3 really simple steps: How to reduce congestion and pollution, generate revenue and overhaul your city

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With less than three working weeks until the start of the UITP 2015 World Congress & Exhibition, we take a look at Milan’s methods for fighting congestion and pollution, investing in public transport and reinventing the city. Venice may provide the romance and Rome a never-ending history lesson but today all eyes turn to Milan as the birthplace of the now and the next, from cutting edge international fashion and design to its innovative public transport and mobility endeavours.

With one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world - there are 72 vehicles per 100 inhabitants - the northern industrial city of Milan faced the twin problems of heavy congestion and life–threatening levels of pollution.

Something had to be done and so the metropolis chose to take three really simple and yet politically bold steps to reverse its situation. It opted for a tripartite strategy to transform itself into the modern, sophisticated and livable city it was always destined to be. 

In the process it became a great case study in urban rejuvenation other European industrial cities could copy. Here’s how:

1. Back in 2008 Milan introduced an ambitious pollution charge called ECOPASS.

The scheme levied a charge on the most polluting vehicles entering the city centre, based on a fee structure according to the vehicle's engine emission standards. The system succeeded in persuading motorists to switch to less-polluting cars, but didn’t solve the issue of congestion. So the city held a referendum in 2011 and 80% of voters made the choice to replace ECOPASS with a proposed general congestion charge.

2. The city then combined the congestion charge with a Low Emission Zone (LEZ).

Launched in early 2012 the Area C congestion charge applies to motorists entering the Low Emission Zone (LEZ), an 8 km2 city centre area between 7.30 a.m. and 7.30 p.m. The zone is monitored by video cameras and there are no charges for electric and hybrid cars. During its first year, the implementation of Area C resulted in a 30% reduction in traffic, translating to 40,000 fewer vehicles entering the city area every day, as well as a 33% cut in black carbon emissions. Mission accomplished.

3. The funds raised through the charge could then be used to finance public transport infrastructure and sustainable mobility projects.

The public transport system of Milan, managed by Azienda Trasporti Milanesi (ATM) , consists of 4 underground metro lines, a suburban railway, a tram system made up of 18 lines, 4 trolleybus lines and 35 inter-urban bus lines, all carrying over 734 million passengers in 2010. With its 600 million euro business plan up to 2016,ATM is now investing in 30 latest model metro trains, 125 Euro-6 class buses, as well as in a high-tech integrated operations centre and a new signalling system to increase the metro-train frequency. Other projects in the pipeline include an overhaul of the city’s tram cars, the installation of more parking metres and the further extension of its successful BikeMi bike sharing scheme.

Between 2005 and 2013 the statistics show that the modal split of private motorised transport decreased from 44% to 37%, whilst public transport increased from 51% to 57% during the period and cycling rose from 5% to 6%.

Sometimes it is really as easy as one, two, three. Three really simple steps that can lead to big changes in the life of any city and its inhabitants. But don’t take our word for it. Come and join us and see Milan for yourself during the UITP’s 61st World Congress & Exhibition taking place from 8 to 10 June. 

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