Luka Mladenovič: Summing up the Slovenian SUMPs

Having been involved first-hand in encouraging Slovenian municipalities’ development of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans or SUMPs, Luka Mladenovič, researcher at the Urban Planning Institute of the Republic of Slovenia, was invited to join the LOW-CARB project’s board of advisers with the aim of sharing insights and recommendations to better realise the project’s objectives. And he has quite a substantial experience to learn from.

To date, over two-thirds of Slovenia’s municipalities have developed SUMPs: a rather rapid and successful achievement. Much of this had to do with the Ministry of Infrastructure of Slovenia securing European Union (EU) Cohesion Funds to co-finance their development. Not surprisingly, there was immediate interest from many to get the process underway. A total 60 municipalities were successful in securing funding for the implementation of measures referred to in their plans, while other municipalities followed their lead and participated in another call, with funds coming from other sources.

THE CHA-CHA-CHA OF CHANGES AND CHALLENGES

As one might imagine, things don’t simply flow without obstacles in these contexts. “There were several challenges related to this rapid development of the topic,” according to Mladenovič: “One of them was related to the quality of the development process and the contents of the final documents.” While the Ministry monitored the development process in regard to the financing requirements, content monitoring proved to be more troublesome.

“Many municipalities had existing plans for new road connections, bypasses or parking facilities, and were not willing to change them under the SUMP approach,” admits Luka: “Quite often, such plans were related to political objectives of the municipal leadership. So experts working on SUMPs were not always successful with finding sufficient arguments to counter such measures and had to include them in the final document.”

Another Slovenian pearl of wisdom relates to the administrative organisation and the distribution of responsibilities and jurisdiction. According to Mladenovič, the financing of SUMPs was connected to official administrative units — municipalities — but, in Slovenia, their populations vary from a few hundred inhabitants to as many as 300,000. “Only large municipalities provide their own urban public transport,” he explains, “while inter city buses and rail is managed by Slovenske železnice (Slovenian Railways).” Thus, in smaller municipalities, SUMPs were very limited in this regard, no matter how crucial. Accordingly, “managing the stakeholders expectations and focusing on real topics under their jurisdiction was therefore quite challenging.” So, what is the lesson for the LOW-CARB project to learn? “Coordination of local SUMPs is needed, but different scales of coordination are possible: cross-municipal, functional or via geographical regions,” he explains.

And he adds: “Following the practice in different EU countries, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, I see that such challenges are quite common. To address them within a project such as LOW-CARB is good, especially since such projects in the past have allowed partnerships to test innovative solutions and, quite often, have found good solutions to tackling common challenges.”

VOX POPULI, VOX SUMP

Through its own activities, the LOW-CARB project pursues real impact through its pilot initiatives. These include solar-powered e-bike charging stations, multimodality information services, a CO2 trip calculator and an electric public transport feeder service. Still, it is obviously one thing to implement a measure and something else for it to become a functional part of citizens’ daily lives beyond a project’s lifetime.

“There are two aspects that need to be addressed correctly for new initiatives to be wholly accepted by citizens,” Mladenovič reminds us: “First, we need to know what the users want and need. Citizen engagement is therefore very important in the initial stages of pilot development. If citizens don't share the view that a service is needed, and we cannot provide convincing evidence, they will be less willing to test it, never mind use it. I think this is especially important because quite often we are counting on their travel habits to change, which is a slow and delicate process.” 

The second aspect relates to the promotion of that which is being implemented, and, above all, on how to adequately deliver the right information to the users. “It is very important to have expert assistance on board when doing this. In the past, we have seen that some very positive actions have been negatively publicised because the communication was not developed correctly. Thus, developing the right messages and delivering them to the right groups of people is a key step for successful use of a new and innovative measure.”

And that is where the SUMP process comes into its own, because all foreseen measures are included in a town or city’s SUMP, which is consulted with citizens. It’s all about measure integration and achieving consensus.