The International Transport Forum (ITF) returned to Leipzig, Germany in late May 2022 for its annual event, which was in person again this year. This was following a virtual event last year and a cancelled event the year before due to the pandemic.
The ITF is a subsidiary body of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It is composed of 64 of the most advanced economies around the world. The forum looks to advance good practice and research in all fields of transport policy amongst its members and in partnership with other global bodies and other potential partner countries. As part of the event, and as is tradition, ministers of transport from the member countries gather at the Forum to discuss research and policy and guide the work of the ITF. This is in addition to a wider transport conference, as well as industry display at the ITF event.
The ITF event has been held at the conference center just outside Leipzig since 2008 and is supported by the German federal and regional government. Volker Wissing, Germany’s Federal Minister for Digital and Transport, made a number of appearances throughout the conference.
The 2022 event was a welcome relief, enabling engagement with peers and the industry in person again. There were over 800 attendees from over 53 countries at the three-day event. The transport industry has so many pending challenges, including rebuilding and recovering from the sustainable transport demand collapse in the pandemic, supporting recovering local economies as well as global trade, grappling with numerous regional and global logistic, staffing and price pressures, and fundamentally decarbonizing transport to support the climate change agenda. The range of challenges have only grown longer and more complex post pandemic.
The conference focused its discussion under the banner of “Transport for Inclusive Societies,” and in particular, to focus discussion on what transport can do to serve society and innovate, but within the context of providing mobility offers for all members of society.
This is a message that illustrates many of the subtle issues of the industry. A key comment was “what we don’t measure, we don’t see” — and this has and continues to have significant impacts in the equity of the transport service we are providing in locations around the world.
Conference plenaries examined the following topics: Transport as a catalyst for inclusive societies; better collaboration for greater inclusion; and inclusive planning and design for healthier cities.
The main plenary was attended by US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, along with ministers of transport from the Netherlands and Israel, and trade industry representatives. This plenary reiterated that widening inclusivity of access to transport will strengthen societies in a disrupted and challenging world. These conversations also need to have the “correct,” and thus, inclusive and empowered participants at the consultation stage, as well as at decision and ongoing maintenance stages of mobility decision making.
Other sessions included considering the issues of: digitization but with a focus on “enabling access for all”; the reach of micromobility services to female and other typically excluded users; and the context of the 15 minute city and its different reality in emerging economies such as in Latin America — this both in terms of the services provided and who can typically access them.
In a number of discussions, the impact of the on-demand delivery culture on cities, workers, road safety, the environment, and ultimately social inclusion and fairness were raised.
The global crisis in logistics workers and operations and the resulting impact on the expectations of the logistics industry to support the wider economy was discussed. This was also raised as an opportunity to consider how these roles could be filled in a manner that creates more social equity in society.
The conference also provided an update on the pending 2023 update the regular “ITF Global Transport Outlook” publication. The pending report has highlighted the need for the transport sector to do much more to tackle its current and forecast carbon emissions to meet climate change targets. Within the context of the theme of this version of this event, a consideration of what justice and fairness would look like in global mobility ensued. An interesting discussion point was if we were to consider global carbon emissions by gender of modal choice, some rather stark outcomes would likely be evident.
Focus on Decarbonization
The conference also for the first time offered an ITF decarbonizing transport award targeted at emerging economies. Both winners were African based start-ups.
The “ITF Decarbonising Transport Award” winner in the “innovation category” was Wanyama Autosafety Initiatives.
The Kampala, Uganda based start-up mobilizes a network of over 400 local mechanics to improve the environmental performance of the city’s most polluting vehicles. The initiative aims to increase public visibility and engagement and promotes a data-driven approach to tackling emissions.
Meanwhile, the “ITF Decarbonizing Transport Award” winner in the “research category” was Transition To Electric Boda from Nairobi, Kenya. Motorcycle taxis form an integral part of the region’s transport mix, but are often not considered in electric transition policies. The research addresses the policy, legal, and institutional gaps that hinder the informal boda motorcycle network from inclusion in transport electrification policies.
The ITF 2022 conference narrative was very clear. Even amidst the global challenges of delivering sustainable mobility, a focus on the needs of the wider society and its excluded and marginalized groups is essential in the meeting these needs. Furthermore, too often in the past and unfortunately continuing today, transport investment, and innovation is targeted at primarily delivering improvements for already the most well-served in societies.
The presidency of the ITF rotates between member countries and was held by Morocco for this event. The next forum in May 2023 will be held under the presidency of the United Kingdom and the event will again be held in Leipzig, Germany.