12 Prescriptions for a European Sustainable Mobility Policy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

In this EPC Working Paper, the EPC Task Force on Transport presents 12 policy prescriptions for a sustainable European mobility policy. The authors analyse the relationship between European transport policy and economic growth and argue that a strategy of sustainable mobility, broadly defined, is indispensable to achieving the Lisbon objectives on environmental sustainability, social inclusion and economic competitiveness.

Transport is at the very heart of European integration. It is the means for uniting business and communities in Europe and for connecting Europe to the world. With every step towards greater integration, the need for transport grows. Therefore, if the EU is to meet the expected increase in demand for transport as the Union grows, there needs to be a new understanding of transport from European decision-makers. 

The EU common Transport Policy, as proposed by the European Commission, aims to make substantial improvements to the quality and efficiency of transport in Europe. It outlines goals that we all can support and want to see realised as soon as possible. But this strategy has been designed to gradually break the link between constant transport growth and economic growth, in order to reduce the pressure on the environment and prevent congestion, while maintaining the EU’s economic competitiveness. It is doubtful whether this can be done in the real world, and thus politicians are faced with the challenge of dealing with an increased pressure from growth in the transport sector while securing sustainability in a broad sense, including for example financing, safety, security, social conditions and the environment. 

As the EU adjusts to the largest enlargement to date and tries to meet the objectives set out in the Lisbon Agenda, challenges to create a long-term sustainable European transport policy are increasing. Transport is both a fact and a pre-requisite to achieving Europe’s ambitious goals. 

The title of the Commission Transport Policy paper states it clearly: “European transport policy for 2010: time to decide.” The EPC taskforce on Transport agrees that it is time to decide and suggests a stock-taking review of which policies are working and whether and how policy makers should shift their thinking. 

First of all, it is important to understand that sustainability for transport and for Europe as a whole must extend beyond environmental concerns. For the EPC Task Force this means dealing with wider issues such as safety and security in transport, increased transport options for the average EU citizen, building and financing a solid infrastructure base, and ensuring that social and environmental considerations are designed to carry European transport into a robust future where it can support the EU’s enlargement and growth ambitions. The only way to really build sustainable and environmentally friendly transport is to take a holistic approach and to create a balanced analysis of all costs and benefits of transport projects. Without a fully sustainable transport for both growth and environment, we cannot build a sustainable Europe. 

Such a balanced analysis for the whole of European transport policy and the Lisbon Agenda shows that trying to break the link between transport and economic growth is risky at best. Transport accounts for 4% of the EU’s GDP and directly employs more than 6 million people in Europe. Transport growth means economic growth and with it, more jobs. At the same time, as the very basis of the European economy, when Europe’s economy grows, transport must grow with it. Otherwise a point will be reached at which European growth will be threatened by the insufficiency of road, rail, sea, and air transport systems. European policy must not be the self-defeating. Certainly, in some instances and particularly in urban areas, it makes sense to decouple transport from growth. But any such policy needs to be carefully managed within a broader sustainable transport strategy. Bad regulation and quick fixes often just aggravate the problem. Our proposition is to decouple the negative effects of transport growth, but not economic progress in itself. The Lisbon Agenda goals envisage a sustainable future; transport is the foundation of that sustainable future. 

Once we recognise that, as Europe grows, so too will transport, we can start to ensure that growth is sustainable by making transport through Europe as efficient and user-friendly as possible, so that not one drop of fuel is wasted in traffic jams or one euro lost to late trains or planes. First and central tool to this goal is harmonisation. Only by creating European standards can all of Europe run on time. Too often it is the differences in national regulations, and the inaccuracy or lack of implementation of EU directives in the transport sector that hold Europe back. To counteract this obstruction, the EU must enact clear measures in transport at the European level, and must create benchmarking tools to ensure that every Member State is up to code. We need regulations that lead to open skies, but also to open rails, open seas, and open roads. 

When we have created the best system at home, European will be able to bring that system to the global stage. We will be able to defend our high standards for sustainability in transport and be a rule-setter for the world. Without a strong and united European voice in organisations like the WTO, our ambition for a sustainable transport will be lost in the race to the bottom by other countries. 

If we can make the current system work better, we are halfway to a sustainable future. The rest of the way will come through innovation and investments in a cleaner and safer transport for the future. Today, too little funding is given to the search for better technologies and better ways to make transport more energy efficient and ‘greener.’ When funding is given to research, it is too locked away in universities is unable to make it to the industries and communities where it is needed most. The only answer to this is an increased transport R&D funding that allows ideas to be translated into the transport vehicles of tomorrow. 

At the same time, we must invest in better infrastructure projects. Without better connections and links between people and places, businesses and consumers, we cannot reach the goal of sustainability. Today, infrastructure projects stand unfinished and every European loses due to the lack of ‘good’ infrastructure investment. This is because the best investments are often the longest and most expensive ones to complete. Local and regional governments do not have the money to undertake these projects, and often it is just easier to rely on limited solutions, like congestion charges, which do not solve the problem of sustainability. In the past, the EU’s answer to this was to ask for funding from private sources. But as of yet, infrastructure investment has not reached a sufficient level, as private firms only invest when they can see a profit for themselves alone. ‘Good’ investments are goods that are of benefit to all Europeans, not just one firm. 

So what makes a “good” investment? A good investment is one that takes into account all the costs and benefits to European society of a given project and prioritises projects not by costs in euros, but according to what is better for Europe’s future. On the basis of good investment, the first goal of European funding must be inter-modal facilities. Without rail links to airports and seaports, we are left with only one solution. Without a system of efficient transfer facilities between rail and road, freight will continue to be shipped by road only. This is because the system often cannot bridge the point from rail to the consumer’s home or store. We need better rail, road, sea and air links because the only way to make the sustainable transport choice is to have the choice in the first place. 

Please click here to read the EPC working paper in full.

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