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EU Urban Mobility Observatory
News article12 May 20223 min read

The most effective ways to reduce the number of cars in city centres

Reducing our reliance on cars in cities is essential in decarbonising the urban landscape, however, the most effective ways to reduce cars are not obvious. In answer to this problem, researchers at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies published a study on the most successful policies in reducing cars in cities, using 800 peer-reviewed reports and case studies from all over Europe since 2010 to provide the 12 most effective policies, which are summarised below.

Cities and authorities have supported inhabitants with travel planning devices, such as apps, trip planning information, information events or reduced fares for employees, students or children. These tools had some (varying) successes, ranging from around 11% of parents in Norwich (UK), who decided to stop driving their kids to school while offering them alternative solutions, to 25% of students in Catania (IT) who switched from their private cars to public transport after free subscriptions were offered.

Whereas the tools showed some success, ‘sticks’ were much more effective to reduce the car impact on inner cities: ‘limited traffic zones’, ‘parking regulations’ and ‘congestion charges’ have reached the podium of best practices according to the German and Swedish researchers.

These 12 policies should be used in tandem with other policies, and customised for the urban area. Here is the full list:

  1. Congestion charges

All drivers entering the city centre must pay a fee. The money from the congestion charges can then be used to produce more sustainable modes of transport. This has been successful in multiple cities, most notably London who has seen a 33% decrease in cars in the city centre since 2003.

  1. Parking and traffic controls

Reuse parking spaces, some roads and other traffic controls to create car-free streets, bike lanes and walkways, increasing the utility of cyclists and pedestrians. Using this policy, Oslo has found a reduction of 19% in car usage in the centre. The CIVITAS Park4SUMP project is famous for their efforts to significantly reduce the number of parking spots in city centres across Europe, aiming to release 10% of public space currently used for parking and use 10% of parking revenues for sustainable transport.

  1. Limited traffic zones

Limit the use of cars in the city centre to residents only during certain times of the day. This has been utilised in Rome where it has seen a 20% reduction during restricted hours and even 10% during unrestricted.

  1. Mobility services for commuters

Provide free public transport for employees to commute into the city centre, alongside providing private shuttles to connect workplaces to public transport routes. Utrecht has seen a 37% reduction in car use by commuters.

  1. Workplace parking charges

Charge employees to park outside city workplaces. A medical centre in Rotterdam reduced car use by their commuters by 20-25%. These commuters have the opportunity to ‘cash out’ these parking spaces.

  1. Workplace travel planning

Companies help employees with their commute to work through company shuttle buses, discounts for public, improved bike infrastructure and reduced parking provision.

  1. University travel planning

Similar to the previous point, universities help students and staff to get to campus through the aforementioned schemes. The University of Bristol was able to cut car use by 27% for staff.

  1. Mobility services for universities

Provision of a free public transport pass and shuttle connections to campus. Catania was able to reduce car usage by students by 24%.

  1. Car sharing

Sharing rides to locations such as work or school can help reduce the amount of cars on the road. However, this policy has to be built properly as there is the risk that people who were previously car-free increase their car use.

  1. School travel planning

Help students and parents to plan their way to work through advice, planning and events to promote walking and cycling. This was able to reduce car use by 10.9% in Norwich.

  1. Personalised travel plans

Similar to school travel planning, residents in cities are provided advice, planning and events to highlight more sustainable ways of getting around the city. This has been successful in a number of cities throughout Europe.

  1. Apps for sustainable mobility

Apps for phones can help track how often people are walking, cycling and using public transport by allowing users to log their activity in exchange for points. These points can then be used for rewards and to achieve certain goals.


This article was originally posted on The Guardian.



Publication date
12 May 2022
  • Policy and research
  • Urban Vehicle Access Regulations
  • Europe-wide