The cycling elite – coming for your cars?

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Velo-city, the world’s largest cycling conference, is currently underway in Lisbon. Frans Timmermans, the EU’s climate policy chief, duly took part, extolling the virtues of choosing two wheels over four.

The EU institutions’ relationship with cycling is an interesting one. The EU is a unique organisation that exercises power in various permutations. When it comes to cycling, the EU isn’t a supranational lawmaker or an equal partner with member states, but rather it is largely relegated to enthusiastic cheerleader.

EU powers don’t extend to cycling policy – that’s generally a local- or regional-level competence – so the EU’s role, in this case primarily the urban mobility unit of DG MOVE, is largely to encourage cities to embrace cycling, stressing to those in power that cycling can help to meet transport emissions reduction targets.

The benefits of cycling are myriad – for climate change, for health, for air and noise pollution. And at Velo-city, there is no shortage of impassioned pleas for Europeans to trade in their fossil-fuel vehicles for bicycles for the sake of better, healthier societies.

A glossy video presented to attendees of young people gliding through sun-lit streets served to reinforce the romantic ideal of bicycles as the antidote to cars.

But sometimes the whole endeavour feels like promoting the importance of smoke alarms to an arsonist. With few exceptions (Copenhagen the obvious example) cars dominate our urban areas with cycling (literally) pushed to the margins.

For decades, cars have been promoted as the key to mobility freedom and linked with social status, while urban planning has generally reinforced the idea that driving a car is the best way to get from A to B.

Countless lawmakers still have a “behind the windshield” view when it comes to policy making, more sympathetic to the plight of drivers than those engaged in what the EU terms “active mobility”.

Somehow bicycles, which are relatively cheap and cost virtually nothing to run, have come to symbolise an eco-conscious elite, while cars, which are expensive and cost a lot to run, are seen as the choice of the people.

Cyclists mounting footpaths and endangering pedestrians is portrayed as an unacceptable outrage, while the staggering number of car fatalities is dismissed as a tolerable trade-off.

It’s an odd, counter-intuitive mobility populism that will take some time to undo.

Bicycles may be the future of urban mobility, but across much of Europe, the present belongs to the automobile – with everything that entails.

Electric transition centre stage at Munich trade show

Cyclists aren’t the only group gathering. The IAA motor show is underway (in-person!) in Munich, bringing the world’s top car manufacturers together.

Of course, given the climate crisis and the signals from the European Commission (as well as from some member states’) that the era of the internal combustion engine is coming to a close, the focus is on the shift to electric vehicles.

Going electric is seen as a vital measure to cut emissions in the transport sector – a sector that has seen emissions grow rather than fall in recent years. But doing so en masse is no mean feat. It requires car makers to significantly alter their manufacturing processes and supply chains, a change that has already hit a snag with global semiconductor shortages.

Luckily, most car makers have deep pockets, so they can cover the necessary investment. Volkswagen is investing billions to beat the competition and become the world’s leading electric vehicle manufacturer by 2025.

Those who recall the company’s environmental scandals – most famously ‘dieselgate’ in which the company used software to cheat on emissions tests – will see the move as pragmatic rather than motivated by any deep concern for our planet.

Regardless of motivation, Volkswagen’s ambitions are likely to please those who wish to see ICE cars relegated to the dustbin of history.

Not all car companies are on board though – supercar makers Ferrari and Lamborghini are seeking a special derogation from the EU that will allow them to continue producing ICE cars should the EU’s proposed de facto ban come into force in 2035.

Connecting Europe Express leaves Lisbon

The Connecting Europe Express, one of the flagship events of the European Year of Rail, officially set off on its journey across the continent last week. The train will visit 100 cities en route to Paris, where it is expected to arrive on 7 October.

The train will pass through almost all member states, with the noticeable exceptions of Ireland and Finland (the island countries of Malta and Cyprus are also excluded because, well, they have no rail infrastructure).

“Over the coming weeks, the Connecting Europe Express will become a rolling conference, laboratory and forum for public debate on how to make rail the transport mode of choice for passengers and businesses alike,” said EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean, who called rail “Europe’s future”.

However, due to the differing gauge width across Europe, the Connecting Europe Express is not one train but rather three – the Iberian train, the Standard train, and the Baltic train.

The full route can be found on the official website.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

VW’s electric push ‘can’t go any faster’, says CEO

Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess said Monday (6 September) it was “impossible” for the German car giant’s electric transformation to happen any faster, but he accused Angela Merkel’s government of holding back change with generous diesel subsidies.

EU biofuel reform plan risks undermining waste-based fuels: industry

The European Commission’s proposal to halt advanced biofuels from being double-counted towards road transport energy targets would diminish the use of waste-based fuels in favour of cheaper crop-based biofuels, a leading industry organisation has told EURACTIV.

Opel battery cell plant to get $500m German grant

Opel will receive a €437 million government grant for its battery cell factory in Kaiserslautern, Germany’s economy ministry said on Thursday (2 September), as part of a wider European initiative to create a homegrown battery industry.

Shipping industry proposes levy to speed up zero carbon future

Leading shipping associations have proposed creating a global levy on carbon emissions from ships to help speed up the industry’s efforts to go greener.

Trust, not control: Germany, EVs and the power of consumer choice

Faced with the challenge of integrating electric vehicles without jeopardising power system reliability, Germany’s federal energy ministry started work with distribution system operators on a new tariff design. What followed is a cautionary tale, write Andreas Jahn, Jaap Burger, and Jan Rosenow, researchers at the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP).

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