of course, the work doesn’t stop there. Building on the former Central Europe TROLLEY and Horizon 2020 ELIPTIC projects, Trolley 2.0, financed by Electric Mobility Europe, the city will experiment with adding batteries to trolleybuses to extend their reach, piloting them in the dynamically growing industrial area to the north. And in keeping with the tradition of public participation, local consultations recently got underway over the zone’s respective mobility plan, with SZKT, the local public transport operator, hosting hearings in July and October to better understand employers’ and employees’ mobility needs. At the same time, technical discussions took place with the University of Szeged over plans for wi-fi-based open-data collection, evaluation and planning, alongside the development of a real-time CO2 trip calculator. A hackathon for the calculator is also scheduled to take place in early spring 2019.  

Speaking about the city’s recognition, Miklos Olah, Deputy Head of the City Development Office, said: “It is a great honour and prestige for Szeged to win this award. To be inspiring, one needs the commitment of both decisionmakers and city experts who recognise the advantages in the long run, according to a concept and a vision. To this end, we are very grateful for the good practices and positive experiences of other cities, such as those one finds within CIVITAS, that helped to convince, influence and motivate Szeged.”

Miklós Oláh is pictured above, top left, with winning colleague, Péter Pázmány.