Central European cities, such as Budapest, have something special about them – particularly when it comes to mobility. In this article, Niklas Schmalholz takes us on a journey from the pioneering days of Balázs Mór to a potential zero-emission future for the Danube metropolis

Green spaces, bicycle paths, reduced car traffic and pedestrian zones – when thinking about cities that are on successful journeys towards decarbonisation, our mind is mostly drawn towards Western or Northern Europe. One imagines Copenhagen, Amsterdam, or other cities with a favourable modal split towards public transport and active mobility. Unfortunately, the significant progress of Central European cities often receives less attention but, one does wonder, how did the European-wide exchange of expertise and financial support from EU-funded projects help these cities and how did they transform in the last 30 years?

Krakow, for example, established its first Urban Vehicle Access Regulation zone in 1988 – vehicles were banned from the historic main square already in 1979, long before the Iron Curtain fell. Since then, the times of old Trabants and Ladas are gone and the economies of Central-European countries like Poland, Czechia and Hungary have grown by 300-500%, compared to the 1990 baseline, while achieving an overall GHG reduction of 15-30%.

A view of Krakow © Pxfuel

Focus on the heart of Europe

Nowadays, numerous cities have drafted their Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs). Significant investments are made in public transport and active mobility infrastructure. Furthermore, many cities have also set up a holistic approach to transport planning by including the surrounding commuter areas, the so-called ‘functional urban areas’. Besides cities like Krakow, Budapest is a prime example among other POLIS members from Central Europe. The Hungarian capital is a city with a significant history of transport innovation since the construction of the first underground system on the European continent in 1895 by Balázs Mór, an innovator, who remains significant for Budapest until today.

A view of Saint Stephen's basilica nearby pedestrian street, Budapest © Josiah Gascho, Unsplash

What has Budapest achieved in recent years?

The Hungarian capital has a long tradition of engaging with citizens to foster sustainable urban mobility, dating back to 2008, when they won the European Mobility Week Award for, among other things, the setup of park and ride facilities. Such parking locations at the outskirts of the city are essential, as Budapest has implemented one of the most extensive UVAR measures in Central Europe.

The city administration divided the urban area into protected zones around historic buildings and 15 specific areas, such as parks, where all vehicles are banned. Furthermore, all vehicles above 12.5 tons are banned in the Budapest city area, with minor exemptions that apply for specific corridors. Stricter measures apply inside the inner ring, where vehicles above 3.5 tons are banned. Insight the outer ring, the maximum weight of vehicles is 7.5 tons. These efforts are necessary, as the Hungarian National Centre for Public Health undertook studies and concluded that 3-7% of premature deaths of Hungarians over the age of 30 are linked to pollution by small particulate matter. In comparison, pollution is the leading cause of death for around 1% of Italians per year. These findings led to the investment into four new pollution measuring sides around the inner city of Budapest the summer of 2021.

A map showing different vehicle access rules of the Budapest UVAR zone ©  Urban Access Regulations/Lucy Sadler

The Hungarian capital has a long tradition of engaging with citizens to foster sustainable urban mobility, dating back to 2008, when they won the European Mobility Week Award

Are there other driving factors for change?

Besides UVAR measures, Budapest has worked on the integration of public and private transport solutions since the launch of an online journey planner application in 2014. The so-called FUTÁR app includes public transport and its real-time information, bike-sharing services (MOL Bubi) and an online route planner. Based on these successes, current plans exist to extend the service into a ‘Mobility as a Service’ (MaaS) system. BKK, Centre for Budapest Transport, is actively engaging with cities across Europe in the framework of various projects, including MaaS4EU, which initiated the first local Budapest pilot with expertise and financial support. This role has been taken over by the Dynaxibility4CE project, which is gathering expertise from across Europe to support the MaaS deployment in the Hungarian capital. In these assessments, the so-called diagnosis workshops, key questions are discussed, including ‘which transport provider and key stakeholder should be included in the setup process?’, and ‘what resources are available for the implementation?`.

Besides UVAR measures, Budapest has worked on the integration of public and private transport solutions since the launch of an online journey planner application in 2014


Find out more about the Dynaxibility project here.

MOL Bubi bicycle user © Magyar Kerékpárosklub, Wikimedia Commons

Answering questions

The answer for the first question is a long list of national operators, a data integrator, providers of taxi services and emerging mobility solutions, as well as public transport service providers in the Functional Urban Area. This concept is being strongly supported by the Dynaxibility4CE project to share the benefits of a MaaS system with the wider commuter area, which potentially reduce the burden of commuters on the citizens of Budapest as well. During these open discussions BBK receives support by exchanging with other technical experts and Central European cities like Graz that are currently aiming to implement a MaaS schemes. Even though the rollout of the MaaS app has still some barriers to overcome, the experts agree that Budapest has the right underlying administrative plans in place.

What other EU-funded projects are beneficial for Budapest?

Budapest is significantly benefitting from EU-funded pilot projects. Since over 95% of all public investments in Hungary were co-financed by the EU, according to 2014 figures, this combination of financial and expert support is essential.

Furthermore, BKK has been an important partner in many European projects. In cooperation with POLIS, Budapest-based partners have promoted co-creation measures in neighbourhoods (SUNRISE), aimed to decarbonize the last-mile cargo delivery market (LEAD), prepared for the urban mobility transition in passenger transport and freight logistics (SPROUT), as well as promotes inclusiveness and accessibility of public transport solutions (Inclusion), just to name a few.

All of these topics are enshrined in the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan of Budapest, or Balazs Mór plan, named after the famous Budapest innovator. This roadmap towards the year aims to shift the modal split towards the public transport and active mobility. If all goes to plan, active mobility will be boosted from 20% in 2014 to 30% in 2030, while half of the trips should be done by public transport (currently 45%), which nearly half the trips done by car from by 35% to 20%. This will be achieved by significant investment in public transport and cycling infrastructure, which has started many years prior to the publication of the SUMP.

Mixed traffic on the Elisabeth Bridge in Budapest

Niklas Schmalholz is a Project Officer at POLIS Network.

You can contact him at nschmalholz@polisnetwork.eu

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