U-PASS: Chinese-European research cooperation on improving urban transport
Motivated by the worldwide shared desire and need for more efficient, reliable and environmentally sustainable urban transport, U-PASS investigates how to improve the benefits of transport, while limiting its downsides. U-PASS – Urban Public Administration and ServiceS Innovation for Innovative Urban Mobility Management and Policy) – aims to offer innovations in the design of new services and policies in urban transport, with a focus on policies and services such as tradable credits schemes, automated vehicles, electric driving, ride sharing, car sharing, and cycling. The project studies short-run behavioural impacts through real-life experimental studies in both China and Europe, and long-run implications through advanced urban transport modelling approaches.
Addressing issues of urban accessibility, of urban air quality, of urban congestion
Erik Verhoef, project coordinator and Head of Department: ‘U-PASS is a highly relevant project. We are addressing issues of urban accessibility, of urban air quality, of urban congestion. In Amsterdam, and in the Randstad, we believe that this is a very important topic – and it is. But when you go to a city like Beijing, you become a little modest. The problems over there are even much more impressive in terms of the sheer size of the city, but also in terms of the extent of congestion. You have undoubtedly seen on the internet the pictures of Beijing in smog. It is really serious.’
Apart from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), partners in this project are the University of Leeds (UK), Beijing Jiaotong University, Zhejiang University, and the Beijing Transport Institute (China) – all top institutions. Recently, the U-PASS kick-off meeting was held in Beijing. It was really good, says Verhoef. ‘One of the big challenges of a cooperation between Chinese and European partners is that the cultural distance can be very big. But we are fortunate enough to have a consortium whose members have already been collaborating amongst themselves in the past. In all sorts of combinations, these partners have already been working together. Therefore, we know who we are talking with, and we also know the topic we want to study, and how we want to study it. We had a very good start, and in fact, we already had our first experiment. The cooperation is great’.
Even though the cities are different in scale, and in culture, the underlying root problems are very similar. Verhoef: ‘One of the aims of this project is that we have, on the one hand to identify solutions. Solutions that can be the same for the different types of cities: innovations, transport services, think of shared cars, or electric driving, automated vehicles. On the other hand, we have to really understand to what extent policies have to be different in the future, because the context is so different.’
Collaboration across the groups
The collaboration between Chinese and European top institutes – combined with applications in both parts of the world – gives a great opportunity for cross-fertilization, comparative study, and exploitation of diversity for the purpose of generalizing and transferring insights to be gathered. Verhoef: ‘An example of collaboration is one of the Chinese PhDs from Beijing Jiaotong, who will be working on a couple of experiments, here at VU. She will do a double PhD degree, partly in China, partly in VU Amsterdam. Her research topic is very similar to the topic of the PhD that will be working at VU. She can benefit from from experiments already done at our department, building on earlier work. She is also working together with one of our PhD students, who is working on the U-SMILE project. In fact, we are now analyzing a data set that those PhD students have done together.’
Not only in the experimental, but also in the modelling field there are strong interactions. The model that will be developed in China, for instance, is called the MARS model, says Verhoef. ‘This model was originally developed by the group in Leeds to describe European cities. And of course, again, the model will be very different, because the cities are so different, but the same techniques can be used. Yes, I am kicking in an open door, but I keep saying it. You have to look for synergy, look where groups can reinforce each other. We have a wide variation of researchers, where some people specialize in conceptual modelling, others in agent-based modelling, network modelling, and we want all the researchers to bring to the joint table what they are really good at. So that we can all learn from each other.’
U-PASS is part of the Sustainable and Liveable Cities and Urban Areas programme, jointly organized by nine European partners of JPI Urban Europe and the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC), in order to encourage collaboration between researchers from Chinese and European universities, research institutes, research and technology organizations, cities and city planning departments, as well as European companies to develop knowledge, integrate solutions and decision support tools to a wide spectrum of urban challenges (Grant No. 71961137005). U-PASS runs from March 2019 until July 2023.