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Oslo car-free plan builds on micro-mobility trend

Norway’s capital steers away from reliance on cars as political agenda is aided by technological innovation to realise social goals

Norway’s capital Oslo will become officially car-free later this year, as more than 30 years of political debate reaches fruition.

On the surface, it’s a concerted push towards reduced emissions and a more attractive city centre for locals and tourists alike. Behind the scenes, though, there is a burgeoning trend capitalising on micro-mobility. This includes the use of small electric cars, electric bicycles and different types of scooters.

One of the long-standing campaigners for Oslo to go car-free, in favour of micro-mobility options and public transport, is Andreas Halse. As environmental spokesperson for the city’s Labour Party, he is more excited than most at what the future holds for his country’s capital, and the role innovation can play in making the decision a success.

“Different versions of a car-free city centre have been on the political agenda for leftist parties for at least 30 years, and this has resulted in small progress over those decades via a few car-free streets,” he said. “Since 2015’s municipality election victory, however, the dream of a carbon-free city centre has been enacted quickly as we are finally putting forward our vision of what we want Oslo to be as a city.”

This refers to an environmentally-conscious, smart city, and while Norway’s reputation for entrepreneurial, nimble decision-making has helped get the initiative off the ground, Halse references larger cities such as Paris and London as early pioneers in swapping cars for public transport or micro-mobility.

“We’re confident it will make Oslo more attractive for its own local population, and internationally too,” he said. “Tourists don’t drive, and would much rather experience a fun, eco-friendly, modern-thinking, tech-driven city.”

One company driving the tech aspect of this evolution is Urban Sharing, a domestic innovator that launched the Oslo City Bike sharing scheme in April 2016, and has since gone on to facilitate 7.6 million trips around the capital.

“For a city of 600,000 inhabitants, this is something that we are really proud of,” said Urban Sharing’s chief technology officer (CTO), Johan Høgåsen-Hallesby

“Oslo becoming car-free is a fantastic flag in the ground for our ambition of giving the freedom of the city streets back to its citizens, but also of making more efficient use of existing infrastructure.

“The goal to make our city car-free is a movement that we, as a company, are proud to be part of.”

Micro-mobility as an extension of public transport

Naturally, as is the case with all big changes, Oslo’s move away from cars has been met with some resistance, but both Halse and Høgåsen-Hallesby agree that Scandinavian cities are more accepting of socially motivated, tech-facilitated change than other regions.

You only need to look at Copenhagen’s haven for bicycles to assess Oslo’s potential, and Urban Sharing’s CTO is witnessing a similar leaning towards micro-mobility in Norway’s capital already.

“The key to our success has been the way we utilise digital technology to ensure the most effective and user-friendly system possible”
Johan Høgåsen-Hallesby, Urban Sharing

“Over the past two years, we have seen a real shift towards bikes and e-scooters as more efficient alternatives to cars for city transportation,” he said.

“For better or worse, there has also been a huge influx of venture capital into the micro-mobility space. Specifically, we’ve seen major acquisitions of micro-mobility companies by large companies like Uber and Lyft, which has meant that bike and e-scooter sharing companies have been able to expand their services to more people in more locations.”

Høgåsen-Hallesby said Nordic citizens may be more responsive to these new forms of transportation due to being more tech-savvy themselves.

“This makes Norway a good place to be when developing and testing new technology solutions,” he added. “Being active in the outdoors is also an important aspect of Norwegian culture, which may be another reason that people in Oslo have been so enthusiastic about bike sharing and other micro-mobility travel alternatives.

“In addition, Scandinavia [has extensive use of] public transport, and micro-mobility is viewed as an extension of public transport, as opposed to a standalone form of transit. This helps make micro-mobility schemes a natural part of how people in the city move,” said Høgåsen-Hallesby.

Utilising digital technology

Oslo’s existing, well-functioning public transport network has seemingly paved the way for enhanced levels of trust in micro-mobility. Moving forward, the emphasis is now on companies like Urban Sharing to repay this trust, and to improve the proposition further. It will look to do this by relying on its digital technology capabilities.

“The key to our success has been the way we utilise digital technology to ensure the most effective and user-friendly system possible,” said Høgåsen-Hallesby. “This includes for the Oslo scheme a one-click smartphone app that locates, locks and unlocks bikes, and which also provides direct communication with customer service representatives.

“The software platform powering our schemes then uses machine learning to facilitate the analysis of user data, which in turn helps to optimise each bike’s usage and the capacity to meet user demand in real time.”

The company is also adhering to the Nordics’ long-held tradition of openness and transparency when it comes to the data being attained, so that city officials can monitor trends and move towards tangible goals of reduced carbon emissions, healthier lifestyles and improved tourist attraction.

“The challenge is to make sure people continue seeing access to green mobility as viable, and better alternatives to the car. Whether that’s a scooter, bike or public transport, we need to remove people’s reliance on cars while maximising levels of smoothness and comfort in their travel,” said Høgåsen-Hallesby.

“We think this can be achieved. Ultimately, locals and visitors will realise that they prefer to be in a car-free city.”

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