Tunisia is facing a road traffic congestion problem caused by a large number of private vehicles and the outdated public transport system. This leaves a carbon footprint of 6.4 million tCO2 (Ton Carbon Equivalent) which exacerbates the effects of global warming.
Congested public transport is a significant problem that has worsened during the Covid-19 health crisis. Cycling, as an environmentally friendly mode of transport, can help reduce congestion, reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 on public transport, and reduce carbon emissions. This policy brief discusses the importance of encouraging the use of bicycles as an alternative mode of transport to cars and the need to develop the necessary facilities for this type of transport.
This policy brief underlines the importance of encouraging citizens to use bicycles, as an alternative transport to cars or other public and private means of transport, and to encourage the establishment to develop the required infrastructure to support bicycle usage.
Eco-mobility, also known as sustainable mobility or soft mobility, is a spatial planning strategy in favor of a low-polluting city that respects the environment. This policy brief is intended for political decision-makers at the national and local levels, mainly the Ministry of Equipment, Housing and Territorial Development, the Ministry of Environment and Local Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, as well as to municipalities, Tunisian legislators, and civil society organizations.
This policy brief highlights the importance of adopting an eco-mobility urban policy to solve congestion problems and reduce the environmental impact in large cities. The recommendations will help to implement the constitutional principles that guarantee the right to a healthy and balanced environment and preserve the protection of the environment. It is the state’s responsibility to provide the necessary means to eliminate environmental pollution.
Urban mobility in Tunisia: Congestion problem and environmental risk
Road traffic congestion problem
As a result of urban sprawl, the need for more effective citizen mobility is increasing. Hence the need for efficient public transport. Since the end of the 2000s, the development of public transport in Tunisia has slowed down. It has now become ineffective and no longer meets the needs of citizens. This encouraged the use of cars which has created “a situation of daily congestion“. The modal share of public transport is currently around 30% of the modal share of motorized transport in Tunis with the remaining 70% is private vehicles .
The fragile public transport system negatively impacts accessibility which has been defined as “the possibility or the ease of reaching the potential places of carrying out the activities of individuals, from a given location and a transport system“. A weak transport system, therefore, deepens social inequalities and increases poverty because it affects access to employment, education, and social services.
Likewise, the health crisis caused by Covid-19 has increased the vulnerability of the public transport sector. Congestion in the public transport system, mainly due to the almost archaic state of the public fleet, does not guarantee social distancing, especially during rush hours.
Environmental impact of the transport sector
In addition to the problem of congestion, the transport sector produces 25.8% of Tunisia’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which makes it the second most polluting sector after the energy production industries. This certainly affects public health because air pollution can cause various short and long-term health effects such as “increases the risk of acute respiratory diseases (e.g. pneumonia) and chronic (e.g. lung cancer) as well as cardiovascular diseases”. GHG emissions are dominated by carbon dioxide (CO2) and transport, mainly road transport, contributes 6.9 million tons of CO2, or 27% of CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
The number of automobiles registered in Tunisia includes private cars (passenger and commercial cars) and utility vehicles (trucks and vans, coaches, etc.). Between 2009 and 2015, the automotive sector experienced an average annual growth of 6.4%. Private cars make up 60% of registered vehicles in Tunisia. In 2016, the number of private vehicles was 59,207 out of a total of 96,313 vehicles registered in Tunisia.
According to the Agency of Land Transport Technology (ATTT), at the end of 2016, the number of registered vehicles in Tunisia was estimated at nearly 2 million vehicles circulating on Tunisian roads and is growing from 70 to 80,000 vehicles per year . Therefore, a reduction in automobile traffic is one course of action that could be taken to reduce carbon emissions.
Transition to soft mobility in Tunisia
Increased use of bicycles, an environmental mode of transport, would make it possible to limit the socio-economic problems linked to road traffic congestion, health problems linked to the spread of Covid-19, and environmental problems mainly linked to carbon emissions from the transport sector.
Cycling: A serious solution to congestion:
Although bicycle usage, as a daily mode of travel, in major Tunisian cities is low, 0.8% of the modal share in Sfax and less than 1% in Tunis according to the World Bank report , several actors are promoting cycling, mainly as a leisure activity or as a sporting activity. These actors make up an unstructured movement of associations that have appeared in several regions of Tunisia who communicate mainly through Facebook pages or groups such as “Baskel”, “We Bike in La Marsa”, “Club Cyclistes Ben Arous”, “Mahdia Bike Club”, “I Bike in Sfax”, “Nomadic Bike”, “Club VTT of the Djerba Insolite association”.
However, cycling in Tunisia is paralyzed by the lack of suitable infrastructure because funds allocated to the development and extension of roads do not consider cycling as a form of urban transport and automotive industry lobbies also continue to promote the car’s image of freedom and style.
The Tunisian state has favored an urban transport policy that encourages the use of private vehicles when it initiated the “popular car” program in 1994 to encourage the middle classes to buy cars, a policy that has added to the congestion problems. According to Sarra Rejeb (Secretary of State to the Minister of Transport in 2017), congestion in Greater Tunis has cost the state 600 million dinars per year.
It is for this reason that it is now time to put in place an urban transport policy that promotes cycling in large cities.
Active mobility has several advantages, one of which is making road traffic more fluid. The Netherlands has been able to increase the modal share of cycling (24% in Amsterdam), thanks to policies to control car traffic balanced with other modes of travel, in particular cycle travel. These policies were part of a national strategy to promote bicycle usage through developing cycle routes, allocating a significant share of roads to bicycles, and developing spaces and shelters for parking bicycles.
Cycling reduces the risk of spreading Covid-19
During the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, cycling is a solution to avoid the often congested public transport. The World Health Organization also recommends cycling both as a means of transportation and as a way to stay healthy, both during and after the health crisis. Several countries have encouraged cycling to ensure social distancing and to combat the spread of the disease. Covid-19 by creating new networks of cycle paths called “emergency track”, or also “corona pathways”.
The pandemic has encouraged an increasing number of people to travel on foot or by bicycle to avoid massively congested passages and to follow the social distancing advice from health authorities. To respond to these trends, Milan, Geneva, Brussels, and London invested in flexible cycle lanes.
Likewise, following the health crisis, a group of associations in France was able to implement a regional express bicycle network, with 360 km of cycle path, supported by the Ile-de-France region.
For a sustainable city
The data on air pollution in Tunisia is alarming. Vehicles are a major contributor to air pollution. A study carried out by the European research program “Transportation, Air pollution and Physical Activities” (TAPAS) has shown that cycling improves air quality by reducing the level of pollution.
Cycling, as a mode of urban transport, is a serious carbon-reduction solution for Tunisia. Of course, public transport can divide the carbon footprint of the distance traveled by the number of passengers, but the bicycle, unlike other means of individual transport, “is in many ways the best means of individual transport”. Compared to a motor vehicle, “the manufacture of a mechanical bicycle requires few resources […] and of course, it does not emit any additional carbon emissions.”
Given that “everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state” and that this right to freedom of movement is guaranteed by the constitution of the Republic of Tunisia, public space must be shared between the different users (pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, etc.) It is therefore important to invest in Tunisian public policies on the development of cycling infrastructure and bicycle parking.
Projects that promote eco-mobility will help to improve each municipality’s image. Not only does it reduce municipality’s carbon footprint but it makes attracting national and international funds possible. Similarly, eco-mobility projects will contribute to improving citizens’ quality of life. Improving mobility also has positive economic impacts, since it makes it easier for workers to travel and improves access to all developed areas.
To promote cycling as a daily mode of travel in large cities, it is necessary to build a network of secure cycle paths in Tunisia and to review the legislative framework on cycling. This requires a strong political will shared at the national and municipal level supported by concrete measures.
To ensure a transition to soft mobility and increase the modal share of cycling, we offer the following recommendations:
• Municipalities, the Ministry of Equipment, Housing and Territorial Development needs to coordinate with the Ministry in Local Affairs and the Ministry in Environment should commit to creating networks of cycle paths in all towns. This action should be supported by local associations.
• Municipalities in coordination with local associations and citizens should organize car-free days in their towns. Likewise, municipalities should set up car-free zones.
• The Ministry of Equipment, Housing and Territorial Development should reduce the speed of automobile traffic by changing the spatial configuration and signage or create streets where cars are allowed but where pedestrians and cyclists have priority over automobile traffic is on. Space is too small to be able to physically separate cyclists from automobile traffic.
• The Assembly of the Representatives should adopt laws which require that public institutions, shopping centers, and workplaces equip themselves with secure bicycle parking infrastructure.
• The Tunisian Association for Road Prevention should collaborate with various civil society actors to develop campaigns that encourage motorists to respect cyclists.
• The Ministry of Education should collaborate with the Ministry in Youth and Sports to develop a strategy to integrate learning to cycle in schools. This can be supported by local and national associations.
• The Ministry of Transport, in coordination with the municipalities, should support and encourage projects aimed at providing rental bicycles in large cities.
• The Ministry of Equipment, Housing and Territorial Development and the Ministry of Transport should rethink the current urbanization strategy, which is based on individual motorized transport, and establish a mobility policy that is adapted to the challenges of the territory. Likewise, they should support the municipalities to prepare mobility plans in favor of soft mobility.
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