Monthly Archives: April 2018

Modelling urban mobility

Currently, mobility is one of the main concerns in urban areas. Mobility can be defined as the movement of people or goods efficiently and safely, and the capacity to travel when and where a traveller or goods need to go. Consequently, urban mobility is a means to an end; a way to ensure the accessibility of specific destinations and locations.lidia

Mobility must be sustainable and capable of including various transport modes and vehicles, which may be traditional or new forms that have emerged from the development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to achieve accessibility. There are underlying dynamic interactions between mobility, transport systems and accessibility, which require structuring of the territory through the transport system and thus ensure the essential level of territorial connectivity to achieve accessibility.


The migratory movement from rural to urban areas has always existed. However, urban growth has accelerated considerably since the second half of the twentieth century. In 2008, humanity crossed the threshold of 50% of the world population living in cities. These phenomena of urban expansion have generally occurred in an unplanned way, and often involve separation between dwellings and workplaces. This separation is possible due to the development of transport systems but has led to well-known traffic congestion. The current situation has a strong impact on energy consumption and emissions (currently around 75% of anthropogenic greenhouse gases are produced by cities) and, therefore, on quality of life.

Cities are dynamic, complex systems. As such, they are comprised of many subsystems that interact with each other through several types of interdependencies. Cities must be conceived as “systems of systems” in which mobility is one of the most complex components, with numerous interdependencies with other components. Mobility must therefore be considered in the context of these interactions, so that their implications can be analysed correctly.


Infrastructure and transport modes that enable urban movement of people and goods are not the only elements that should be considered in determinations of the degree of accessibility. A shopping centre, for example, is an attraction and generates journeys. The infrastructure and transport modes available to reach the shopping centre determine its accessibility. ICTs can help to make journeys more efficient, as they improve the capacity of the transport system and change the way that passengers use it, through new concepts of mobility.


New forms of transport

Cities are constantly evolving, driven by political interventions, socioeconomic changes, technological innovations that promote changes in urban journeys, lifestyles and spatial structure, changes in the way the urban population moves, and, more recently, new forms of transport. This evolution is also brought about by changes in urban policies, with the current trends of compact cities, densification, mixed uses and revitalisation of the inner city.

In the Transport and Mobility Area of inLab FIB, this analysis led us to suppose that any intervention in a city should be based on a deep understanding of the urban entity, which can be obtained by analysing patterns of mobility and associated processes, determined by systemic interactions between the transport system and land uses.

The Barcelona Virtual Mobility Lab

imgIn response, we developed a tool for analysing how the urban form and urban dynamics determine mobility: the Barcelona Virtual Mobility Lab (VML). This modelling of the transport system, patterns of mobility and land uses was promoted by SEAT, Volkswagen, PTV-Group and KINEO Mobility Analytics, and developed in the framework of CARNET.

The aim was to provide a common framework to help in the design and evaluation of impacts of the new concepts of mobility emerging due to a combination of urban dynamics, changes in the behaviour of travellers, and ICT applications. In other words, the framework provides a suitable tool that can help us to understand the potential of the future, and

analyse in depth the impact of new concepts of mobility, which can be classified broadly into two categories:

  • Concepts of mobility based on upcoming automotive technologies, such as electric, connected and autonomous vehicles.
  • Concepts of mobility based on new systems of transport supported by ICT applications, such as car sharing, ridesharing with many passengers, and other forms of mobility as a service (Mobility as a Service, MaaS), transport on demand, and others, which will lead to new forms of multimodal transport and the design and management of new modal interchanges that may emerge.

The modelling platform that has been developed in the Barcelona VML project is VISUM PTV-Group (2017). In the First Phase of the project, the inner ring of the Metropolitan Area was considered (18 municipalities) as the study area. This area was divided according to technical criteria of homogeneity into 625 Transport Analysis Zones (TAZ).

The road network for private transport was modelled carefully by importing maps from navigation systems (HERE) that include detailed information about maximum speeds, permitted turns, etc. In addition, the current offering of public transport in the area was incorporated, including TMB and non-TMB buses, metro, commuter trains (Rodalies), the FGC railway and the tram. Transfer between modes is a reality in the inner ring and enables various modes of transport to be combined; one for each stage in the journey. This multimodality has been modelled carefully, at street level and in modal interchanges (Estació de Sants, Passeig de Gràcia, etc.) between many transport modes. Patterns of mobility were defined according to matrices of mobility (by hours) between TAZs, drawn up by KINEO Mobility Analytics using anonymised data from mobile phone Call Detail Records (CDR) from the phone operator Orange.

The model of the transport offering is, to our knowledge, the most accurate with the biggest scope ever created for the Barcelona Metropolitan Area.

The project continues to advance. We are now working on the Second Phase of development of the Barcelona Virtual Mobility Lab. We will fine-tune the modelling parameters to reproduce in the Current Base Situation the traffic volumes and loads of existing transport lines, to produce a model that reproduces the current situation. Based on this reliable model of the current situation, we can develop alternative scenarios representing future actions in transport and mobility, which can be assessed in terms of accessibility, traveller behaviour and use of the transport network.

Dra. Lídia Montero

Researcher at the inLab FIB UPC