‘Sustainable mobility’ – a new concept or an empty phrase?

On 17 February 2003, high level representatives of the rail, automotive and aviation sectors as well as the Commission discussed the concept of “sustainable mobility” with regard to current trends in EU transport policy.

At a European Trialogue debate organised by Friends of Europe,Karel Vinck, CEO of the Belgian railways (SNCB),Ivan Hodac, Secretary-General of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA),Rob Kuijpers, Executive Chairman of SN Brussels Airlines andFrançois Lamoureux, Director General of the Commission's DG Transport and Energy debated how to apply the concept of "sustainable mobility" to Europe's transport policy.

Participants widely agreed on the necessity to shift toward more environmentally-friendly modes of transportation. In particular, the discussion focused on how torevitalise the railwaysto increase their market share. In this respect, Mr Lamoureux and Mr Vinck saw this year's liberalisation of the rail freight market as a major step. Among other factors that could explain rail transport's poor economic performance, Mr Vinck mentioned low levels of investment, a lack of harmonisation of technical standards (interoperability) and the sector's outdated mentality, which Mr Kuijpers also deplored.

Another issue debated was how to ensure that external (environmental, health and congestion) costs of transport can be reflected in its overallpricing and taxation system. Mr Vinck underlined that rail transport in particular would probably never be competitive without major changes in this respect. Mr Hodac warned, however, that the overall financial burden should not increase. Instead, he called for a redistribution of taxes, which should be accompanied by an EU-wide tax harmonisation and creation of a true single market. Regarding the introduction of infrastructure charging, Mr Lamoureux said the principle now seemed clear to everyone, but opinions differed widely regarding implementation options. Finally, participants agreed that the required changes were not likely to happen quickly, because the current system impeded quick decision-making, as exemplified in the lack of conclusion in the five year-old energy tax debate.

Regardingtraffic congestion, Mr Lamoureux said the construction of new infrastructure was key to solving this problem but that a major shortcoming of this solution lay in its financing. For the air transport sector, centralised management by EUROCONTOL could make a difference, Mr Kuijpers said. Mr Kuijpers and Mr Vinck also mentioned the opportunities of an improved utilization of the railways, which would also depend on a better management of logistics.

Finally, Mr Hodac said sustainability was indeed a valid concept, but could be achieved only if all stakeholders did their share.

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