The Councilor for Public Services and Mobility of Zaragoza City Council, Natalia Chueca, is working to make Zaragoza a climate-neutral city by 2030. Like Madrid, she is committed to the electrification of the bus fleet, although with a very ambitious project. The city council is making progress in urban reforestation and circular economy projects that will make Zaragoza a healthier environment and attract investment.
How is Zaragoza adapting to sustainable mobility? What are the main pillars of the city council’s work?
In Zaragoza we have a very positive starting point because 50% of the city’s movements are already pedestrian, which is the most sustainable mobility there can be. Twenty-eight percent are by public transport and the rest by private transport and 5% by cycling. The modal split is very sustainable. The main change we are working on is to make public transport, which is sustainable and efficient, more so. One of the government’s commitments has been that no more hybrid or combustion buses will be purchased, and that only zero-emission electric fleets will be bought.
What does this change mean?
This is a revolution; it is a very ambitious project that will save 620,000 tons of CO2 over the useful life of the new fleets. But not only this. We have to continue promoting pedestrian and cyclist mobility so that it really becomes a more active mobility and that, naturally and for convenience, for urban trips the car is decided to be left at home. We do not want to be aggressive or impose measures, but facilitate alternatives that you choose by choice.
You want to finance the purchase of electric buses with European subsidies.
What we have done was to make the decision and get to work when we had to order the new buses that had to be purchased under contract and according to the current contract they were hybrids, we decided to modify it so that they would be electric. We started in November 2020, many months of work with the concessionaire and the service to make technical and engineering projects, since this involves electrifying all the bus depots so that charging is done at night. Already in July we approved the project, all the contracts were signed to start the works. On August 23 the MITMA call for municipalities came out, we saw that what they ask for in the bases of European funds fits perfectly with our strategy and the decisions we had already taken. With the call for proposals, we can access half of the investment to be subsidized with European funds. If we had not made the decision in December 2020, we would have been able to access zero euros in subsidies.
How does this commitment to the electric bus position Zaragoza in relation to other Spanish or European cities?
We are leading the transformation of public transport fleets into zero-emission transport. Our surprise has been that for the moment only Madrid is betting heavily on transforming all its urban transport fleets and the rest of the cities are being more cautious, because it is an operation that involves risk and uncertainty. We are at an advantage.
Are only Madrid and Zaragoza committed to a sustainable public transport model?
At the moment, yes. There may be other cities that have pilot projects like us so far, where we had four electric buses in circulation. So far, what we have been told is that only Madrid and Zaragoza are making such a strong commitment. They are also telling us this because of the electrification project of the bus depots. A high voltage line has been brought in and a new medium voltage line has to be introduced to transform energy and to have the capacity to charge 70 buses in battery at the moment, but also the 320 buses that the fleet will have in the future. Such a strong commitment is not known in other cities in Spain.
How are you managing other new forms of mobility, such as carsharing, motosharing, electric scooters, etc.?
We are organizing micro-mobility which, in fact, has been born in the last five years and has had a moment of boiling and we have to find its space within what is the mobility of the city. For bicycles and shared bikes, authorizations were awarded before the summer that will allow the companies that come to operate to offer the service, but in an orderly manner; that is, they are forbidden to park on the sidewalks and can only do so in bike racks and parking on the road. That disorder and chaos that we have seen in previous years is going to disappear. What we have also done is to prioritize in the tender that the price is competitive and that users of shared mobility, which is sustainable, can benefit from the price. Now we are going to issue the new scooter specifications to order on the same basis: order in the city and competitive prices, mainly.
The City Council had a carsharing pilot project underway. What stage is it at?
We want to continue promoting shared mobility, it seems to us that it is very efficient because it takes up less public space because it is only used with moving vehicles. With the company Alma, we are working on a shared and collaborative mobility pilot. The idea is that car users can charge their own cars, which reduces operating costs and makes this model more competitive; for medium-sized cities, with less than one and a half or two million inhabitants, it is really more difficult for companies to make a profit. This shared model can help that if it works, and that is why it is being tested in Zaragoza, it can help to provide an optimal solution to a city of this size and more than 100 cities of this size in Europe. Let’s see if from 2022 onwards we can draw conclusions from the pilots.
Another test environment that Zaragoza has is Hera Dron HUB.
We have the first test space for urban aerial mobility in Europe. In the future they will be able to operate in cities and will be part of mobility for certain uses, but first they have to be tested and the legislation has to be established. There are different companies, especially logistics companies, working with different certifications.
It is, then, for last mile logistics.
That’s right. DHL is making a test corridor to be able to make a corridor from Plaza, where it has its warehouse, to Hera Dron HUB in the South Parking. The pilot is to be able to have a distribution in the center of the city, and they want to first test and validate. We have to measure times, costs, etc., to see if these last mile models are viable. We wanted Zaragoza to be the facilitator of these tests and that companies from Zaragoza, Spain and Europe, such as DHL and Airbus, come here to do their tests.
What is the Bosque de los Zaragozanos?
It is one of the projects that we are really excited about in the government. It is a project that will help Zaragoza to be a climate-neutral city by 2030, long before 2050, which is the European Union’s target. We are working to reduce emissions with decisions such as the electrification of the bus fleet and, on the other hand, we are working with projects such as the Zaragozano Forest, where we are improving the capacity to absorb CO2. It is going to be the most ambitious reforestation project in the history of the city; we want to plant 700,000 trees over the next 10 years on 1,200 hectares. We like the project so much because it is a project of the Zaragozans, it is done with the sum of neighborhood associations, schoolchildren, companies, businesses, families … everyone can go to plant their tree, donate money to accelerate planting and contribute to make a greener and more sustainable city; and ultimately healthier, which if it was already important before, now we are aware that health is key.
What stage is the project at?
We are working on organizing the first plantings that will take place when the weather permits, we have to wait until November due to the temperature. We are working on the municipal, educational and institutional part with different companies that are joining the project to plant trees. In mid-September we will be able to give the first picture of how many companies are joining and in how many places we will be able to plant this year. It is a project open to all companies and national and international institutions.
How does Zaragoza work with the circular economy?
The Bosque de los Zaragozanos is different from other reforestation and urban forest generation projects that are being carried out in other autonomous communities or in other cities in that the preparation of the land is done with compost made from the organic matter that we have recycled, so it is an example of circular economy. With the organic waste that has been collected and separated, the compost has been made. Not only do we have this example, in Zaragoza we have achieved in 2020 the objective set by the European Union to separate and recycle 50% of our waste. For reference, the Spanish average is 33% and the European average is 45%. Zaragoza has been doing its job well for a long time with awareness campaigns, we must continue to further increase these ratios and continue to contribute to the circular economy.
Zaragoza will host Europe’s first industrial-scale urban biorefinery for obtaining new materials from organic waste. What is the project about?
Circular Biocarbon is also a very ambitious project. The first biorefinery is going to be built with European funds to be able to valorize, in this case, the plastic that has been recycled, so that it can have a second life with a higher value. In the end, it will contribute to improve the quality of waste and promote the circular economy. It is the first biorefinery at national level and one of the few at European level.
How did you manage to enter into this project?
It has been through the concessionaire Urbaser, which is the company that manages the municipal Recycling Center and thanks to the European funds that were requested last year. The City Council of Zaragoza has supported this bet and Urbaser has also supported the fact that it is in Zaragoza where to make this investment. The close public-private collaboration is fundamental to be able to develop such strategic projects. This will allow us to generate more value around Zaragoza than if we had gone to another city.
Does making Zaragoza an attractive, green and sustainable city have direct consequences in attracting companies and investment?
Sustainability and the fight against climate change are strategic axes in our society. I believe that it is no longer a utopian vision as it could be 10 years ago, now it is an emergency. That is why society demands committed companies and institutions. It can be an axis, not only for attracting new investments and companies that have these values and prefer to be in a sustainable city that improves the quality of life of its employees and neighbors, but also contributes to generate this ecosystem of new technologies and new ways of working that are sustainable with our planet. The economy of the future is going to be green and this is going to generate that Zaragoza will be more chosen by young people, neighbors and people who have that sensitivity to sustainability, which we already see that it is something of a majority; it is an important social demand.
Natalia, you have an important role as a woman at the head of your department, but also as a woman manager. How do you help to make other women visible?
I believe that fighting and working for equal opportunities in management positions is a conquest that is being achieved little by little. We have to bet on female talent, give equal opportunities and continue to encourage more women to grow and opt for these positions that were often limited to men, perhaps because of the difficulty of combining work and personal life. I continue to work within the Association of Women Directors of Aragon, where we have been working for many years to generate female talent and to ensure that women continue to opt for positions of responsibility.