By: Alexie Roy-Lafontaine

If I ride my bicycle to work, I practice sustainable mobility, right? Yes and no! The answer is not that simple.

In fact, the concept of sustainable mobility links a multitude of players from different sectors. Citizens certainly have their role to play in terms of the mode of transportation they choose, but urban planning and the Ministry of Transport are also highly concerned by this subject.

According to Quebec’s Sustainable Mobility and Electrification Policy, mobility refers to the ability and potential of people and goods to move or be transported. It is the foundation of social, economic and cultural exchanges of individuals, businesses and societies. However, for it to be sustainable, it must be effective, safe, equitable, integrated into the environment and compatible with human health and ecosystems.

In other words, sustainable mobility is rethinking the classic transport paradigm. It integrates accessibility and proximity to travel infrastructure, focusing on reducing car travel and sees the street as a living space (circulation, consumption, socialization, etc.).

On the other hand, the traditional vision of transport is oriented towards distance and time, it focuses on vehicles and it prioritizes technical solutions (Vivre en ville, 2019).

Increasing the capacity of roads and highways to increase the speed of flow is not a sustainable solution. This kind of policy leads to the degradation of resources and territory by increasing the dependence of individuals on car ownership while cultivating the dependence of societies on fossil fuels. In addition, automobility stimulates urban sprawl and increased travel distances for individuals and goods, hindering the development and improvement of sustainable mobility (Bourdages & Champagne, 2012).

The demand for mobility is increasing and the transport sector already accounts for more than 44% of Quebec’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Of this portion, 22% is allocated to the transport of personal vehicles and the other 22% to the transport of commercial vehicles (goods, industries and travellers) (Pineau et al., 2019). The increase in traffic density leads to problems at the environmental level, but also at social and economic levels. A Quebec household spends about 17% of its annual after-tax budget on transportation, which is a slightly higher percentage than the one attributed to food (Sustainable Mobility and Electrification Policy, 2018). Traffic jams and travel distances have an impact on time and budget allocated to this sector by individuals.

The emanation of fine particle matter from automobiles contributes to air quality degradation, resulting in more frequent and intense smog episodes. As a result, public health is directly affected. Finally, conventional modes of motorized transportations are massively energy-intensive and inevitably contribute to climate change through the release of greenhouse gases (Appert, 2009).

Although the automotive sector has undergone innovations and vehicles are governed by strict standards, too many vehicles are on the streets. Road infrastructures are subsequently more prone to damage. Even if everyone owned an electric or green energy vehicle, the problem of traffic density would remain. Thus, most of the solutions in the field of sustainable mobility are not so much found in technological innovations. The redevelopment of territories to integrate a greater area of access to public and active transport must take precedence over automobiles (Bourdages & Champagne, 2012).

Urban center and regions today

The concept of sustainable mobility was developed in 1990. It has certainly evolved over the years, but it has broken the classic concept of transport from the start by combining public and individual transport in the form of a chain: riding your bike to the subway station for example. It has revolutionized urban and regional planning in regard to territory development and urban transportation management (Champagne & Negron-Poblete, 2012).

Hence why, today, almost all cities have their bus services, subway services, trains and public bicycles. However, automobile traffic continues to increase each year, despite the efforts of cities to provide public and active transportation infrastructure (Vivre en ville, 2019).

Why then, do the majority of the population prefer to sit in a 5-seater vehicle, alone, on a highway during rush hour?

The answer contains several elements on which the principles of sustainable mobility is based: accessibility and proximity of collective transports, the rather inefficient mesh of different transport and the costs.

A study shows that a worker who lives and works in the city center uses alternative transportation to get around, while a worker living outside the city center takes his/her car because alternative transport is less accessible to him/her (Champagne & Negron-Poblete, 2012).

Indeed, the traditional urban planning of cities does not favour the use of alternative transport, since it is still, today, centered on car travel. In addition, remodelling a complete city entails astronomical costs. That is why we are talking about a multi-year transition (Sustainable Mobility and Electrification Policy, 2018).

Getting car-centric cities to prioritize their citizens and becoming urban centers where it’s pleasant to live is the ultimate goal of sustainable mobility. In addition, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing the consequences of urban heat islands, creating a safer daily life and a better quality of life for citizens is directly related to this transition (Appert, 2019).

The Transition through the Avoid – Transfer – Improve Method

This transition method for urban mobility is officially adopted by the United Nations Environment Programme and various organizations in the Partnership on Sustainable Low-carbon Transport (SLoCaT).

It focuses on three strategies to implement in the following order: Avoid, transfer and improve.

By avoiding, it is a question of inducing a decrease in the needs and distances travelled in motorized transport. Transferring refers to the increase in less energy-intensive modes of transport to reduce GHG emissions by encouraging the use of public and active transport. Improving the energy efficiency of vehicles through technological innovations is the last strategy.

The first two strategies take precedence over the latter since they target dependence on individual automobiles and induce a structural change in travel conditions and behaviours by focusing on the notion of accessibility. These are real sustainable changes because they do not depend on an energy source or a technological advance (Vivre en ville, 2019).

According to the IPCC, people use the automobile less in densely populated areas, where activities are diverse, where street networks are well connected with sidewalks and where urban permeability is emphasized. Also, people are less likely to use their cars near the city center where there is efficient public transport  (IPCC, 2014).

Quebec’s Sustainable Mobility Policy of 2030: Transporting Quebec to Modernity

The Quebec Ministry of Transportation developed a sustainable mobility plan to be implemented throughout Quebec between 2018 and 2030. The policy has 10 mobility targets related to the environment, the economy and the social spheres.

The Quebec government’s main objectives include improving transportation services to meet the needs of users, reducing GHG emissions in order to meet targets and reducing traffic congestion to reduce travel time, costs and thus maintain the quality of infrastructure.

Citizens and businesses are at the heart of this policy. They are supported by a transport system that is said to be multimodal, reliable, and efficient. The ministry also provides for favourable land use. It is mentioned that by 2030, 70% of Quebec’s population will have access to at least 4 sustainable mobility services.

The government plans to facilitate access to services through sustainable means and optimize travels to then reduce costs. With a view to a fair and equitable policy, vulnerable, low-income and people living in rural areas are included in the measures put in place (Sustainable Mobility and Electrification Policy, 2018).

In the report issued by the Ministry of Transport, these “sustainable means of transportation” are not listed and the ministry remains rather vague on the means employed to implement its mobility plan.

However, Montreal is actually working towards sustainable mobility with the financial support of Quebec, by increasing bike lanes and public transit lanes on road, by the construction of the REM and by acquiring 52 “azur” subway trains as part of its “Électrisons Montréal” campaign (City of Montreal, 2016).

The challenge is greater however, in regions of Quebec where urban sprawl takes precedence and where distances to be covered are significantly greater than that of urban centers.

Small town, big ambitions

The small town of Monteria in Colombia sees the popularity of its public transport services increase by 10% each year. The city has established a highly effective dynamic public transport chain. By linking buses to “motorcycle taxi” shuttles, it is pleasant for citizens to travel using alternative transport. By creating a dynamic system, each street corner becomes a stop for shuttles. At the bus landing, users send a text message to the Yipi company, and then the shuttle to their home arrives in 5 minutes. Being a small town where almost everything is decentralized, this alternative transport system operating using GPS zones and monitored 24/7 adapts according to rush hour and road conditions. Thus, the issues of distance and accessibility are no longer issues. Citizens no longer have to walk miles to get to the bus stop. Users save time and this efficient system allows more people to be moved in less time (Jacobson, 2017).

In short, sustainable mobility is a stake that unites governments and citizens. This transition would not be possible without a change in culture and in the vision of social travel. It is not about seeing roads as the problem, because they are a key element in the solution to mobility. Bicycles, pedestrians and public transport lanes are true corridors for high-speed travel. When harmony is found in this present chaos, urban centers will be viable, pleasant and safe for citizens. A city where people have priority over cars, it’s a no-brainer, right?


Additional reference:

CCMM (Chambre de Commerce du Montréal métropolitain) (2010). Le transport en commun au cœur du développement économique de Montréal, Novembre 2010, Québec, Canada, 58 p. URL :