Clean trucks, tyres recycling controversy, and a metro made of cars

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Below you’ll find the latest roundup of mobility news from across Europe.

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Truck driving is, like many professions, subject to mythmaking and stereotype. Long-haul trucking holds a particular image in popular culture – great, behemoth machines belching fumes, driven by tattooed blokes gulping down flasks of coffee as they push onward through the night, waiting for the next town to appear like an oasis.

A lot of it is nonsense, of course. EU regulations, for example, set out minimum rest periods for truck drivers, negating the notion of the bleary-eyed trucker going from dusk ‘til dawn at the wheel (the ‘blokes’ part is true though, with women making up just 2% of the European driver population).

And a new study suggests that even the exhaust-spewing image of Big Rigs may be coming to an end, as battery-technology approaches a point that will allow electronic trucks to meaningfully compete with fossil-fuel trucks.

“A tipping point is in sight for electric trucks,” said Björn Nykvist, lead author of the study and senior researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute. “Battery technology is very close to a threshold that makes electric trucks feasible and economically competitive.”

However, for the e-trucks to truly compete with their diesel counterparts, a much denser network of fast charging points is required across the continent.

Read the full article below to find out more.

Road transport: astro surf ‘n’ turf?

It’s not just trucks’ engines that are attracting attention – tyres are also being debated, specifically what to do with them once they’ve reached the end of the road.

At present, many tyres are recycled into rubber crumbs, which are used to fill in artificial sports pitches. The tyre and recycling industries argue this is the greenest way to deal with tyres, but environmental campaigners want rubber infill banned.

They warn that particles are spread from the synthetic pitches to the natural environment, where they may end up in the food we eat and water we drink (an alarming study from WWF found that humans are eating up to five grams a week of plastic, the equivalent of a credit card).

But industry counters that containment measures – such as the use of filters to stop crumbs from entering drains – are sufficient to stop the spread.

The disagreement comes as decision-makers consider a report from the European Chemicals Agency, an EU regulatory body, which includes several options for dealing with tyre-derived rubber infill. These measures range from a ban to tweaking prevention measures, hence the lobbying on both sides. (Read more about the debate below.)

Aviation: airplane weight glitch a near Miss

A translation error nearly led to serious consequences in Birmingham this week, the Guardian reports.

A technological glitch marked a plane as 1,200kg lighter than it was, causing the pilot to use less thrust for take-off than should have been the case.

It seems that all passengers labelled “Miss” were designated as children, and so assigned the standard child weight of 35kg, rather than the standard adult weight of 69kg.

The reason given for the mislabelling was that the booking system was programmed in an unnamed country in which “Miss” is used only for children (“Ms” being the designation for women).

In other news, low-cost carrier Wizz Air replaced its operations chief following the emergence of a secret recording in which he appeared to encourage his team to use the COVID-19 downturn to fire pilots who were frequently sick or who refused to work on days off, Reuters reports.

The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) described the behaviour of the Wizz Air management as “reprehensible“.

“A workplace is not a dictatorship, you cannot simply decide that those who do as they’re told stay, those who don’t are fired. Especially when the judgement comes down to the personal perception of individual managers,” said Eoin Coates, ETF’s head of aviation, in a statement.

On Monday, the European Commission announced that it has authorised Belgium to continue providing state aid to airports in the French-speaking Wallonia region.

The country is allowing Walloon airport operators to defer payment of concession fees for 2021, to the tune of some €17.5 million.

Thrown for a loop

Entrepreneur and twitter-aficionado Elon Musk invited the media to view his latest bid to change the face of transport in Las Vegas last week.

‘The Loop’ (not to be confused with the Hyperloop) will enable passengers to hail a Tesla to transport them through tunnels underneath the Las Vegas Convention Centre, a journey of just under 2.5km (that’s a 15-minute walk on the surface).

Upon seeing footage of the Loop in action, some commentators were… unimpressed. Others wondered if Musk had invented a less practical, less efficient metro.

Undeterred by the haranguing from some quarters of Twitter, Musk’s Boring Company is continuing with its goal to build complex networks of tunnels underneath cities, which they claim will “alleviate congestion” (critics point to “induced demand” in response).


A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

Electric truck technology close to challenging diesel: study

Electric freight trucks will soon be technologically ready to compete with fossil-fuel-powered trucks, but the lack of fast-charging infrastructure will hamper uptake, a new study has found.

Tyre industry and environmentalists lock horns over potential rubber infill ban

Green campaigners have warned that failure by the EU to designate rubber infill derived from tyres as a banned microplastic will lead to significant environmental harm – a claim the tyre and recycling industries strongly reject.

US vaccine ‘passports’ advance despite growing controversy

As the United States’ vaccination campaign accelerates, so-called vaccine passports are gaining traction despite political divisions and a fragmented health care system that complicates the centralization of data.

EU urged to keep ‘low-carbon fuels’ out of renewable energy mix

A group of 88 lawmakers in the European Parliament have joined environmental NGOs and the renewable energy industry to demand the exclusion of low-carbon fossil fuels from the upcoming revision of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive.

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