Discussing Mobility of the Future in Mechelen

28 September 2021 - Published by Deirdre Buist
This year, European Mobility Week kicked off in the Belgian city of Mechelen with an Inspiration Day event titled (F)Aces of the Future, organized by the Network for Sustainable Mobility, and SURFLOGH. On 16th September some 170 participants, took a fresh look at what future mobility should ideally look like, which issues need to be tackled and what steps can be taken now.

Following the official opening, this hybrid happening got underway with a rousing keynote speech from Philippe Crist, Advisor on Innovation and Foresight for the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Philippe’s story contained an overview of the static and dynamic spatial use of various transport modes in an urban context, visualizing the impact on the liveabality of our cities….and the urgent need for change.

Motivational proposals, practical solutions

During the ensuing plenary debate with Ilse Hoet (Dept. of Mobility and Public Works), Bernard Govaert (Coordinator at Netwerk Duurzame Mobiliteit, the Network for Sustainable Mobility) and Vice Minister President Bart Somers (and Mayor of Mechelen) then shared and discussed some inspirational examples of mobility and transport solutions in the city of Mechelen, and more motivational proposals for the near future.

Throughout the day, delegates took a deeper dive into a range of mobility and transport challenges during a wide selection of interactive working sessions, exchanging views and experience and looking for practical solutions.



Surflogh hosted a number of these work sessions, under the professional guidance of our local partner Veerle de Meyer who also presented Mechelen’s contributions. With most partners still limited by travel restrictions, the hybrid aspect of the event came into its own. During the morning session on connectivity, our Surflogh colleagues shared their perspectives and expertise on connectivity from different aspects: goods flows, assorted logistics service providers, people and package flows, and logistics stakeholders. 

Goods flows

Christoffer Widegren, from the City of Boras in Sweden, took to the big screen to describe the Good Goods concept, which has been developed and expanded within SURFLOGH. This innovative concept connects stakeholders and businesses in the city in one sustainable logistics concept for consolidated deliveries and the collection of waste and recycling materials.  The cooperation between the City of Boras, local haulier Stures Akeri, a local waste management company, real estate owners and retail stores has proven multi-beneficial in terms of liveability in the inner city.

People and goods

Another trial co-funded by SURFLOGH is that of Hubs & Lockers, connecting goods and people at various mobility hubs in the Dutch province of Drenthe. Frans Feenstra explained: ”The challenge is to maintain and improve accessibility and liveability in predominantly rural areas. We’re using mobility hubs – busy connecting points such as bus stations or central meeting locations, for example – to place lockers where online deliveries can be placed and collected. Usage and the popularity of this service vary at the different locations chosen, so we need to investigate further.”

Logistics stakeholders

The City of Groningen has a long-standing focus on sustainable logistics and connectivity - and their policies prove it. Sjouke van der Vlugt, representing the Municipality shared their approach to engaging with stakeholders. Sustainable Logistics Focus Groups, representing relevant interests, businesses and institutions in the city, reflect on policies and projects and liase with their members on issues that may impact them.


Groningen has signed a local Covenant with all logistics stakeholders, and together they are developing - and implementing - extensive plans to create a Zero Emissions Zone for logistics in the centre by 2025.

Inspired by Groningen’s initiative, the City of Mechelen also developed and signed a covenant with their mobility stakeholders. Veerle de Meyer gave some top tips for connectivity:

  • formulate a joint vision with a clear goal,

  • ensure mutual commitment,

  • communicate one-to-one 

Furthermore, Veerle shared Mechelen’s experience with a new trial – the City Logistics Configurator app – which quantifies cooperation opportunities with the urban distribution platform. The Configurator provides tailored insight for local business operations, improving the transparency of current logistics costs and calculating the target price when collaborating with Mechelen’s logistics platform.

Trial & error

It’s not all smooth sailing though, as our partners in Scotland point out during the last project presentation. According to Jonathan Cowie of Napier University TRI, the SURFLOGH mission to identify viable business models for a number of the project’s pilots was potentially a ‘mission impossible’. Dr. Cowie’s approach to this research included an extensive critical literature review of Urban Consolidation Centres (UCC) to identify key themes and gaps, followed by analysis of the pilots and resulting case studies. “Not all trials were successful from a business perspective, but we must be willing to accept failures and learn from trial and error in order to adapt and develop new consolidating initiatives,” Jonathan added. (Read the full SURFLOGH Business Case Report here).

Riveting closing debate

The SURFLOGH sessions’ closing debate on the future of urban logistics, moderated by Bart Dumoulin of Bond Beter Leefmilieu, was riveting. Luc de Schrijver (Managing Director of GLS Belgium – a European parcel delivery service), Paul Buijs (Assistant Professor of Sustainable Logistics at the University of Groningen) and Michael Geeraert (Coordinator of Urban Logistics for the City of Ghent) discussed many facets. How realistic are the ambitions set for 2025, and how do we realize zero-emission zones? There are challenges in terms of volume capacity and efficiency, EV charging infrastructure and smart solutions. The panel talked about zoning, the role of cargo-bikes and small vehicles, subsidies, forcing delivery consolidation versus business differentiation, white label lockers, stakeholder involvement, dialogue and the value of subsidies.

“There are multiple options and many tools in our toolbox,” says Paul Buijs.


Concluding statement from Bart and our conference takeaway –

“Consolidation is one solution, cooperation is key. The ultimate goal is to make our cities more liveable.”

If you missed out then have a break and watch the full panel discussion here (approx. 30 mins.)