Unblocking the Suez Canal, the Connecting Europe Express, and putting a price on road emissions

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

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The Ever Given jam, which went from plain sailing to being grounded in the Suez Canal, was a fitting incident for our lockdown era.

That the gargantuan cargo ship, a muscular symbol of global trade, was hindered not by economic forces or an invisible virus, but by simply getting stuck, was reassuringly simple. The boat was too big, or the canal too small, and the result was a costly blockage of global shipping.

The attempts to unstick the massive vessel quickly became a meme, while a slew of think pieces pondered what the incident and our brief obsession with it means.

Writing for EURACTIV.com, Albert de Hoop, the former mayor of Ameland in the Netherlands, said the grounding is just another example of the dangers of megaships.

“The global shipping industry operates under intense pressure. Stretched crews, ageing materials and tight deadlines create a toxic mix of influences that will continue to create dangerous situations at sea and along our coasts,” according to de Hoop.

And while the Ever Given saga may on the surface seem like an amusing distraction (up there with the story of ‘Boaty McBoatface‘), its economic impact is severe – the blockage was estimated to cost $9 billion per day.

EU encourages Europeans to take the train (when it’s safe to do so)

Yesterday saw the official launch event of the European Year of Rail, an EU initiative to promote trains as a sustainable travel mode.

Pity the organisers who, tasked with promoting a public transport initiative during a global pandemic, were forced to organise a primarily online event, with in-person (socially distanced) attendance reserved for Lisbon, the capital of the current EU Council presidency holder Portugal.

At the event, EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean announced the “Connecting Europe Express“, an EU-and-railway-companies-backed train that will stop in cities across Europe to highlight the benefits of travelling by rail.

“At each of the almost 40 stops, events will bring together the rail sector at large, as well as civil society organisations, local and regional authorities, and the wider public, to discuss the benefits of rail, as well as what still has to be done so that rail can become the number one option for passengers and business,” Commissioner Vălean said in a statement.

The train will start its journey in September – organisers no doubt hope that the third wave of COVID will have subsided by then, allowing the train-themed events to take place in person.

To include road transport or not to include road transport?

The EU’s Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, appeared to confirm an issue of much speculation this week, announcing that the upcoming June package of energy and climate laws will “propose the extension of the emission trading scheme to sectors such as building and road transport”.

The inclusion of road transport within the emission trading scheme, which puts a price on carbon emissions, has long been controversial, with EU climate chief Frans Timmermans previously expressing his opposition on the grounds that it could push up fuel prices and hurt the poor.

Contacted by EURACTIV after Simson’s statement, the European Commission stood by its official line that any extension to include road transport in the ETS is still being analysed. For more information, read the article below.

Packed flight vs empty car

When the European Environment Agency announced a study into the environmental impact of transport modes, the results seemed predictable – carbon-intensive flying would be classed as the most polluting option while rail would fare best. Only half turned out to be true.

“Flying is not necessarily the most harmful choice,” reads the report. “This role is often taken by the conventional car, if single occupancy is assumed.”

Indeed, a solitary trip in a petrol- or diesel-powered car may release more emissions per passenger than an intra-EU flight.

However, add more passengers and the equation changes.

“Whether a train, plane or car is almost empty or 80% full makes a big difference to the result. This factor alone can make a mode of transport the best or the worst choice for the environment,” the report states. Read more at the link below.

Meanwhile, national carrier Air France, which posted losses of €7.1 billion last year, is close to agreeing bailout terms with the EU and France, Reuters reports. In exchange for the recapitalisation, the EU is asking the company to give up valuable slots at Orly airport in Paris.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

ETS revision will include buildings and road transport, EU Commissioner says

The European Commission’s upcoming June package of energy and climate laws will “propose the extension of the emission trading scheme to sectors such as building and road transport,” the EU’s Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said on Thursday (25 March).

Recycling firms urge EU to raise used battery collection goal

Leading companies in the waste management sector have called on EU lawmakers to revise a draft regulation on sustainable batteries to increase the target for used battery collection and to make it mandatory for battery producers to use recycled content in their production cycles.

Solo car journeys more harmful to the environment than flying: report

A solitary trip in a petrol or diesel-powered car may release more emissions per passenger than an intra-EU flight, a new EU study into the environmental impact of transport modes has found.

MEPs, EU leaders put pedal to the metal to ready vaccine certificates for summer

EU lawmakers are picking up the pace in their race against the clock to have vaccine certificates ready for the summer, although a number of technical problems remain to be addressed.

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