ACTIVITY 4.1: Develop scenarios of potential futures


By Benjamin Baxter / Updated: 28 Nov 2019


Scenarios help to better understand the likely effects of external factors that affect urban mobilityinfo-icon (such as changes in climate, information technology, finance and security) in combination with alternative approaches to react to them. By illustrating different possible future situations, they allow planners to assess the consequences of current trends, potential societal and local changes, as well as alternative strategic policyinfo-icon priorities independently of each other. Examining the effects of these different scenarios strengthens the factual basis for strategic decisions. It can inform and inspire the development of visioninfo-icon and objectives (see Step 5) and helps you to set realistic targets for strategic indicators (see Step 6).



  • Understand the risks and opportunities related to current trends and possible changes in circumstances.

  • Develop alternative scenarios that inform about the likely impacts of different strategic policy directions.

  • Create a factual basis for the subsequent development of a vision, objectives and targets.



  • Explore possible future developments of the most relevant external factors for urban mobility (i.e. the factors that are outside the city’s control, such as demography, oil price, economic situation, climate crisis, technological change or level of political support for sustainable mobility). Consider current trends and likely changes as projected by recent expert reports. Analyse trends in typical forerunner cities, such as San Francisco, and consider what would happen if digital mobility innovations available there were also to become available in your city. In addition, consider less likely, but highly disruptive changes that would heavily influence mobility in your city.

  • Analyse the impacts of future external circumstances on your local transport system. This includes the effects of global or national changes (e.g. new technologies enabling Mobility as a Service, automated driving or free-floating shared mobility), as well as local trends (e.g. strongly increasing or decreasing population affecting the city budget and urban development options). Assess what opportunities and restraints they would imply for your city. Do they open up new options? Or do they make certain sustainable policies harder?

  • Develop several scenarios that describe alternative policy priorities and their impacts on a strategic level. At least three scenarios should be developed

    • A business-as-usual scenarioinfo-icon that describes the development forecasted if the current policy direction is continued and only measures that have already been planned are implemented.

    • Alternative scenarios that describe forecasted developments resulting from different strategic policy priorities (e.g. public transport focus vs. active mobility focus vs. electromobility focus). Such scenarios show the contributions of different policy directions, helping you to define what to put most emphasis on. It is recommended to include only sustainable policy directions, as the business-as-usual scenario already allows the comparison with a less sustainable scenario.

  • Use appropriate scenario building techniques such as modelling, purely qualitative analysis (based on expert judgement or on past results of policy strategies in your city or in similar urban contexts), or a combination of both. In the case of modelling, strategic and sketch planning models are recommended at this stage, since they are inexpensive, quick to run, and can be used interactively. Detailed transport models are usually only used at this stage if they are readily available without high extra costs.

  • Assess interdependencies between developments in different sectors: Transport, land use, environmentinfo-icon, economy, etc. Identify synergies on a strategic level, the potential for integrationinfo-icon, and the negative effects of sectoral trends.

  • Assess the sensitivity of the scenarios to important external factors, taking into account your previous analysis of these factors. (It can be useful to specifically search for circumstances where things might go wrong, worst-case scenarios -, in order to identify the risks and limitations.) Such an assessmentinfo-icon helps you to be prepared for potential changes and their effects and lets you understand which scenarios are more future-proof. It can also help to show the limits and risks of the current status (business-as-usual scenario), explaining why changes are needed to prepare for the future, even in cases where most people are satisfied at the moment.

  • Involve stakeholders in the scenario building, for example in the discussion on how many and which scenarios to develop. This enhances their ownershipinfo-icon and acceptance of the vision development process. (See also Activity 4.2)


What is a ‘Scenario’?

A scenario is a description of a specific set of developments in the future which are relevant to urban mobility, including the likely effects of external factors (such as demographic and economic circumstances), as well as those of strategic policy priorities (such as a strong active mobility or electromobility focus) [ref:48].


For more information on the topic, see also the us FHWA scenario Planning Guide-book: planning/scenario_and_visualization/scenario_planning


Activities beyond essential requirements

  • Involve stakeholders already during scenario building, for example in the discussion on how many and which scenarios to develop. This enhances their ownership and acceptance of the strategyinfo-icon development process.


Timing and coordination

  • Follows the status analysis.

  • The scenario development accompanies the development of a common vision (see Activity 5.1), objectives (see Activity 5.2) and targets (see Activity 5.2).



✔ Impacts of potential changes in external factors explored.
✔ Different alternative scenarios described, including a business-as-usual scenario.
✔ Appropriate techniques applied to support the scenario development and appraisalinfo-icon.
✔ Sensitivity of scenarios to changing circumstances assessed.


When developing future scenarios, possible trends and policy directions need to be considered. As one of the current major trends, various concepts of shared mobility are being implemented in many forerunner cities and can be expected to spread further in the coming years. Mobility options like public bike sharing, e-scooter sharing, e-motorbike sharing, (e-)car sharing, ride sharing and hailing, and shared freight mobility could be part of the policy direction of a scenario. More information on the different forms of shared mobility and how to implement them in the framework of a sustainable urban Mobility Planinfo-icon can be found in the Topic Guide Integration of shared mobility approaches in Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning.

More info: 


Scenarios of different ambition to achieve the agreed vision

The city of Maia developed its first SUMP in 2013. To come closer to realising urban mobility which promotes sustainable transport modes, Maia defined three different scenarios: business-as-usual, intermediate, and proactive. The intermediate scenario included both desirable and feasible measures, while those in the proactive scenario were more ambitious. While the latter scored a higher evaluation result due to possible constraints not being considered, a participatory event with key stakeholders led Maia to the intermediate scenario, which could be realistically achieved. The process highlighted the importance of stakeholder involvement when developing and agreeing on future scenarios.

Author: Energy and Mobility Division, City of Maia, collected by ICLEI


Scenario building supported by transport modelling

The city of Leipzig developed six scenarios for different future options in a scientific and open process.

The six scenarios were:

  1. Continuation of the current mobility strategy;
  2. Continuation of the current mobility strategy with constant fares;
  3. Sustainability scenario;
  4. Bicycle city scenario;
  5. Public transport priority scenario; and
  6. Community scenario.

The scenarios were evaluated using various criteria (attractiveness for users, ecological attractiveness, economic attractiveness, systemic attractiveness) and a qualitative assessment. The evaluation resulted in the prioritisation of the 1. bicycle-scenario, 2. sustainability scenario and the 3. PT scenario.

Author:  City of Leipzig, collected by Marlene Damerau, Rupprecht Consult