Environmentally Sustainable Transport and Comprehensive Mobility: Prospects for Belarus

What is environmentally sustainable transport? How do you make transportation safe and accessible for all categories of passengers? How is travelling on foot connected to urban issues, and why must urban developers plan for a combination of all transportation modes for people? In what ways does the economy of cities and regions depend on the transportation infrastructure, and how can it influence the standard of living? Representatives of the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers who took part in the seminar "Environmentally Sustainable Lifestyle: Small Steps, Big Change?" shared their experience.
Back in 2013, experts from the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers published the "Concept of Harmonizing Passenger Transportation Legislation of Belarus and the EU", developed by the experts from the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers within the framework of the ODB Brussels project "EU and Belarus: Sharing Knowledge".

It presents basic European transport policies and legal mechanisms of their implementation. These policies are inextricably linked to the "sustainable development ideology" as it is focused on the legitimate need for movement and considers the interests of future generations. The bulk of legislation (framework decisions, directives and regulations) related to passenger transportation contains standards that ensure fair competition in the services market.  It includes uniform requirements for the physical condition of vehicles, the size of financial assets that carriers are obliged to possess, as well as rules for their untarnished reputation and professional competence of their staff.

Designed on the basis of systemic analysis of the EU legislation, proposals were made for the development of Belarusian national legislation and Belarus' accession to international automobile passenger transportation agreements and UNECE conventions.


Public transportation must be, as is the case of Germany, the "pride of the nation" and not the lot of "losers" who are not rich enough to buy a personal car.

Leaders of the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers are convinced that focusing on the best European experience will help develop integrated mobility, which is understood as the provision of access to basic facilities and services. It is undoubtedly based around the public transportation, which is not only safer than personal vehicles but also capable of servicing large passenger flows regardless of their age, place of residence and physical ability. To achieve that, public transportation must be, as is the case of Germany, the "pride of the nation" and not the lot of "losers" who are not rich enough to buy a personal car.

Valiantsina Liaonchyk 

"Unfortunately, our development plans have traditionally considered transportation to be a complementary element of the territory, while in most developed countries it's the capacity of transport infrastructure that defines development of the cities and their agglomerates, – explains Valiantsina Liaonchyk, First Deputy Chairman of the  Belarusian Union of Transport Workers.  In her opinion, the biggest challenge in transport and mobility management is to eliminate barriers between different state authorities. Road networks, arrangement of passenger terminals, including public transport stops, traffic management, parking control, passenger transportations are all responsibilities of different urban or regional structures. And, as it is well known, too many cooks...
"Public transportation must be, as in the case of Germany, the "pride of the nation" and not the lot of "losers" who are not rich enough to buy a personal car".

Consequently, in order to resolve this problem not only new regulations and redistribution of competencies of authorities are required; local authorities need to be prepared to apply sustainable mobility planning, which is a tool for local community integration that has proven its effectiveness time and again in many countries. It makes a lot of sense to draw on the EU experience of creating mobility centers or transportation agencies. It does not really matter what the bodies entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating all aspects of the complex process of comprehensive, or integrated, mobility, will be called. What matters is that they should ensure convenience and accessibility of all modes of transport, as well as safety for people and environment.
ODB Brussels: Why should we rely on European approaches and sustainable mobility?
V.L.: An urbanized society is impossible to imagine without constant communications and movement. The phrase "to be mobile" is synonymous with being modern. Sustainable mobility symbolizes the freedom of movement. In its most general sense, mobility is a person's ability to move on their own or with the aid of vehicles. As a rule, it is defined as the distance a person covers in a day or another time period. While we continue to measure accessibility in distance, the EU has switched to temporal measurements a long time ago. People normally say that they live 10 minutes' walk away or a half-hour drive away from their work.  The process of mobility (choice of mode of travel) is contingent on personal preferences, as well as people's physical and financial capabilities. That is why the meaning of the term "mobility" does not fit within the typical understanding of transport.

Western European urbanists put forward the idea of sustainable mobility about three decades ago. In many countries, this concept has not just been enshrined but enjoys a wide support of the nation. According to European experts, one third of the standard of living depends on the level of urban (regional) mobility. Moreover, it is defined as equal provision of constitutionally guaranteed opportunities for every person.

Our constitution has a similar law: Law No.30. It should be the main reference for shaping appropriate public policies and developing legislation as the main tool of their implementation. Constitutional right of people to sustainable mobility should be enshrined as a public social standard, which can be measured in normative periods of time that people regularly spend to get to work, study or basic services. Then the situation will change for the better (a more sustainable mobility will be ensured) when the share of people who reside within the area of standard transport accessibility.

Our current system of social standard of transportation needs improvement, because it is impossible to objectively assess the quality of transportation service simply in terms of the number of buses (per 1 thousand residents, depending on the size of the town or city) or public transport routes.

Let me give you an example. We investigated the situation in  Machulishchy, a small town near Minsk. Their public transportation schedule meant that children from the neighbouring village of Liaantsevichy had to come to school an hour before the classes and wait for the bus for another hour after the end of the classes. Machulishschy only have a clinic, so to get a consult from a specialized doctor people need to go to Senitsa, which is close but the towns have no fixed transport connection between them. Often people have to go from Machulishchy to Senitsa via Minsk or simply use the services of commercial hospitals in the capital. Bus stops in Machulishchy had to be installed by a commercial transport company, even though legally it is the responsibility of the ordering customer, i.e.  state enterprise «Capital Transport and Communications». However, this town falls under the jurisdiction of Minsk region, and their local executive committee has no budget allocated for this. So they continue to build residential areas but no transport infrastructure objects (bus stops and a turning circle) where people need them. Traffic inspection has the right to disallow activities of these transport companies at any time, as passenger safety is not ensured when people get on or off the bus on a grassy patch or a concrete slab. The issue of parking spaces is not resolved either: cars take up every inch of space around the houses and often along the roads as well. At the same time, road workers regularly service bus stops on other roads where no public transport is running. Even if all public officials do their best to perform their duties, the passengers with their issues are still left behind. As I already noted, there is no interagency coordination while mobility requires a comprehensive approach.
It is evident that local authorities need expert support. At the moment we don't just pave the way for the interested parties to cooperate but also look for resources needed to remunerate our industry experts.

We hope that our proposals will be taken into consideration in the Mashulishi development plan, which is due to be designed and implemented in 2016.


ODB Brussels:  What is European Mobility Week?
V.L.: The movement was born in Switzerland in 1973, where during an oil crisis the authorities encouraged citizens to have four car-free days. Such events were then held in different European cities right up to 1997, with the United Kingdom organizing the first all-nation car-free day and France following the year after that. By the new millennium, cities from 35 countries joined the movement.
Official European Mobility Week, culminating in the car-free day, has been held for 14 years from September 16 to 22 with support from European Commission in partnership with the  International Association of Public Transport. This annual event is organized by the Association, which includes representatives of local authorities and businesses from more than 40 countries and 2159 cities of the world.
Navapolatsk was the first Belarusian city to join the initiative, but it has become an official participant only recently, together with Polatsk and Minsk. The campaign has a different theme every year. Last year the slogan was "Our Streets - Our Choice"; this year the focus is on intermodality (mixed-mode commuting). Participating cities held events that showcase the effectiveness of different modes of transport under the "Choose. Change. Combine" slogan. All the events during the week are designed to remind us of the negative impact of cars on the environment and encourage people to use alternative modes of transport. Cars do not only pollute the atmosphere but also take up our public spaces: streets and yards, and green areas. The European Mobility Week encourages a dialogue between politicians, experts and the general public, discussions on the development problems of public transportation, active lifestyle and environment, i.e. quality of urban life in general. The city organizes themed entertainment for children and youth, including exhibitions and contests, flash mobs and bicycle races, professional cycling shows. Mass media also play their part: they provide live reports, do vox pops, interviews with influential people, etc. Students at Navapolatsk School No.12  invent their own events, essentially having a competition of ideas. The city prepares for the European Mobility Week as a special celebration. That is just great!



Video: Europen Mobility Weeek 2015 in Polatsk, Belarus.


ODB Brussels: For how long has the Union of Transport Workers cooperated with Navapolatsk and why did you choose this city?

V.L.: We established cooperation with the authorities and the local community three years ago when we launched the project "Communication and Cooperation Platform for Sustainable Development of the Regions" within the sixth stage of the Support Programme of Belarus of the Federal Government of Germany. Such "pilot" projects demonstrate that civil society organizations can use their expertise and public activism to really help public authorities, in particular, local authorities, resolve pressing issues.
Navapolatsk was not a random choice. On the one hand, they are in a challenging environmental situation: around 13.5% of all hazardous emissions fall on the city that has only 1% of the country's population. On the other hand, city residents themselves are active citizens; there are a lot of young people and a university. Agenda 21 is aimed not just at the city on the whole; it also targeted specific institutions, for example, School No.12. Navapolatsk has a Parliament of Children and Youth; it was the first Belarusian city to be awarded the child-friendly city status by UNICEF. Thirdly, it gives a lot of "puzzles" to our experts: it has an industrial zone, which involves a lot of long-distance travel, there are close agglomeration links to Polatsk, the city needs to develop tram traffic and build a new bridge over Western Dzvina, etc.


This project resulted in the Sustainable Mobility Concept for Navapolatsk and corresponding Recommendations for Zhlobin, all published under the slogan "Let's Make the City Livable". Afterwards we decided to use it for a whole book series, invented a phrase harmonious with European approaches to mobility, when every person travels reasonably.

Navapolatsk has also been our partner in a project aimed at developing comprehensive urban (regional) mobility management on the basis of sustainable development principles and new planning instruments. It was the project "Supporting Environmental Civil Society Organisations: (SECTOR) in Belarus and Moldova, which was implemented by the Regional Environmental Centre and funded by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). With support from Navapolatsk authorities our experts tried out new tools, such as logical framework approach, public examination of the general plan, sustainable mobility planning based on European methodology, etc. We held a number of seminars with various target audiences, invited EU experts, organized two study visits to the German city of Darmstadt, which in future could become a sister city for Navapolatsk

Global Environmental Fund (GEF) is already funding a UNDP project on green urban planning aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To that end, a general mobility plan will be developed for Polatsk and Navapolatsk. We also intend to take part in the project.

Our cooperation with Navapolatsk has recently helped it win a grant of the European Commission. Over the course of the next three years we will work together on the project "From Inclusive School To Inclusive City". We will try to apply the Concept of Mobility for children and youth with disabilities, primarily for wheelchair users. That is why the project also includes the Belarusian Society of Disabled People as a partner. We look forward to cooperation with their leader Siarhei Drazdouski, who is not only a professional but also very active as a citizen.

ODB Brussels: How can your activities in Navapolatsk help solve the issues of comprehensive and environmentally friendly mobility in other Belarusian cities?
V.L.: When we were preparing the Concept of mobility, it was the first time we had to resolve issues of a specific city. We learnt how to work as an expert team, find common ground with various city authorities, and consider interests of all interested parties. We could never have developed this document if we hadn't found support of local authorities or consolidated the local community. We had to translate a number of European guidelines on mobility plan development into Russian, tried to adapt their recommendations to our realities, find a way to "incorporate" these unfamiliar approaches into our existing planning system, and connect them with our general plans and comprehensive transportation schemes. We were wary of making a mess of it, not to alienate city authorities used to operating within their exclusive jurisdictions. For a long time we worked within a specific branch, working mainly with public transport, raising awareness of the authorities about its development issues, in particular, the need for stable funding. We are convinced that we cannot shift the government's social responsibilities onto economic agents who have to operate cost-effectively and ensure their further development. Otherwise, we run the risk of destroying the national treasure that is public transportation. We have gradually arrived to the understanding that we need to promote sustainable mobility ideas, when we studied international experience, gathering a solid team of specialists that includes experts on transport policies and legislation, urban planning and environment, traffic organization and passenger transportation management. Systemic analysis experts who, thanks to our constant input, have also become taken with the idea of sustainable mobility, did a lot of the planning.
"In order to be successful in transforming such a socially significant sphere as complex mobility, you must be in constant dialogue with representatives of all interested parties, including state authorities, business, industry experts and the general public"

The Belarusian Union of Transport Workers experts are proud of having initiated the sustainable mobility movement: "We urge Belarusian cities to join this movement and other international initiatives. This will help us take a fresh look on the level of our mobility development, objectively compare it with cities in other countries and adopt their best practices.

We have recently published "Sustainable Mobility Planning Recommendations" designed for local authorities, in particular, specialists of urban planning and transportation. When we were preparing the recommendations, we analyzed mobility conditions in large and small Belarusian cities. We found that each of the four identified groups of cities have a lot of common problems. Surely, each city has some specific features associated with its history and landscape, economic structure and budgetary possibilities. One thing is evident: diseases of the transport system, as a rule, are not sectoral in nature - they are due to urban planning mistakes. It is no accident that European experts consider urban planning methods a valid tool capable of managing one third of passenger traffic volume. A lot can be done with no considerable financial investments, provided you take a systemic approach to the problem of mobility. In order to be successful in transforming such a socially significant sphere as complex mobility, you must be in constant dialogue with representatives of all interested parties, including state authorities, business, industry experts and the general public. Our recommendations outline sustainable mobility plans and methods used to develop them. This new strategic document needs to be harmoniously "incorporated" within the current planning system, coordinated with the general urban development plans and the city's comprehensive transportation scheme, as well as with other documents of local level. The main idea we want to convey is that it is not just another plan as we traditionally understand it, nor is it just another document adopted under a new name, but a gradual process of eliminating issues and barriers to the ultimate goal: sustainable mobility.

Uladzimir Sasnouski


"Poor transportation system makes people postpone their visit to the theatre of the cinema or cancel a shopping trip. It decreases financial turnover rate, and, consequently, slows down economic development" - See more at: http://odb-office.eu/expertise_/transport/environmentally-sustainable-tr...
Poor  transportation system makes people postpone their visit to the theatre or the cinema, or cancel shopping trip. It decreases the financial turnover rate and, consequently, slows down economic development

According to Uladzimir Sasnouski, head of the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers, transitioning to sustainable mobility principles in Belarus will improve not only the quality of life in the cities and villages but also the environment and the country's economy in general: "We support the findings of European experts who say that one ruble invested in public transportation will bring us three or four rubles in other economic sectors".
ODB Brussels: Why is sustainable mobility economically viable?

Ul.S.: It is important to understand that the need for mobility increases with the development of society. People increasingly engage in production and consumption. One of the conditions of a successful business is the spatial accessibility of resources, including the workforce. More welfare means increased consumption. However, poor transportation system makes people postpone their visit to the theatre of the cinema or cancel a shopping trip. It decreases financial turnover rate, and, consequently, slows down economic development.
"Poor transportation system makes people postpone their visit to the theatre or the cinema or cancel a shopping trip. It decreases financial turnover rate, and, consequently, slows down economic development"
Here's an example of optimized public spending with the use of transport. Belarusian Ministry of Education concluded that maintaining so many village schools is unreasonable - it is much easier to get a bus and transport children to school. They get a free ride in a nice bus, which is fun for them as well. This is cheaper than maintaining schools - heating them, providing them with water and light, and employing teachers, when there would be one teacher per five children in a typical village. Good transport connection increases the cost of real estate and of production assets. If good transport links are built, you can live in Smalyavichy or Barysau and work in Minsk.

A lot of examples can be cited of the special role played by mobility in the economy. However, it is not always supported with the right resources. Mass use of personal cars is the worst option, especially in a city. However, the main problem of car ownership is not their movement but storage and parking, since an average car is idle 90% of the time but continues to take up deficient public space.

Sustainable mobility can be achieved when the majority of people use public transportation to move. Accordingly, the economy of cities and regions, as well as the country as a whole, becomes more effective.

ODB Brussels: How is transport connected to sustainable regional development?


Ul.S.: As we have already noted, the essence of sustainable development is to find balance between social justice, environmental impact and economic growth. This means that we have to satisfy our need for movement in a way that causes us and the nature as little harm as possible.
Creating necessary conditions to increase the share of pedestrian movement, bicycling, public transportation is a way to reduce fuel consumption and hazardous emissions. Sustainable transportation allows us to radically improve the use of public spaces, increase the quality of urban environment.
"Creating necessary conditions to increase the share of pedestrian movement, bicycling, public transportation is a way to reduce fuel consumption and hazardous emissions"
These views of the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers, as a rule, are well-received by local authorities. This is especially typical for regions and cities that have their own sustainable development plans (Agenda 21). Unfortunately, not a lot of thought is given to implementing the principles of sustainable mobility, and governmental representatives agree with our prompts. However, changing traditional urban development strategies is not an easy process and it cannot be fast. First we have to change the mindset of city residents who are used to the authorities investing taxpayers' money in developing the infrastructure for personal vehicles. We need to refocus resources onto public transportation, bicycling and pedestrian movement. Such European approaches to urban development should be implemented in our country. Activities of the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers are aimed at achieving this goal.

ODB Brussels: What should be changed in urban planning to ensure sustainable mobility?

Ul.S.: Planning and development of cities has a direct impact on the people's need for movement. Minsk, for example, is planned in such a way that its southwestern part is mainly residential, while eastern and southeastern districts are working areas. As a consequence, a lot of people have to commute every day.
Besides, urban development often ignores the need for mobility. Adequate resources are allocated to construct communications and engineering networks of water pipes, gas pipes, heating mains, but there is a constant lack of means to provide the road network, parking spaces and passenger terminals. The government and academic institutions have not yet learnt to appropriately consider our mobility (as they do when calculating our need for water, electricity or heat).
We think that our mission is to disseminate the European expertise in resolving mobility issues and apply modern approaches to urban development. Our target audience includes both citizens and state authorities. However, current Belarusian development model provides for a more significant role of the state than it is customary in the EU. That is why to ensure modern development of our cities we need to accumulate a "critical mass" of politicians and managers who are able to modify their traditional notions of mobility and its impact on society and economy, as well as master new planning tools.
Seminar "Environmentally Sustainable Lifestyle: Small Steps, Big Change?" with participation from the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers was held in Minsk on September 16, 2015 by ODB Brussels and the Association of European Businesses (Minsk).