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How to make a lively city liveable?

Almost one in three trips we make is for leisure activities. That is as much as our commute to work. But when a mass of people come together in one place for a short time, such as for events, the liveability of a city is put under enormous pressure. How can organisers optimise the trips to and from events? Liese Exelmans, researcher of the centre of expertise Public Impact of KdG University of Applied Sciences and Arts, gives some valuable tips.

Last year, three out of four trips to an event were made by car. Even for very short trips of five minutes or less, half of the visitors still opt for ‘King Car’. This is what our research into the mobility choices of visitors reveals. Public transport, on the other hand, is not very popular: it accounts for only seven per cent of event trips.

We do not need to look far for the reasons for these mobility choices. In contrast to commuting, events are often one-offs and leisure comes first. Many visitors want to travel hassle-free from home to the stage. For many, the car is the symbol of that ease of travel, for autonomy.

In an ideal scenario, an event is adapted to the location and therefore only organised where the infrastructure allows it, where one can take into account the usual traffic flows and where local life also improves as 'host' of the event. Think of good accessibility, an equipped city infrastructure and close cooperation with local authorities and traders.

In reality, the location is often adapted to the event with temporary mobility interventions, such as diversions and improvised perimeter parking. In this scenario, the image of illegal parking, congested traffic and frustrated inhabitants quickly looms large. A customised mobility plan can work wonders, but it requires the necessary investment.

What small, cost-effective steps can an organiser take in the meantime to work towards better, more sustainable mobility?

  • Get into the visitors' world

What type of visitors does your event attract? How do they usually travel? And what drives their choices of mobility? A younger audience will for example more easily be persuaded to use a bicycle, scooter or bus, whereas young families are often forced to choose the car. Visitors from rural areas are more likely to take the car than city dwellers.

  • Communicate clearly about the transport options

Our research results show that visitors crave for clear information on how to get to the event. Part of their ease of travel lies in the offer of a predetermined transport plan: the organiser maps out an optimal route, arranges shuttle buses from a few easily accessible hubs, or provides a combi-ticket with free or cheap use of public transport. These combi-tickets are gaining enormous popularity. People are almost unanimously prepared to choose that option, if it exists at least. If you can commit visitors to a certain transport option when they buy their entrance ticket, they are most likely to follow it.

  • Offer ready-made solutions

For locations where public transport is not an attractive transport choice, carpooling can be an option. Our results learn that visitors are willing to do this, and that the organiser can also take the reins here. Referring to a reliable website or app can be a first step. Event visitors are also sensitive to incentives: rewarding carpoolers with a drink voucher or souvenir can convince them to take on extra passengers.

  • Everyone on the same wavelength

The 'host' of your event (the city, with its inhabitants and local traders) is an important partner in the organisation. They have to be on board with your story and thus your mobility plan. Traders want to remain easily accessible, residents do not want any nuisance or illegal parking, the city may want to use your event as a showcase for the region. A round-table discussion with the stakeholders, in which they can also express their concerns and you can look together for solutions to the mobility challenges, is a must.

With the easing of the corona measures, we are seeing the long-awaited restart of public life. Social agendas are back in business, and we are eagerly looking forward to a festival-filled summer like the good old days. However, more social encounters also mean more trips and more traffic. We are already noticing the first nostalgic reveries for the calm of the lockdown, especially in terms of traffic.

One of the lessons from the pandemic is that we have enjoyed having fewer cars on the road. In that respect, we do not want to go back to the old way. But that requires - as the virus experts have often urged us in the past two years - an effort from all of us. With these simple steps, we want to encourage event organisers to do their bit.

More info about our research and interim results?

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