Another battle in the “War on Cars” plays out in the streets

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There’s nothing the European Commission likes more than dedicating seven consecutive days to celebrating a policy topic. Green Week, Sustainable Energy Week, European Week of Regions and Cities

Brussels policymakers have a seemingly endless appetite for calendar-driven conferences (purists will note with disdain that these “weeks” range in length and are often not really weeks at all).

We’re currently in the midst of yet another such celebration – European Mobility Week.

This DG MOVE-backed initiative aims to put the spotlight on sustainable urban transport: walking, cycling, public transport… essentially moving from A to B without getting behind the wheel of a (fossil fuel-powered) car.

The week encourages European cities to hold activities celebrating clean transport (like a festival or street games), to implement new permanent measures that encourage a shift to environmentally-friendly ways of getting around (such as bike paths), and to hold a “Car-Free Day”, where certain streets are closed to motorised traffic.

The car-free day often proves to be the most contentious of the three. Moves to limit the circulation of cars have a tendency to be tied into the narrative of the embattled motorist.

In the United States, infrastructure changes by local governments to facilitate cyclists and pedestrians are portrayed by some as evidence of the so-called “War on Cars”.

Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham recently railed against roadworks in San Francisco, saying the city was “ruining itself” to appease cyclists (it turns out the city was constructing a bus lane and not a bike lane as Ingraham thought).

And it’s not just an American phenomenon. In March of this year, motorists in Brussels took to the streets (in their cars, of course) to protest against what they saw as plans to make it more difficult to drive in the city.

The upcoming German election has also conjured the spectre of the Krieg gegen das Auto, with the Greens painted as scheming against car owners.

If there is a war against cars, then what of European Mobility Week’s car-free day? Is it the equivalent of an assault? A battle, perhaps?

Brussels closed essentially the entire city to cars last Sunday, but the streets seemed calmer as a result.

There were young children in oversized helmets, clumsily peddling on the cobbled streets, unafraid.

The noise level in the city fell noticeably – the steady drumbeat of traffic replaced by the click of bicycle wheels or the hum of conversation as people gathered in areas that previously would have been off-limits.

Café patrons spilled out onto the roads, taking advantage of the sheer space on offer.

If there is a war against cars, events like car-free day may well see enlistment numbers swell.

Is the gig up for the gig economy?

The European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding platform workers have the same rights as traditional employees last Friday, striking a blow to companies who helped to pioneer the gig economy.

While not legally binding, the report highlights the Parliament’s stance ahead of a European Commission legislative proposal, due to be presented by the end of the year.

Parliament contends that platform workers, which include Uber drivers and Deliveroo delivery people, are “often misclassified as self-employed, depriving them of access to social protection and other labour rights”.

“Better access to social protection, improved working conditions, access to collective representation for the self-employed, clarification of the status, and the use of ethical algorithmic management are all issues that urgently need to be addressed at European level,” said Sylvie Brunet, the MEP leading on the report.

“We say yes to digital, but not at the expense of working rights,” she added.

Uber, a major car-hailing and food delivery company, criticised parts of the Parliament’s resolution.

“A third status is not the right approach for the European Union. Instead, we support efforts to strengthen independent work – rather than eliminate it – with industry-wide minimum standards that protect all platform workers,” an Uber spokesperson said.

Read the full story below.

Ryanair to boost its presence in Ukraine

Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair is looking to expand its operations eastwards, with a particular focus on Ukraine.

The expansion is contingent, however, on Ukraine joining the European Union’s “Open Skies” deregulated aviation market. Previous negotiations were hamstrung by the long-running conflict between Spain and then-EU-member-state the United Kingdom over the status of Gibraltar airport.

“The one market I would point to is Ukraine… I would think we will be a major investor in Ukraine when they join up to European Open Skies,” Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary told investors.

Ryanair currently flies out of five Ukrainian airports, but O’Leary believes this could be increased to as many as 12.

Read the full story below.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

MEPs push to shape working conditions of the gig economy

The European Parliament adopted by an overwhelming majority a resolution on social protection for platform workers, anticipating key parts of an upcoming EU legislative proposal expected to come out before the end of the year.

Ryanair eyes aggressive expansion in Ukraine, banks on migrant workers

Ryanair is planning aggressive expansion in Ukraine if the country joins the European Union’s Open Skies deregulated aviation market in the coming months, Group Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said on Thursday (16 September).

US to end travel bans for vaccinated passengers

The United States announced on Monday (20 September) it will lift COVID travel bans on all air passengers in November if they are fully vaccinated and undergo testing and contact tracing.

How to make Europe’s cities more liveable for people – not cars

To achieve deep and permanent cuts in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, cars must become the exception in cities, not the rule. Bold political action will be needed at local, regional, national and European levels, argues Lorelei Limousin, a climate and transport campaigner in the Greenpeace European Unit.

The State of the Union speech explained by EURACTIV

This Beyond the Byline podcast comes to you with a special episode focusing on the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s annual State of the Union speech. She addressed the key issues on the EU agenda and announced new measures, programmes, and plans. Transport, though not really in the focus, did come up in a number of related issues.

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