Interview: Extra funding needed for urban mobility

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The European Parliament will call on the Commission and EU governments to set up new financing mechanisms to tackle the growing congestion and pollution problems plaguing our cities, Austrian MEP Reinhard Rack, rapporteur on the Commission’s Green Paper on urban mobility told EURACTIV.

In his report, due to be discussed in Parliament’s transport committee in May and voted in the plenary in June, Rack will present a number of options to help cities deal with the lack of funding for infrastructural improvements aimed at increasing mobility in cities. 

Cities “are in a very complicated situation,” he told EURACTIV, adding that, most of them “hope that the EU can help them vis-à-vis their national and regional governments”, despite the well-established principle of subsidiarity, which implies that urban transport issues are to be decided at local level. 

“Practically all of them have the same problems – congestion, old infrastructure, not enough money to invest in new infrastructure and, in some cases, not even enough political and legal clout to build new infrastructure – because we all know that citizens are all for the free flow of transport but they are all against building new roads, so it’s not so easy,” he commented. 

The financing puzzle – making member states pay? 

Among his options for new means of funding, Rack takes up a couple of potential solutions put forward by the Commission in its Green Paper. Notably, he calls for a better targeting of Commission money, such as structural and cohesion funds, towards clean urban transport activities; and the cross-subsidisation of “preferable” transport solutions, using funds raised through road charging schemes or parking fees. 

However he rejects the Commission’s suggestion that cities can rely on public-private partnerships for increased cash, saying: “I’m rather sceptical of PPPs. We’ve been talking about them for the past 10-15 years, but raising very little money along these lines – the most spectacular example of failure being of course Galileo.” 

Instead, he wants to make states pay for mobility improvements in towns and cities. He admits the idea is “a little bit complicated” because of competency and subsidiarity issues, but says he wants the notion that member states “have to ensure the financial support for cities and communities to implement community law” relating to environmental and transport measures to be included in the Paper. 

“It would not be sufficient for the member states to just pass a law following the Directive or to just say the text is directly applicable. No, they should also know that they have financial responsibility for making European legal rules work and for enabling them to be applied […] You cannot have the cake and eat it,” he stressed. 

A clear vision for the future 

Other than the financing issues, Rack said the major point he would make as rapporteur would be “to get clear answers on exactly what level of EU involvement we want, on the sort of European vision we want to achieve as an end result, and on how that reflects with the wishes and the needs of the local and regional institutions”. This, he says, has not been achieved by the Commission’s shopping list of 500 questions contained in the Green Paper. 

He believes the EU “should not attempt to regulate local transport problems in city X, Y or Z”. Instead, it should provide local authorities with a package of potential, standardised, measures that would enable them to choose the most suitable approach for their city – be it a congestion charge, a low-emission zone, or outer-city parking systems – while following, to some extent, European rules, that make it recognisable for each and every citizen. 

“It should be like a running sushi bar: Europe should offer the dishes and the cities can then take it or leave it,” he said. 

More focus on freight 

Rack feels that “the Commission has not really looked into the freight issue deeply enough”. 

“There’s too much concentration on personal transport and private cars. Important as these issues are, they’re only half the game,” he insists. 

In his report, he asks for the Commission to give more consideration to freight travel and offers a few examples of best practice – such as using bus lanes for freight transport at certain times or using tramlines to help resolve the issue of “the last few miles” – that could help the goods that people need and want to buy come into the cities. 

To read the interview in full, please click here.

EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot opened up a broad consultation on the question of how to tackle the growing congestion, pollution and safety problems related to transport in Europe's cities, with the presentation of a Green Paper on urban transport, on 25 September 2007

An action plan containing concrete measures is due to be presented in October 2008, on the basis of this consultation. 

  • May 2008: Transport Committee to vote on the Rack report on the Urban Mobility Green Paper. 
  • 16 Jun. 2008: Parliament due to vote on the report.
  • Oct. 2008: Commission to adopt Action Plan based on Green Paper. 

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