1.1 What is a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan?


By Ash Oyofo / Updated: 28 Nov 2019

Policyinfo-icon context

Sustainable Urban Mobilityinfo-icon Planning is Europe’s de facto urban transport planning concept. The policy that facilitated its establishment has been systematically developed by European policymakers since 2005 [ref:8]. Its most important milestone was the publication of the Urban Mobility Package at the end of 2013 [ref:9] where the European Commission defined in an Annex the concept of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans. At the same time, the first version of the Guidelines was released [ref:10]. The Urban Mobility Package advocates “a step-change in the approach to urban mobility…to ensure that Europe’s urban areas develop along a more sustainable path and that EU goals for a competitive and resourceinfo-icon-efficient European transport system are met.”[ref:11] It sketches out the guiding principles of the planning process and the topics to be addressed in a Sustainable Urban Mobility Planinfo-icon. The concrete steps to be followed, practical guidance and good practices are contained in the Guidelines. Since the publication of the Urban Mobility Package, the concept of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans has been widely taken up across Europe and internationally. However, while the concept has proven to be sound and continues to be valid, the Guidelines were increasingly in need of updating. Therefore, this new version of the SUMP Guidelines is still based on the original concept (described in the next chapter), but the recommendations for preparing a SUMP have been updated considerably.



The following definition of a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan has been widely accepted in Europe and internationally:

“A Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan is a strategic plan designed to satisfy the mobility needs of people and businesses in cities and their surroundings for a better quality of lifeinfo-icon. It builds on existing planning practices and takes due consideration of integrationinfo-icon, participationinfo-icon, and evaluationinfo-icon principles.”

A Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan is based on the following principles, which are described in more detail below:

1. Plan for sustainable mobility in the “functional urban area”
2. Cooperate across institutional boundaries
3. Involve citizens and stakeholders
4. Assess current and future performance
5. Define a long-term visioninfo-icon and a clear implementation planinfo-icon
6. Develop all transport modes in an integrated manner
7. Arrange for monitoringinfo-icon and evaluation
8. Assure quality


Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning is a strategic and integrated approach for dealing effectively with the complexities of urban transport. Its core goal is to improve accessibilityinfo-icon and quality of life by achieving a shift towards sustainable mobility. SUMP advocates fact-based decision making guided by a long-term vision for sustainable mobility. As key components, this requires a thorough assessmentinfo-icon of the current situation and future trends, a widely supported common vision with strategic objectives, and an integrated set of regulatory, promotional, financial, technical and infrastructure measuresinfo-icon to deliver the objectives – whose implementation should be accompanied by systematic monitoring and evaluation.

In contrast to traditional planning approaches, SUMP places particular emphasis on the involvement of citizens and stakeholders, the coordination of policies between sectors (especially transport, land use, environmentinfo-icon, economic development, social policy, health, safety, and energy), and broad cooperation across different layers of government and with private actors. The concept also emphasises the need to cover all aspects of mobility (both people and goods), modes and services in an integrated manner, and to plan for the entire “functional urban area”, as opposed to a single municipality within its administrative boundaries.


Figure 1: Differences between traditional transport planning and Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning


What is the difference between traditional transport planning and Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning?

In recent years, the approach to transport planning has changed considerably in academia and in planning practice. The main differences between traditional approaches and Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning are summarised in this overview:


Eight principles

The concept of Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning, as defined in the Urban Mobility Package, is based on eight commonly accepted guiding principles [ref:12].


1. Plan for sustainable mobility in the “functional urban area”

Cities are connected with their surroundings by daily flows of people and goods, meaning the geographical scope of a SUMP needs to be based on this “functional urban area”. Depending on the local context, this might be a city and its surrounding peri-urban area, an entire polycentric region, or another constellation of municipalities. Planning on the basis of actual flows of people and goods is an important criterion to make a plan relevant and comprehensive, even if municipal boundaries may follow a different logic and make this difficult to achieve.

The definition of a functional urban area has been agreed upon by the OECD, the European Commission’s statistics office (Eurostat) and its Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy. It is based on “population density to identify urban cores, and on travel-to-work flows to identify the hinterlands whose labour market is highly integrated with the cores.”[ref:13]

A SUMP needs to pursue the general aim of improving accessibility and providing high-quality, sustainable mobility for the entire functional urban area. A sustainable transport systeminfo-icon:

  • Is accessible and meets the basic mobility needs of all users;

  • Balances and responds to the diverse demands for mobility and transport services of residents, businesses and industry;

  • Guides a balanced development and better integration of different transport modes;

  • Meets the requirements of sustainabilityinfo-icon, balancing the need for economic viability, social equityinfo-icon, health, and environmental quality;

  • Optimises efficiency and cost-effectiveness;


2. Cooperate across institutional boundaries

The development and implementation of a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan needs to be based on a high level of cooperation, coordination, and consultationinfo-icon across different levels of government and between institutions (and their departments) in the planning area.

Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning should be based on:

  • Cooperation to ensure the consistency and complementarityinfo-icon of the SUMP with policies and plans in sectors related to transport (e.g. land use and spatial planning, social services, health, energy, education, enforcement and policing).

  • Close exchange with relevant authorities at other levels of government (e.g. district, municipality, agglomeration, region and state).

  • Coordination with public and private sector providers of transport services.


3. Involve citizens and stakeholders

A Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan focuses on meeting the mobility needs of people in the functional urban area, both residents and visitors, as well as institutions and companies based there. It follows a transparent and participatory approach, actively involving citizens and other stakeholders throughout the plan’s development and implementation. Participatory planning is a prerequisite for people to take ownershipinfo-icon of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan and the policies it promotes. Early and active involvement makes public acceptance and support more likely, thereby minimising political risks and facilitating implementation.


4. Assess current and future performance

A Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan builds on a thorough assessment of the current and future performance of the transport system in the functional urban area. It provides a comprehensive review of the existing situation and establishes a baselineinfo-icon against which progress can be measured. To do this, the Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning process identifies objectives and ambitious but realistic targets that are consistent with the established vision and then defines performance indicators for each of these. They are then used to assess current and future conditions. This status analysis also includes a review of current capacities and resources and of the institutional set-up for planning and implementation.

5. Define a long-term vision and a clear implementation plan

A Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan is based on a long- term vision for transport and mobility development for the entire functional urban area and covers all modes and forms of transport: public and private; passenger and freight; motorised and non-motorised; moving and stationary. It also includes infrastructure and services. A SUMP contains a plan for the short-term implementation of objectives and targets through measureinfo-icon packages. It includes an implementation timetable and budget as well as a clear allocation of responsibilities and an outline of the resources required.


6. Develop all transport modes in an integrated manner

A Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan fosters balanced and integrated development of all relevant transport modes while prioritising sustainable mobility solutions. The SUMP puts forward an integrated set of measures to improve quality, security, safety, accessibility, and cost-effectiveness of the overall mobility system. A SUMP includes infrastructure, technical, regulatory, promotional and financial measures. A Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan addresses all forms of collective mobility (traditional public transport as well as new services based on sharing, including new business models); active mobility (walking and cycling); intermodalityinfo-icon and door-to-door mobility; road safety; moving and stationary vehicles; freight and service delivery; logistics; mobility management; and Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS).

7. Arrange for monitoring and evaluation

The implementation of a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan must be monitored closely. Progress towards the objectives of the plan and meeting the targets are assessed regularly based on the chosen performance indicators. Appropriate action is required to ensure timely access to the relevant datainfo-icon and statistics. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of measures can suggest revisions of targets and, where necessary, corrective action in implementation. A monitoring report that is shared and communicated with citizens and stakeholders informs about the progress in the development and implementation of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan.


8. Assure quality

A Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan is a key document for the development of an urban area. Having mechanisms in place to ensure a SUMP’s general professional quality and to validate its compliance with the requirements of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan concept (i.e. this document) is an effort worth taking. Assurance of data quality and risk management during implementation requires specific attention. These tasks can be delegated to external quality reviewers or another government institutioninfo-icon (e.g. on the regional or national level), while it can be facilitated by the use of tools like the SUMP Self- Assessment Toolinfo-icon.