The European Commission has drawn up a plan to cut planet-warming transport emissions to "at least 60%" of 1990 levels by 2050, but environmentalists say it lacks urgency – and travellers and transport companies alike will foot the bill.

A draft copy of the much-anticipated White Paper on Transport, dated 21 February and obtained by EurActiv, flags several measures to raise the €1.8 trillion which the EU says is needed for infrastructure investment in the next 20 years.

Another €500 billion will be needed to complete the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).

These funds should be raised from diversified public and private sources, and wider application of the 'user pays' and 'polluter pays' principles.

"Member states need to ensure that sufficient national funding is available in their budgetary planning," the Commission cautions.

But centrally, the paper advises the EU and governments to select policy frameworks "relying to the greatest extent possible on market-based mechanisms".

Thorny questions

Questions about who should pay most for the electrification of private and public transport, high-speed rail networks and greater use of alternative fuels may prove thorny.

"Wider socio-economic benefits and positive externalities justify some level of public funding," the document says, "but in the future, transport users are likely to pay for a higher proportion of the costs than today".

Said el-Khadraoui, a Belgian Socialist MEP and member of the European Parliament's transport committee, had not seen the White Paper.

But he told EurActiv that making polluters pay most for decarbonisation carried greater incentives to change planet-harming behaviour.

"There's also a social element to this," he said. "Transport has to remain available to ordinary people. There are mechanisms that can combine a good efficient market system with allowing certain categories of person to travel."

But he conceded that "maybe in the long run we should travel less. That could be a consequence of our policies because there are limits to what we can do".

The White Paper itself argues that "curbing mobility is not an option".

But Jos Dings, director of the Transport & Environment environmental group, described this language as both "incompetent" and "unacceptable".

"How on Earth are you going to solve congestion if you're not willing to curb mobility where there's too much?" he asked.

More generally, the paper contained "quite a few nice words but not enough commitments," he said. "It doesn't have enough sense of urgency to take measures in the short term to address the twin challenges of climate change and energy dependence."

In the long term, the indicative targets for arriving at the -60% emissions reduction target were "magical" and lacking any realistic action plan, he added.

Mulling new financial instruments

Road charges are being "increasingly considered" for passenger cars as a way of generating revenues and influencing traffic and travel behaviour, according to the White Paper, and the Commission will develop guidelines for these.

Rules are already in place for heavy goods vehicles under the Eurovignette directive.

"The long-term goal is to apply user charges to all vehicles and on the whole network to reflect at least the maintenance cost of infrastructure, congestion, air and noise pollution," the White Paper reads.

Initiatives proposed to spread the use of clean cars include: linking vehicle taxes to environmental performance, revising favourable company car taxation and harmonising VAT levels on EU cross-border passenger transport.

New financial instruments such as EU project bonds are also backed to stimulate public-private sector funding partnerships.

Phasing out conventional vehicles

By 2030, a halving of the use of 'conventional' cars (non-hybrids using internal combustion engines) in urban areas is forecast, to "achieve essentially CO2-free city logistics".

By 2050, the White Paper foresees environmentally-unfriendly vehicles being phased out.

New standard-setting is also proposed for vehicular CO2 emissions, noise levels, energy efficiency, refuelling infrastructures, and road test cycles.

While aviation does not take centre stage in the document, an increase in low-carbon aviation fuels to 40% of the total by 2050, and a 40% reduction of maritime bunker fuel emissions, is outlined.

Other Commission objectives include: the full deployment of SESAR air traffic management infrastructure by 2020, a fully functional and EU-wide inter-modal TEN-T core network by 2030, and the shifting of 30% of road freight travelling over 300km to rail, waterborne or other forms of transport by 2030, rising to 50% by 2050.

The White Paper had been expected to be released early next month along with the Commission's energy efficiency plan and 2050 roadmap to a low-carbon future.

But it was reportedly too bulky.

MEPs now expect a final draft, closer to 30 pages in length, to be published toward the end of March.