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Türkiye’s National Coordinator underscores the importance of sustainable mobility role models

26 April 2022

As Türkiye’s (Turkey) National Coordinator for the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK campaign, Ayben Okkali Aktaş believes it’s important to practise what you preach.

Brussels - In 2021, the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK campaign recorded its highest ever participation of towns and cities across Europe, and beyond. Türkiye boasted an astonishing number of registrations, with 617 towns and cities organising awareness-raising activities, implementing permanent measures or hosting a Car-Free Day.

As EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK prepares to launch the 2022 campaign, we sat down with Ayben Okkali Aktaş to discuss the importance of sustainable mobility role models, integrated campaign planning, the European Year of Youth and challenges related to the rising popularity of e-scooters in Türkiye. Ayben works for the Union of Municipalities in Türkiye and has been the National Coordinator since 2018.

Turkish towns and cities have demonstrated a strong interest in EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK over the past couple of years. Nevertheless, many people may not know about sustainable mobility or related behaviours. How do you think we can continue to increase awareness and, more importantly, encourage behavioural change?

Yes, I think it's an excellent question. And I appreciate you giving me a chance to discuss this. So it's clear that we have problems related to global urbanisation, not only in Turkish cities, but also in European cities and other parts of the world as well. And we have heavy traffic, problems with air and water quality, and environmental disasters that are happening due to climate change and so on. That's why we have to move toward sustainability. We have to find a solution for sustainability and we have to find a solution for public transportation because we need to be mobile; this is a human right: to go to work, follow an education and so on.

A good starting point is to invest in infrastructure, of course, and we should provide alternative forms of transport in our cities. We should also work to reduce citizens’ dependence on cars. This is very important, especially for short distances where we need to encourage our citizens to ride or to walk, or just to use public transportation. We should encourage our citizens to use alternative modes of transportation, like a car-sharing system.

Most importantly, from my point of view, we should increase awareness in the younger generation by being the ones who are setting a good example of these behaviours. While doing this, we should include city stakeholders, local partners, universities, cycling organisations, and so on.

I would like to point out that I walk from my apartment to my office. I know that I am a minority. I live in a metropolitan city, which has 6 million inhabitants. I am very lucky because my office is only one and a half kilometres away from my home. I don't have a car and I don't have a driver's licence, actually, because I am not interested in driving a car. I walk to work because I was born and raised in a small town.

My father was a municipal employee and he was always riding a bicycle or walking to work. So when I was growing up, I saw him riding a bicycle to go to the office and come back every day, sometimes four times a day, because he was going back and forth for lunch and then he'd go to the office and back home again, by bicycle or by walking.

And to get to the main point, to change our citizens’ mobility related behaviour, we should understand their needs first. This is important. We need to also work with children. We should be role models for them and then I believe we can influence their behaviour and integrate sustainable mobility into their lives. If we say you should choose sustainable mobility methods, but after the speech is delivered, we drive a car, it won’t work.

Your father’s mobility habits clearly had a big impact on you growing up. Being a role model is important. It doesn’t encourage anyone to adapt or change if we don’t practise what we preach.

I am located in between two bus stops and each of them is only two minutes away by foot. I can take a bus to go to the office, or I could use shared taxis, but this is not necessary. It's not only my office though; I also prefer to go to other places by walking. I always choose walking if it is less than two kilometres or I walk to one stop, then change my mode of transport and go by metro or bus. Sometimes, I even use E-scooters. We have E-scooter systems in some cities in Türkiye. I always do my best not to ask my relatives to drive me someplace. Instead, I always search for alternative methods of transport.

You mentioned the importance of having role models for children, what about young people between the ages of 18-25. What is Türkiye doing to engage with young people for the European Year of Youth?

I think we should start by investing in children, but of course, we need to reach young people who are older than 18, but are still young adults. So mostly university students in our cities. They don't usually have enough income to afford a car; car sharing systems could be an okay solution, but still, they need more sustainable methods of transportation. Basically, they need public transportation. So to change their outlook on car dependency and to search for alternative methods, like public transportation and beyond, we need to work with young people.

We need to make a real connection with young people: we have to go to them and ask what do you need?
For example, I am thinking about adding one more stop in front of your university. What do you think about that? Do you think you need it? Or do you need another direction to go by bus? We need to go and talk with young people about what they want.

It’s important to hear about their needs directly from their mouths.

We already have organised events for young people, but that doesn’t always work so well. Instead, we intend to organise events with young people and we need to include them more and more. Every year if we reach, for example, 100 young people from one city, the next year we should reach more university associations or bicycle federations or other NGOs. We just need to go and knock on their door and ask their opinion.

It's great that you mentioned this because we know young people want to participate and that they have a lot to contribute. So allowing them to organise an event with you will help ensure they are part of the solution.

I will say one more thing: so this past year, many of the municipalities organised great events in Türkiye. For example, there are the traffic-teaching campuses in our municipalities and they teach children how to ride a bike. However, they make an effort to include the parents, especially mothers, who don't know how to ride a bicycle. They integrate not only the children, but also the parents. So the kids also influence the parents’ or their family’s behaviour.

If the municipalities brought all the children to these campuses for a day, this would be a very enjoyable experience for the children and would work with mothers, or parents, at the same time to change their behaviour.

Engaging young people and families is very important. Could you share some advice on how to reach out to local partners in different organisations so that you can build those connections too?

Of course. So in our organisation, we organise at least two main events every year. One is organised with our President, Fatma Şahin. She joins us during a press conference where we invite journalists to brief them about the theme of EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK for the year, and also to inform citizens and municipalities about upcoming events.

For the second event, we always organise a kick-off event or a final event, which is done in a different municipality each time. We invite the district municipalities to join us as well. As a host, the Union of Municipalities of Türkiye does most of the organisation. For example, in 2019, we invited other public institutions to join the campaign. One good example was that we invited the General Directorate of Turkish Post Offices to distribute their packages and letters by walking, and they joined the campaign. And of course, it was a successful event because we also registered their activities as MOBILITYACTIONS. We also invited other ministries to join our campaign and to encourage their staff members to ride bicycles to go to the office or to walk. It was a successful cooperation! As I already said, it is important to include local stakeholders, schools, parents and bicycle associations. We always recommend our municipalities do this.

Is there anything exciting that you would like to share that's coming up for this year’s campaign in Türkiye?

In the past, E-scooters were not that popular in Türkiye, but in the last two years they have become more and more popular. After the restrictions of the pandemic, people, and especially young people, decided to choose E-scooters, however, they are not always riding scooters safely because they don't wear helmets. So we decided to focus on safety and we are planning to organise some informative campaigns on social media about safety first. And, of course, we are working on the regulation of E-scooters in Türkiye because people are still confused about where to park and how to leave the scooters when they are done using them. We don’t want the E-scooters to cause any problems for parents with a baby carriage or people in wheelchairs, elderly people that might be accompanied by someone on the street, etc. So we need to think about these people as well when informing people about how to use scooters, and we don’t want people to leave scooters in pedestrian areas. We are planning to focus more on safety and thinking about how other citizens that are living with us are affected by these decisions.

Basically, we have many things to do! And in my organisation we have an amazing team; we are young and energetic, and ready to work. So let's see.