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Renovation and improvement of Local Public Transport (LPT) fleet in the Piedmont Region (North-Western Italy)

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As it is widely known, one of the main problems related to polluting emissions is the transport. The enormous growth of urban and extra-urban private transport has been countered in part, over the years, with the attempt to implement the Local Public Transport (LPT), which however remains responsible for a high percentage of greenhouse gases in Europe, especially due to the obsolescence of the fleet. For this reason, we consider necessary a proper renovation and improvement of the LPT fleet. Specifically, we analyzed the public transport in the Piedmont Region, in North-Western Italy, where we have seen that the obsolescence of public vehicles is higher than the European average. This undoubtedly causes side effects, such as, on a wide range, both techno-economic and cultural issues. In addition to the still significant emissions from the LPT, maintenance costs remain high. The high average of fleet also has negative effects on quality of service. All those issues, together with a cultural problem, contribute to a negative perception of the public transport and a resistance by the citizens in adopting it as their main means of transport.

The policy design and implementation is framed within the specific geographical and institutional context we are studying. Located in one of the most polluted areas in Europe (the Po Valley), the Piedmont Region is characterized by a medium-high intensity of commuting, as thousands of people reach daily their workplace by moving from one town to another or from peripheral areas to central ones. In 2019 the commuters moving by train were around 820.000 and today, after the Covid pandemic, the transport agencies are still waiting for the around 150.000 fewer people still missing the public fleet, confirming the resistance of people to consider it reliable.
For years, the local administrations promoted series of interventions to address the problem of renovating the LPT fleet, relying on different funding channels. The general goal was to make it more sustainable and to increase the overall quality of the service. More recently, from 2017, the policy process has been fostered by the wider EU framework, which is clearly supporting sustainable mobility policies and the LPT improvement.

In this context, the National Government remains the main promoter and funder in the LPT fleet implementation, with the local administrations, regional and municipal, playing a relevant role as first implementers, receiving the resources directly from the Government itself. Key actors in these circumstances are also the private providers of vehicles and energy (i.e., manufacture and energy companies) and the final implementers, the public transport agencies in the regional area. These agencies are private actors, which stipulated contracts with the regional administration to manage the whole LPT. This includes the purchase and maintenance of the fleet, which make them the direct implementers of the renovation policy. A difficulty encountered by the latter is that aforementioned operators claim not to have resources and seem not to bear a strong interest in intervening financially. The high ensuing lack of private investments and the fragmentation of funding channels require the fleet renovation to be incentivized and accelerated by a public intervention, although one obstacle in achieving this is the complexity of the local bureaucracy.

Despite the difficulties we just exposed, the decarbonization remains a necessary target. It needs to be pursued through intertwined policy interventions, not only for promoting a shift in mobility demand and practices from the private cars to LPT, but also with the manifold objective of improving the energy efficiency and increasing the share of Renewable Energy Sources (RES) in the LPT energy mix. More in details, in the short term we expect to get an increase in the share of low emission vehicles and in the quality of services and a decrease in maintenance costs and in the whole LPT emission rate.

In the medium-long term we expect to get innovations in vehicles manufacture, towards more sustainable technologies and an improvement in air quality in the areas interested by the policy; at the same time, an increase of public transport reputation and its adoption by most users, consequently with the shift towards the approach of Mobility as a Service (MaaS).
Following these purposes, to achieve our policy we adopted the PATTERN methodology provided by UNITO. Therefore, as for the other case studies, in order to investigate the challenges, processes and expected results of the policy, we adopted a mixed methodology merging Stakeholder Analysis and Theory of change. It made possible to consider and to grasp the views and perspectives of the different actors involved. From the Stakeholder Analysis together with the Theory of change, we were able to define the mechanisms that might/should trigger the expected goals and produce the desired results. First, we determined financial mechanisms, such as incentives and subsidies, supporting additional investments from the private sector. Then infrastructural mechanisms, promoting accelerations in the development of the recharging network. We also defined behavioral and reputational mechanisms increasing the public transport adoption. In closing, self-reinforcing circles consisting in circular dynamics, where the increase in quality and sustainability may trigger an improvement of the public perception, with a parallel rise in public transport users.

As for any insight based on evidence, aimed at feeding the policy process, the perennial issue is about how to transfer the results of the analysis to the decision makers, and how to seed the policy design and implementation process. In order to increase policy effectiveness, an open issue to be addressed in the medium-long run refers to the extent to which the LPT decarbonization policy needs to rely on a series of interconnected interventions, mixing the mere substitution of vehicles with a whole reorganization/redesign of the service, that is far beyond the scope of the policy at stake.