Q&A with the experts- Biciklo.me (Montenegro)

Sep 2, 2021

Biciklo.me is a non-governmental association from Podgorica, Montenegro that advocates the development of cycling as a sustainable mode of transport, as well as improvement of public transport, arranging public space for people and the promotion of healthy lifestyles at the local, national and international levels.

  1. Can you please describe the connection between air pollution and transport in the country, specifically in the capital?

According to the Air quality in Europe report published by the European Environmental Agency in 2020, a total of 680 premature deaths in Montenegro can be attributed to air pollution, specifically to PM2.5, NO2 and O3 exposure. The main sources of air pollution in Montenegro are residential heating, transport and industry. Transport is not the biggest source of air pollution, but it certainly negatively affects the country’s air quality to a considerable extent. In Montenegro, car is the main means of transport in urban areas. According to 2019 data, around 70% of all trips in Podgorica are made by car. The number of passenger vehicles is continuously rising, even though the motorization rate is below the European average.

Over the last six years, the number of registered passenger cars in Montenegro has risen by a fifth. This trend is also evident in the capital city of Podgorica, where the number of cars has jumped from 59,978 in 2014 to 75,172 in 2019 – an increase of more than 20%. Of all registered vehicles in Montenegro, almost three quarters are diesel vehicles, which emit significantly more particular matter than petrol cars, which is especially true of older diesel vehicles. The average age of passenger cars is around 16 years, which means that many of the cars used in Montenegro do not meet the current European emission standards.

  1. What is the situation with the road safety and how safe is to be a pedestrian, cyclist in your city?

Road safety is a major issue in Montenegro. With 10.4 fatalities per 100.000 inhabitants, Montenegro is one of the countries with the highest number of persons killed in traffic accidents in Europe. In 2020, 42 persons lost their lives in traffic accidents, while 1.448 persons were lightly or seriously injured.

The capital of Podgorica is no exception. While most of those killed in traffic accidents are car passengers, pedestrians and cyclists are also among the fatalities. As regards pedestrians, in 2016 as many as 5 people lost their lives in traffic accidents in Podgorica. In 2017, one pedestrian was killed in a traffic accident, whereas 2018 saw no pedestrian victims. As regards cyclists, one cyclist lost their life in 2016 and 2017 respectively, while in the period 2018-2020 no cyclists were killed in traffic accidents in Podgorica.

Biciklo.me has been doing annual research on cycling conditions in Podgorica, including on perceived safety. Our research has shown that around 60% bicycle users think that it is not safe to cycle in Podgorica. Also, some as many as 85% of bicycle users think that car drivers in Podgorica drive their car at speeds that are not cycling-friendly. Also, a striking 90% of bicycle users believe that car drivers do not see cyclists as equal road users. All this suggests that bicycle users perceive motor traffic as a major threat to cycling in Podgorica.

Road safety is not properly addressed by decision-makers. The authorities tend to focus on awareness raising campaigns, instead of making legislative and design interventions that would improve the safety of all users, especially those who are most vulnerable – pedestrians and cyclists. Improving road safety in Podgorica requires effective interventions aimed at reducing the threat posed by motor vehicles. This includes traffic calming, raised intersections, lower speed limits (including more 30 km/h zones across the city) and construction of safe pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.

  1. How is the non-motorized transportation developing? What is the condition of the railway system?

The City of Podgorica has been making continuous efforts to develop non-motorized transport in the city. The local authorities look favorably at cycling and are striving to make the conditions for the development of this form of transport. Since 2014, a number of cycling tracks have been built across the city, albeit with uneven quality. A wide urban area of Podgorica is now covered with cycling infrastructure, but some neighborhoods are still not connected to the current cycling network. In the beginning, the authorities tended to construct cycling infrastructure by taking away space from pedestrians, which was met with criticism from the cycling community. In 2020, the local government decided to experiment with the construction of so-called pop-up bike lanes by taking away space from cars. Specifically, on three major streets in the city, one car lane has been transformed into a two-way cycling lane. While this is a positive development, further efforts are needed in order to make this infrastructure safer and better connected with the entire network.

It is important to note that following mixed reactions to the pop-up bike lanes, the authorities went back to the earlier practice of constructing cycling lanes on sidewalks. Another problem is that some of the cycling lanes are repeatedly occupied by parked motor vehicles, which fails to be penalized and which adversely affects cycling conditions.

As regards the strategic framework, cycling and walking are beginning to receive more attention. In 2020, Podgorica adopted its first SUMP, which is expected to give better treatment to walking and cycling. However, this still needs to be implemented in practice, as streets still continue to be built without dedicated cycling infrastructure. Also, in July 2021 the Ministry of Capital Investments adopted the country’s first Rulebook on Cycling Infrastructure, which is expected to lead to improved design of cycling infrastructure in the future.

Rail is used as a mode of regional transport in Montenegro. However, there seems to be a lack of integration with cycling transport. Specifically, while it is possible to transport a bicycle on a train, the price of a one-way bicycle ticket is €4, which is almost equal to the price of a return ticket per person from Podgorica to Bar. Biciklo.me has been advocating for a reduction of the price of a bicycle ticket for five years now. A few days ago we made an arrangement with the railway company to reduce the price of a bicycle ticket by 50%, so we expect this will be implemented very soon.

  1. What is your position regarding the electrification of transportation?

The electrification of transport is a way to achieving a carbon-neutral Europe by 2050, as proposed by the European Green Deal. While replacing fossil fuels is important, electric vehicles will not be enough to tackle climate change and air pollution. Among other things, electric vehicles are not completely ‘clean’ and ‘green’, as they require energy that generates emissions itself. Additionally, electric cars are still cars, meaning that they require space to be accommodated, which will not solve our problems with congestion, lack of space, land use and road safety.

National authorities in Montenegro, but also other stakeholders, both national and international, still tend to focus on the promotion of electric vehicles as a means of tackling air pollution and climate problems. At the same time, active transport such as walking and cycling is still not given sufficient attention. Focusing on the electrification of private vehicles is not a viable strategy for reducing air pollution in Montenegro, particularly because most people in Montenegro will not be able to afford electric cars any time soon. Instead of focusing on individual e-mobility, key decision-makers should turn their attention to active transport as a way of achieving carbon neutrality.

Yet, the electrification of public transport is the way forward and something we are particularly supportive of. Replacing diesel buses with electric ones should be a priority for all cities in the region (including Podgorica) in order to reduce transport emissions. Also, investing in trains is also vital in order to ensure clean regional transport. Finally, we are also supportive of electric bicycles, as there is increasing evidence that e-bikes offer a number of health and economic benefits and even have more potential to provide an alternative to car for longer commutes than regular bicycles.

  1. Please share positive examples, initiative and activities in your country!

The Capital City of Podgorica has created a subsidy scheme for the purchase of bikes and e-scooters. In five rounds of public calls so far, more than 600 citizens of Podgorica have received a voucher of up to €100 for the purchase of new bikes.