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New measures to curb routes from GPS navigation apps

It is now a well-known fact: road traffic is responsible for 30% of the greenhouse gas emissions. All existing levers to reduce carbon emissions of the road mobility must be activated as best and as fast as possible, such as digital tech which is part of our today’s daily life. When talking about road traffic, online route services, embedded GPS systems or navigation assistants come to mind straight away.

A decree to decarbonize our road mobility

On August 3rd, 2022, a national decree was published related to these digital services in the French Official Journal. It is relevant to stop and look at its content and the impact it may have on the decarbonization of road mobility. Indeed, it imposes new rules to navigation applications and digital services focusing on personal vehicle guidance: to promote soft means of transportation through awareness messages during the trips, and to estimate the carbon emissions produced by the individual vehicle journey. The message content is also defined by the decree. These digital services will also have to suggest alternative routes more respectful towards the environment. For example, when the initial computed itinerary will include a portion with a speed above or equal to 110 km/h, the applications will have to suggest an alternative route considering a speed decrease of 20 km/h on the portions in question.

All websites and applications will also be under the obligation of broadcasting awareness messages when a user is considering a personal vehicle trip. These messages such as “For short trips, walk or use a bike”, “Going from 130 km/h to 110 km/h reduces your consumption by 20%” will be followed by a hashtag “#MoveAndPolluteLess”, which is already mandatory on automotive advertisements.

Considering the restrictions in low emissions zones

Applications and digital services will have to point out zones restricting the traffic of certain types of vehicles which might be too old or due to their high-consuming engine. They will also have to suggest alternative routes to avoid sending cars to secondary roads not designed for commuting traffic, except if the new route saves 10% of the trip’s duration or if there is an accident or road work on the main road. The relevant authorities will be defining which roads are secondary roads within the limits and thresholds decided by the decree of the transportation minister.

Leading the transition to a decarbonized mobility through digital services

The decree also ensures the provision by the public authorities to the digital services suppliers of information on the hierarchy between road sections according to local policies. This information will be provided as relevant datasets. The navigation services will have to integrate this information in their route calculation engines.

These navigation apps are often found responsible for regularly rerouting drivers on secondary roads, creating heavy road traffic in areas and neighborhoods where infrastructures and local masterplans are not designed for such. Navigation system suppliers (such as TomTom, Waze, Viamichelin …) used to ignore disturbances coming from the use of secondary roads in their itineraries: in case of traffic jam on the main road, these navigation systems are redirecting drivers towards secondary roads which were not designed to welcome such traffic and end up absorbing hundreds of vehicles. This lack of consideration leads to significative consequences for these towns’ areas and residents, whether it is about damaging the lanes’ structure (not designed for this traffic volumes), impacting the local environment and air quality or exposing other users to safety issues (other drivers, bikers, pedestrians, …), which are the responsibilities of the local authorities themselves. Until now, to balance these disturbances, some urban authorities have come to place physical restrictions on lanes (changing traffic lights control plans or building new speed bumps for example) in order to force drivers to choose other routes on the long term.

Are we moving to a new way of using the GPS navigation systems?

Inherent requirements from this decree should work against the apps’ current method of route computing which, up to now, suggests the cheapest or fastest routes (regularly going through secondary roads), despite the quality of life of the residents and the local policies on mobility. Navigation digital services will now have to align their algorithms with local public strategies on road network infrastructures, for the great benefit of local authorities which will have their roads relieved from the unwanted traffic.

The decree is really incentive: it aims at the integration by the digital services providers of all features related to alternative mobility (public transportation, carpooling, bikes, …) by December 1st, 2022. The decree also targets heavy good vehicles with the obligation to integrate restrictive traffic measures on the related routes in navigation systems by March 1st, 2023.

The decree takes up on a clear challenge here: how can we bring back together the best and fastest individual itinerary at a particular T time with the collective optimum defined by the local public authority?

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