Organization of transport and mobility for people and goods


This fact sheet deals with the challenges of organizing transport and mobility, for both people and goods. The answers to medium- and long-term energy challenges (availability and price, climate change, national or European independence) cannot be found in technology alone. This is a widely shared belief. A forward-looking study by Predit (the Land Transport Research and Innovation Program) even estimates that technology will make it possible to achieve about half of the factor 4 by 2050, unless there is a breakthrough that is not yet perceptible. The other half will be found in travel practices and methods (numbers, distances, modes, vehicle occupancy, etc.), for both goods and passengers. In this respect, it is useful to distinguish between mobility services, whose supply can and must increase in the medium term, and individual or collective behavior, whose evolution may be slower and depend on structural data, such as spatial planning or production processes. First, however, we shall examine possible progress in transport operations, particularly through the use of information and communication technologies, the potential of which is currently only very partially exploited or even known.

I. Operation and management of transportation systems

1. Information and Communication Technologies and Road Traffic Management

By information and communication technologies useful to transportation, we mean: geolocation, through the American GPS (Global Positioning System) system, and in a few years through the European Galileo system (4 satellites launched in 2011 and 2012, first services in 2014, 30 satellites by 2020), communication technologies (radar, cell phones, transmitter tags) and information technologies. Their application to land transport began in the 1980s and today concerns the fields of safety (speed control, automated enforcement), navigation assistance, traffic management, goods tracking and user information. As far as the fight against climate change is concerned, the main progress is expected in traffic management and flow regulation, assistance for economical driving, and information on timetables to encourage the use of public transport and intermodality.

Géovélo, the app that helps cyclists choose their route

Since 1998, about forty French cities offer self-service bicycles: Vélib in Paris, Vélov in Lyon, Cy’clic in Rouen… For almost a year, a website and its interactive application for smartphones allows cyclists to move more easily by bike. This browser, called geovélo, has offered a Lyon application since July 1, 2013.

Among the functions offered are a map of the 500 km of cycling facilities in Greater Lyon and data on the network corresponding to the planned route : cycle tracks or not, traffic levels, urban environment…The website and application also inform users of the location of the 347 rental stations and, in real time, the number of bikes available there.

The service already exists in Tours, Nantes and Paris, but the Lyon version also allows users to customize the route calculator: it offers routes in stroll mode, for experienced users or beginners. It also offers the altimetric profile of the route, allowing to evaluate the slopes to climb. Weather data, with a one-hour forecast of possible rainfall, is also provided. And from September, a voice command will complete the device.

Cécile Bolesse, with AFP,, 04/07/13

2. Rail Operations

In addition to equipment improvements, the rail system can achieve energy savings by optimizing its operating system. Information and communication technologies (ICT) now allow efficient management of train paths to optimize infrastructure capacity while allowing trains to run smoothly, reducing successive decelerations and accelerations. This optimization also includes the widespread use of eco-driving, which is also greatly facilitated by the possibilities offered by ICT and geolocation. Logically, an efficient system for optimizing rail operations will evolve towards the total automation of train movements, at least on the major routes.

For freight transport, train paths could be saved by using long (up to 1500 m, compared to 750 m today) and heavy trains. Before this can be done, suitable braking systems must be developed, as well as reliable means of remote control of locomotives that would be inserted in the middle of the convoy.

Beyond the intrinsic gains of the rail system, optimizing the circulation of trains favors modal shift to rail. It would also allow the advantages of rail transport over road transport to be more widely enjoyed, particularly in terms of energy efficiency.

3. What savings?

Quantifying the potential energy savings from the measures suggested above is tricky because the effectiveness of these measures depends on the conditions under which they are implemented. However, work to evaluate these gains has been undertaken in the framework of the European integrated project «  Railenergy ". It shows that the two most effective measures are respectively the optimization of traffic management (potential gains of 10 to 20%) and, for thermal traction, hybridization (10 to 35% under certain conditions). According to this project, the other measures would bring variable gains, from 2 to 5 or 6% depending on the measures and the conditions.

II. Mobility Services and Travel Practices

1. Movement of people

Regardless of progress in the energy efficiency of different modes of transport, public and soft modes will remain more efficient than individual road transport. The modal shift to energy-efficient modes and intermodality (combined use of different modes) are therefore natural objectives of energy-efficient travel policies. Achieving these objectives implies improving the quality of service (space-time availability, travel time, safety for soft modes, information and intermodal billing), under realistic economic conditions and in the many different territorial configurations concerned. Innovation is particularly necessary in suburban areas and medium-sized cities, which are the most difficult to serve by conventional public transport and often the least suitable for soft modes, because they are currently designed for the automobile.

A real dynamic is at work today in this field (transport on demand, carpooling, self-service vehicles), involving a wide range of players: public transport operators, car manufacturers, information producers, telecommunication operators, insurance companies, etc. This dynamic is strengthened by the prospects of electric mobility, which is quite clearly part of a service logic.

Carsharing : a trigger for alternative practices to the individual car

Survey conducted in 2012 by France Autopartage and the 6T research firm with the support of Ademe within the framework of Predit. The results are based on the processing of 2090 questionnaires, filled in by members of 20 car-sharing services throughout France. Self-service vehicles (Paris, Lyon, Nice, etc.) are included in this survey.

For the respondents (60% of whom have been members for less than three years), car-sharing is first and foremost an economical choice (46%), then a practical one (45%) and finally an ecological one (31%). The members are motorists who used to drive little (5,246 km per year) and who drive even less since they joined (3,155 km per year, including 1,477 km in carsharing). Membership leads to a separation from the car: before joining, 39% of respondents did not have a car, 50% had one, and 11% had two or more cars; after joining, these figures drop to 78%, 18% and 4%. Travel shifts to walking (30%), biking (29%), urban transit (25%), train (24%), and carpooling (12%).

2. Freight transport

In terms of freight transport, the situation of modal split and intermodality is certainly of concern with respect to energy issues. Rail freight has fallen from 50 billion tons/km in 2002 to less than half today, and combined road-rail transport is obviously suffering from this decline in the rail mode (5% of rail traffic in 2011 compared to 35% in 2008). Only river transport has progressed, but its modal share will never be very significant, even with the completion of the Seine-North Canal (a project designed to link the French navigable network to that of northern Europe (a reconfiguration mission was launched in April 2013 to examine the conditions that would make it possible to overcome the financial impasse currently observed). The predominant role of maritime transport (90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea), particularly since the rise of containerization, gives a key place to the ports and the quality of their rail and waterway connections: Le Havre, the leading port in France, handles 60% of French container traffic, i.e. 2.4 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units), compared with 11.1 million TEUs in Rotterdam, the leading European port and 10th in the world, far behind the 29 million TEUs in Shanghai (these figures give a small idea of the current geography of goods transport).

Successful test at the Gotthard for the French Modalohr system (latest news from Alsace, 25.10.2012)

The purpose of the test was to demonstrate that the Modalohr system, developed by the Alsatian group Lohr Industrie, could offer a solution to the gauge problem on the Gotthard and on some sections of the Basel-Chiasso axis. Another important north-south route in Switzerland, the Loetschberg-Simplon line, is already suitable for semi-trailers with a corner height of 4 metres.

The test has shown that the Modalohr system, with its small-wheeled bogies and the wagon platform pivoting to allow the tractor to move its trailer, can be put into operation between Basel and Chiasso. The new Swiss link, called « Viia Helvetica », is scheduled to go into operation in 2015, if all the necessary permits are obtained.

The example of other European countries shows, however, that this situation of growing domination of road transport, contrary to the expectations and political will expressed over the last twenty years, is not inevitable: the modal share of rail freight (2010 figures) is 15% in France and declining (as in Spain and Italy), but it is growing both in countries where it is lower (Netherlands 5%, United Kingdom 13%) and in those where it is higher (Germany 21%, Austria 36%, Switzerland 39%), and geographic conditions do not explain everything, with French deindustrialization playing an undeniable role. Research must therefore continue to prepare the conditions for a more favorable modal split, i.e., greater efficiency of the rail mode, automation of transshipment yards, and tools for port multimodality. It must assess the economic feasibility of the investments involved, such as dedicated freight lanes. Following the Grenelle Environment Forum, a national commitment for rail freight (March 2012) set out the objective of increasing the share of non-road modes in freight transport from 14% to 25% by 2022, announcing an investment plan, shared equally between RFF and the State, of 16 million euros per year until 2020.

In urban areas, the question of modal split is less significant, even if some experiments in rail service or the use of public passenger transport may be interesting to follow. The challenge of urban logistics is rather that of organizing load breaks between medium- and long-distance transport and vehicles adapted to an urban environment that is increasingly restrictive for local environmental reasons (air pollution, noise, congestion). One of the ways to progress in the face of these increasingly unavoidable load breaks could be the mutualization of storage spaces and vehicles, made realistic today by the maturity of communication technologies.

Distripolis, an urban distribution service offered by SNCF Kéolis

Distripolis is an urban distribution organization proposed by Kéolis, the freight subsidiary of SNCF. The general principle is to create an additional load break in order to use adapted vehicles in town. The reconfigured last mile obviously costs more, but it is financed by savings from pooling. The first deployment took place in Paris in June 2011, followed by Strasbourg and Versailles in 2012. Toulouse, Lille and Bordeaux should follow.

Organization for Paris : a main platform at Bercy and eight urban logistics spaces powered by vehicles meeting Euro 5 and then Euro 6 or hybrid standards. From these Blues (ecological urban logistics bases), deliveries are made either with light commercial vehicles or electric three-wheelers for parcels or pallets weighing less than 200 kg, or, beyond that, with Euro 5 standard trucks. This organization has led to an 18% reduction in CO2 emissions in Paris since 2011 (activity : 4235 deliveries per day).

III. Mobility and spatial planning

The subject of « transport and urban planning » is not new. In order to remain contemporary, we can at least recall the period of the construction of the new cities, which gave rise to marked planning strategies in this field. Since the beginning of the 1980s, the issue of urban sprawl has continued to gain importance in research and reflection and even in the production of legislation, and the revival of energy issues has further accentuated the importance of this issue. But there is a long way to go from concern to action (according to a 2013 survey among the staff of the CEA center in Cadarache, the average distance from home to work is 36 km…) and expectations for research to inform this action are all the stronger since the energy criterion must be confronted with the economics of planning and equity.

The coherent city

Faced with the difficulties observed in the implementation of the concept of « compact city » widely disseminated in Europe in the 1990s, researchers have explored the concept of « coherent city », a city « where everyone would be close to the main places where they need to go ». They tested this concept in the Ile-de-France region and in the field of home-work proximity, by seeking the conditions for everyone to be less than 30 minutes away from their workplace by car or public transport.


  • 70% of Ile-de-France households are well located, less than 30 minutes from their workplace

  • the concentration of employment is the main reason for the inconsistency, because the office real estate market is more powerful than the housing market.

  • situations of incoherence are socially highly discriminated against : ¼ of households have a choice, ¾ do not.

  • there is, however, great variability in real estate prices and thus a significant economic supply for more coherent relocations.

  • At the 2007 census, 1.4 Ile-de-France households had changed housing within the urban area in the previous five years. There is therefore a significant potential for relocation.

  • coherence is not at all encouraged: all the economic signals sent to households push them to regulate their choices through transportation.

Impact of coherence

  • ¾ of the relocations could be done in the existing stock. The rest represents 200,000 housing units to be built.

  • the new coherence only slightly reduces the use of the car. It mainly reduces the use of public transport, especially the RER. On the other hand, it increases the space for more environmentally friendly uses (small vehicles, etc.).

The coherent city: thinking differently about proximity ». J.P.Orfeuil, M.H.Massot, E.Korsu. Research report for the Predit. Publication la Documentation Française, August 2012}.

As mentioned above, the reflection should not be limited to large urban areas, since dependence on the automobile is often greater in small and medium-sized cities and the issue of distances traveled is also important.

Mobility in low-density areas : a Franco-German comparison.

The researchers studied 50x50 km squares in Picardy and near Stuttgart in territories without cities of more than 20,000 inhabitants. These are low-density territories (11.5 inhabitants per km2 in the « Picardy square » and 17 inhabitants per km2 in the German square), which nevertheless offer significant proximity to train stations (average distance between stations 4.9 km in France and 5.9 km in Germany) and services (a few km). Commuting distances are relatively small (40% less than 6 km, 60% between 6 and 20 km). In both cases, the outlook for public transport, apart from the train, is rather bleak. Germans are much more likely to carpool to work, probably as a result of greater job stability that favors inter-connection. A comparison between two companies clearly shows this: the solo car is hegemonic in the French example (85%), but is overtaken by carpooling in Germany (48% versus 41%). As for cycling and walking, the facilities are much more favorable in Germany than in France.

Mobility between cities : a Franco-German comparison. Université Paris 1 and Ipraus, research for Predit, January 2013.

IV. Productive system, planning and transport demand

The evolution of production systems in recent decades has largely contributed to the growth of transport demand: globalization of trade, just-in-time management (stocks in trucks), fractioning of chains and distance from production sites, increasing distances between production and consumption, fractioning of packages, transport costs that include few externalities, etc., have led to an explosion in container traffic and favored transport by road. The sensitivity of these practices to changes in energy constraints is an essential research question: are there possible changes, or even reversals, and under what economic conditions? What room for manoeuvre does public policy have with regard to a form of control over the demand for goods transport? How can the impact of electronic commerce be assessed in this respect?


An electric toothbrush consists of 38 components. Manufacturing involves 11 locations in 9 countries : China, Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, USA, France, Austria, Sweden, Germany. The components travel 27,880 km.

Quoted by Pierre Veltz in « Freight 2030 », Samarcande report for Predit, July 2008

Supply chains and energy consumption: the case of yogurt and jeans

The analysis focused on energy consumption according to the modes of supply and distribution. Yogurt is made in France, mainly from milk produced in France. It is an ultra-fresh food product with a short shelf life, transported under controlled temperatures and in just-in-time delivery. Jeans, on the other hand, are a product integrated into the world market, both for their main raw material (cotton) and for the various stages of their manufacture, and their life span is long.

The conclusions regarding CO2 emissions are somewhat different from those regarding energy, because the consumption of production units, which is significant for energy, plays a much smaller role for CO2. In the case of yoghurt, distribution through local shops is the most economical form of greenhouse gas emissions, ahead of supermarkets and hypermarkets, even surpassing e-commerce. As for jeans, the origin of the cotton is decisive: the use of Egyptian cotton produces three times less CO2 than Asian cotton.

Ifsttar research report (French Institute for Science and Technology of Transport, Planning and Networks) for Ademe in the framework of Predit, 2005.

V. The place of mobility in socio-economic values

Beyond what has been said in the previous two paragraphs about the potential evolution of travel practices, the place of mobility in the hierarchy of socio-economic values is a matter of debate. In the continuity of past decades, many policy makers consider that the development of mobility, while reducing its environmental impacts, should be favoured because it induces social and economic development. Efforts should therefore be focused on transport technologies rather than on the quantity and scope of travel. Others, who are in the minority today, believe that the place of mobility in lifestyles and consumption patterns must be questioned more fundamentally, that some of this mobility is not chosen but forced, and that the values of proximity have been forgotten to an excessive extent. A « weak sign » of this trend could be the propensity of young people to take their driving test later and to favour ICTs, which are obviously much less expensive in terms of equipment.

VI. France : the national transport infrastructure plan and the challenge of funding resources, the Mobility 21 report

The Mobility 21 Commission was set up in October 2012 by the Minister of Transport and Fisheries with the mission of specifying the conditions for implementing the National Transport Infrastructure Plan (SNIT) with regard to real investment capacities and proposing a hierarchy of projects.

The report was submitted to the Minister on June 27, 2013. It effectively states that resources do not allow the development of the transportation network to continue at the current rate, and a fortiori at the rate corresponding to the SNIT, and it proposes three groups of projects :


  • The «  Sober Transportation  » sheet, produced as part of the National Energy Research Strategy, December 2012. Ademe, in collaboration with : Alliance Nationale de Coordination de la Recherche pour l’Energie (ANCRE), Programme de Recherche et d’Innovation dans les Transports Terrestres (PREDIT), Ministry of Higher Education and Research, Ministry of Economy, Finance and Industry, Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy

  • Assessment of Predit 4 (research and innovation program in land transport 2008-2013): research presentations

  •  Freight forecast 2030 . Samarcande, report for Predit, July 2008

  • Rail freight, a mode of the future for Europe ". Eurogroup Consulting, SITL March 2012

To go further

Website of the Ademe