Rail vs aviation, charging points rollout criticism, and measuring microplastics

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With the EU’s vaccine rollout stuttering and COVID-19 cases surging in parts of Europe, some are seeing 2021 as less the year of post-pandemic freedom and more like a rehash of 2020.

One group less optimistic about 2021 than they were some months ago are railway associations, who have formally requested that the “European Year of Rail”, which is currently being celebrated (you’re forgiven if you weren’t aware), be extended to 2022.

“We can but note that the constraining sanitary context is impeding the full deployment of stakeholders’ activities to promote rail,” states an open letter sent to the leaders of the European Commission, Parliament, and Council.

“We therefore urge you to consider extending this outstanding initiative until December 2022 in order to make it an even greater success at the end.”

Among the rail associations’ chief concerns is the inability to hold in-person events, a major hiccup in the plan of the Connecting Europe Express – a train that will journey to cities across Europe to highlight the benefits of travelling by rail.

Some MEPs, however, feel that next year would be better spent celebrating a different pandemic-hit form of transport: aviation.

Ninety-six lawmakers from the European Parliament’s Sky & Space intergroup have requested that 2022 be the “European Year of Aviation”.

“Flying is an integral part of our modern life. By declaring 2022 the year of aviation, we create an opportunity to bring together the needs of the aviation sector, questions of sustainability and climate protection, and people’s desire to travel again,” said German MEP Monika Hohlmeier.

Read the full article below for more on the rail vs aviation debate.

France suspends short, domestic flights

France made a splash last week as, following a heated debate, the country announced it will suspend domestic flights that have a train connection of less than two and a half hours.

The figure of two and a half hours represents a compromise, as the climate commission set up by French President Emmanuel Macron originally recommended train connections of four hours or less as the cut-off point for banning flights.

The transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, told MPs: “We have chosen two and a half hours because four hours risks isolating landlocked territories including the greater Massif Central, which would be iniquitous.”

It is predicted that the French decision will have a knock-on effect, prompting other countries to follow suit.

ECA pushes Commission to charge ahead

The European Court of Auditors (ECA), the body tasked with monitoring European Union spending and management, had some stern words for the European Commission last week. The ECA released a report criticising the rollout of charging points in the EU, saying it is moving too slowly to meet the EU executive’s targets of one million charging points by 2025 and three million by 2030.

The report also found that the level of electric charging infrastructure varies significantly by member state, while payment methods are not harmonised either, meaning travellers may need to purchase multiple subscriptions for a single journey.

“Last year, one in every 10 cars sold in the EU was electrically chargeable, but charging infrastructure is unevenly accessible across the EU,” said Ladislav Balko, the ECA member responsible for the report.

The intrepid auditors even tested the availability of charging points for themselves, piling into an e-vehicle for a road trip through Germany, France, and Italy. Overall, the auditors had a “positive” experience but found room for improvement.

Last week, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) and the green NGO Transport & Environment petitioned the European Commission on the topic of charging points in a joint letter.

Their focus was heavy-duty vehicles, with the groups arguing that 11,000 charging points for electric trucks should be deployed across the EU by 2025, scaling up to 42,000 by 2030.

Read more below.

Tyres and microplastics

Updated labelling will apply to all tyres produced after 1 May, covering how the tyres perform in wet weather, their fuel efficiency, and how noisy they are in use, but not yet covering abrasion – to the disappointment of environmental campaigners.

While the requirement to display tyre abrasion – a major contributor to microplastics in Europe – was included in the tyre labelling regulation, it has been pushed back due to technical questions over how to measure the rate at which particles are jettisoned from tyres.

“The revision of the tyre labelling regulation was a great opportunity to guide consumers towards tyres that release less microplastics and European decision-makers decided not to seize it,” according to Valeria Botta, programme manager at the green NGO ECOS.

“The absence of a test method is going to be repeatedly used as an excuse not to make any decisions despite the evident health and environmental impact of microplastics from tyre wear,” she added.

The European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers Association (ETRMA), a lobby group representing companies including Bridgestone, Goodyear, and Pirelli, told EURACTIV that it is working with the Commission to develop a “reliable and reproducible method” to measure car tyre abrasion. It is foreseen that an agreed methodology will be in place by 2023.

Beyond labelling, environmental groups are pushing for changes to tyre design to prevent the release of particles, but industry is pushing back, saying they are looking in the wrong place.

“Factors such as driving behaviour, road and vehicle characteristics, can together have a much bigger influence on the rate at which tyre and road wear particles are formed than tyre design alone,” states an ETRMA-backed website. Read the full story below.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

Rail and aviation set for showdown over 2022 ‘European Year of’ status

Rail associations are calling on the European Commission to extend the current “European Year of Rail” designation to 2022 as the ongoing pandemic has disrupted this year’s planned activities. But some MEPs argue that next year should be the “European Year of Aviation” to support the struggling airline sector.

Deployment of EU electric vehicle charging stations too slow, auditors say

The European Union’s deployment of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles is not quick enough to meet the bloc’s targets, EU auditors said on Tuesday (13 April).

EU seeks ‘reliable’ method to measure microplastic pollution from tyres

An EU regulation on tyre labelling due to come into force on 1 May will not cover the rate at which tyres shed particles – a major contributor to microplastics in Europe – as an agreed method for the calculation of abrasion is still not in place.

The EU’s green fuels law uses tools from the combustion engine age. It’s time for a change

Green electricity seems set to be the transport fuel of the future, but an unwillingness to look beyond the internal combustion engine has led to a focus on biofuels. The EU should allow fuel suppliers to meet environmental targets with renewable electricity, writes Geert De Cock of Transport & Environment.

The EIB needs to support the transformation of EU mobility, not undermine it

The upcoming review of the EIB’s transport policy provides an opportunity to shift public spending away from high-carbon and polluting projects to more sustainable transport modes such as trains, public transport, and cycling, writes Clara Bourgin, a policy officer at Counter Balance.

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