Bulc: ‘More needs to be done on transport pricing and taxation’

Violeta Bulc

Violeta Bulc [European Union]

This article is part of our special report Transport: Moving ahead.

Good progress has been made on transport safety and security in the last four years, according to Violeta Bulc. But more work lies ahead when it comes to pricing, taxation and modal integration relying on digitised information systems, she said.

Violeta Bulc is the EU Transport Commissioner. She responded in writing to questions from EURACTIV in the context of this year’s European Transport Forum.

The Commission recently closed its public consultation on the review of the 2011 White Paper on transport. What are the early conclusions that you can draw from this consultation?

The 270 contributions we received expressed overall support to the continuation of the roll-out of the 2011 White Paper. A majority of respondents called for further implementation, which we also support. A number of areas where good progress has already been made were identified: transport safety, research and innovation, secure transport.

On the contrary, more needs to be done with regards to smart pricing and taxation, modal integration, service quality, reliability and working conditions. The answers also confirmed that decarbonisation, oil-dependency, innovation or infrastructure development will be some of the most important challenges ahead. DG MOVE published a summary report of the consultation, where more information can be found.

The 2001 White Paper on transport emphasised the “modal shift” as a key policy objective – where transport would shift from road to rail and other transport means such as inland waterways. The 2011 White Paper then put the emphasis on “multi-modality” and “co-modality”. Is this a recognition that road is going to remain a dominant form of transport, at least for freight? In other words, has the “modal shift” failed?

There is no contradiction in the Commission’s efforts to promote both co-modality and a shift to the most sustainable modes of transport. What matters is to ensure that all modes can compete on equal terms, are well connected with one another, and can be used in an optimal way.

In this context, the Commission may look into new options for fairer road-charging. Yet, this is only part of the solution. We also need to make alternative modes more attractive. I believe that digitalisation of transport – for example through integrated ticket or journey planner – is a promising option. The Commission is also investing, and will continue to do so, in European infrastructure to build the missing links and remove bottlenecks, which hamper the competitiveness of sustainable modes such as rail or inland waterways.

In 2001, the EU established an objective to halve road fatalities by 2010. Although some progress was made, the target was not met and a new programme was adopted in 2010, with detailed measures proposed in seven areas. Are you satisfied with progress made so far? And where do you see the most room for improvement?

The EU’s roads are the safest worldwide – an achievement all Europeans can be proud of. Between 2001 and 2010, Europe already cut the number of fatalities by 43%, and by another 18% between 2010 and 2014.

Road safety is however a never-ending challenge, and every death is one too many. The 2014 figures came as a wake-up call: we cannot relax efforts. As an example, me and my team are convinced that Intelligent Transport Systems have a big role to play. The recently adopted e-call system is an excellent example of how technology can save lives on the road. We estimate it can reduce the number of fatalities by at least 4% and the number of severe injuries by 6%.

The revelations of Volkswagen’s practices came as a shock. What is your reaction? What can be done?

Commissioner Bienkowska, who has the lead on this matter, discussed it in detail with member states in the Competitiveness Council last week. Her message is clear: we need full clarity of the situation through thorough investigations, and we will have zero tolerance for fraud and cheating.

The appropriate authorities in the member states are obliged to take appropriate legislative and enforcement measures, in order to make sure that defeat devices, as banned by EU law, are not put in place, and that their use is detected, eliminated and sanctioned. The policing in this area is a legal obligation of the member state authorities. We will take stock of the situation by the latest at the next Competitiveness Concil on 30 November.

The Commission is due to present an aviation package of proposals in December. What will be your approach?

Aviation is a strong driver of economic growth, jobs and competitiveness. As such, a strong European aviation sector plays a crucial role in delivering on the priorities of the Juncker Commission. The goal of the upcoming Aviation Package will be to take a holistic approach to the aviation value network and help shape a comprehensive strategy for Europe. Europe has a unique opportunity to once again become a leading player in international aviation, and a global model for sustainable aviation, with a high level of service and ambitious EU standards.

The Commission will seek to ensure an efficient functioning of the aviation sector that will enhance connectivity and competitiveness; mobilise Europe’s creativity and funding resources in order to channel them towards innovation and efficient investments in technology and infrastructure; continue to offer the highest safety and security standards, as well as high standards for environment and labour.

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