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Europe still no closer to delivering sustainable transport – official EESC verdict

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Europe still no closer to delivering sustainable transport – official EESC verdict

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has recently undertaken a mid-term review of the 2011 EC Transport White Paper. Why is this significant? Well, the EESC has been around also long as the European Union and was set up in the 1950’s is a consultative body to provide a formal platform to express points of views on EU issues. Its opinions are forwarded to the Council, the European Commission (EC) and the European Parliament. In theory therefore it has a key role to play in the EU's decision-making process. As you may have read from my previous posts there is a lot wrong with the 2011 White Paper as a policy document, in crucial aspects it is contradictory and confusing. The EESC agrees. At its 507th plenary session on 22nd April 2015 the committee agreed (well 96 of 100 members) to publication of the official opinion. You can read an 11 page summary of their opinion.  I thought that I’d share a few key points that the EESC made in its report to the EC and European Parliament.

1) Over 8 years ago (when reviewing the last White Paper) the EC admitted that despite 6 years of it being a clear policy objective “Europe is not yet on a sustainable transport path”. Rather alarmingly the EESC report considers “that the approach has not really evolved at all since then”. So, the conclusion is that after 14 years of a clear sustainable transport policy objective – we have failed to make any significant changes. This is really of little surprise, but it begs the question – so surely it really is time to do something different to make it happen?

2) The EESC makes some important clarifications about ‘transport as key to our freedom’, which has been interpreted simplistically by some decision makers as justification to build more highways. It emphasises that “one of the basic aims of the policy must be to define a framework for these freedoms and even to impose boundaries where they may affect, or even threaten, other freedoms or needs, such as human health, the environment, the climate, or the needs of generations to come”. Crucially this is tacit admission that we need to manage travel behaviour for the common good. Transport Demand Management (TDM) should be at the heart of transport strategy.

3) The White Paper states that “curbing mobility is not an option”, which in the past has been used by decision makers as justification not to adopt TDM, or indeed any such strategies which infer ‘management’ such as ‘Mobility Management’. The EESC insists that this “must not be interpreted as working against measures that will make transport more resource efficient and sustainable. Nor does it run counter to encouraging a change in behaviour favouring the use of more sustainable means of transport or transport avoidance”. This is a very important clarification, but more importantly we now need to know what the EC is going to do to clarify misunderstanding it created through the publication of the policy wording provided in the 2011 Transport White Paper?

4) The EESC recognises the essence of the policy in that mobility is a right that guarantees every citizen access to and the right to enjoy economic, social and cultural activities. But is emphasises strongly that: “One can nevertheless not ignore the behaviour, too often unsustainable, of individual use of private cars to go from "one place to another", or by the refusal, for reasons of convenience, to use available public transport. Restraining pointless individual travel and reducing traffic congestion, in particular through appropriate dissuasive measures, or measures to encourage use of public transport, or through innovations in the form of organisation of work (for instance flexible hours), are all certainly options to be considered”. So again the question is how to ensure that this is communicated to the decision makers across the EU who may have chosen to interpret the policy wording in a very different manner?

5) A very large amount of taxpayer money has already been pumped into the industry to promote clean vehicles. Despite this the EESC recognise that there is clearly still a very long way to go to achieve the objectives set. This is indicative of the ‘mission impossible’ set for technology to date and the lack of attention to changing the operating environment in terms of regulations, taxes, and infrastructure.

6) The EESC emphasises strongly that support must be given to the development of all clean means of transport, not only or primarily, the development of clean vehicles as has been the focus to date.

7) The EESC is highly critical of the EC’s heavy focus on technology, and makes some very bold recommendations for future transport policy, summarised below:

  • The gradual phasing out of conventionally-fuelled vehicles is not in itself enough to achieve integrated and sustainable mobility in urban areas.
  • The EC premise that the ‘main solution’ to urban transport is clean vehicles is flawed. The solution is outside the policy plan period as it requires a much longer time period. o Short-term measures to reduce air pollution and urban noise pollution are needed now.
  • The “only way to resolve urban traffic congestion is to promote public transport”.
  • Increased public transport usage in urban areas must be clearly stated as an objective in the list of initiatives appended to the Roadmap.
  • The EC should add a new initiative to Annex I of its Roadmap: to double urban public transport use by 2030, while also providing for facilities and infrastructure to facilitate mobility of pedestrians, cyclists, and the elderly and persons with reduced mobility. This ambition is currently conspicuous by its absence.
  • Criteria for the installation and operation of urban road tolls and access restriction schemes for polluting vehicles should be harmonised, and should become an integral part of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans, which, in turn, should also be made mandatory for larger cities.

8) It also considers the emergence of companies mediating passenger services, such as Uber, which seems to consist in a kind of brokerage of transport services where the broker – driver – passenger relationship seems unclear in several aspects. They raise concerns about the situation with respect to safety, the responsibility of Uber and/or drivers and the rights of passengers.

Overall, considering the challenge of encapsulating a multitude of evidence-based stakeholder views from across the EU, and the broad composition of the EESC, on the face of it the publication of their official opinion is hard-hitting. If you did what I did however and read the sections on urban mobility and sustainable transport first, you may well be disappointed when you read the summary of the conclusions and recommendations to the EC. This is perhaps because their clarifications are probably more important for politicians and decision makers at the national, regional and state governments than they are for the EC itself. The fundamental challenge therefore is how to stimulate the discussions required about the necessary requirements for transport strategy, if it is to meet its policy objectives and its obligations to society (both present and future).

It strikes me that we urgently need a more transparent debate about the politics of transport.

Dr Colin Black Founder of Contemporary Transport Coordinator for EVIDENCE-project.eu

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Why the "sustainable transport path" receives little involvement

As the SEA company in Paris developed a light automatic transport with a goal of just removing all cars from a city and 10km around, and had contacts with several companies in the transportation business, we consistently received this comment: "yeah, pretty sexy, but you're going to kill the business with that solution". Says enough about the mobility being an issue but not a problem. Rather a delicious market.