Urban areas urged to tackle social exclusion


Europe must focus on providing increased mobility options for its marginalised citizens if it is to achieve its Lisbon targets of social inclusion, economic growth and job creation, transport stakeholders are urging.

  • Mobility and social inclusion 

In the framework of its 57th World Congress and Exhibition in Helsinki from 20-24 May 2007, the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) highlights the important role of public transport in tackling social exclusion. 

According to the UITP, while European countries have been successful in ensuring that transport facilities and services become more accessible to all, more work is needed to extend the travel horizons of socially-excluded citizens if the EU is to make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty by 2010, as promoted by the bloc’s Lisbon Agenda for growth and jobs. 

The organisation stresses that the EU should raise awareness of the potential of public transport in encouraging social inclusion by making it more visible in its guidelines to member states for the development of their National Action Plans. 

With an increasingly ageing society (already 22% of the population is older than 60 and this share is expected to rise to 36% by 2050), the issue of improving accessibility can no longer be neglected, stresses the organisation. 

  • Focus on “deprived neighbourhoods” 

The riots in French cities in 2005 highlighted the need to come up with new solutions to face the problems of marginalisation in urban areas. 

The Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities, which EU ministers are due to adopt on 24 and 25 May, will devote considerable attention to the problems of high unemployment and social exclusion (EURACTIV 16/05/07), stressing the need for an integrated urban development policy, focusing on labour-market improvements, education and training for young people, the development of ‘high-quality public spaces’ and affordable and efficient urban transport. 

The Charter will also suggest that member states be allowed to use the European structural funds to finance specifically urban programmes. 

The International Association of Public Transport (UITP) stresses that public transport is key to reconnecting socially excluded citizens to the social and economic structures of society and should be included in any policies addressing social exclusion. 

Sustrans, a UK sustainable transport NGO, agrees that public transport is important but stresses that the EU should clearly establish a "road-user hierarchy", placing pedestrians and cycling at the top of transport policy. "A shift to non-motorised transport will not only address policy objectives related to transport but also in areas such as climate change, public health and obesity; social inclusion and community cohesion, and energy security," it stresses. 

"In the past, urban transport policy has been dominated by the desire to facilitate mobility (the ability to travel) rather than accessibility (the access to the goods and services which are the motives which encourage people to travel). This has resulted in longer and longer journey distances, ever-increasing motor traffic levels, and a very wide range of negative side-effects. By increasing levels of walking and cycling within urban areas, urban transport policy can make a vital contribution to social cohesion, neighbourhood revitalisation and community well-being," it adds. 

UK cycling federation adds that encouraging "cycle-friendly policies" would increase mobility for people who do not have access to a car, or who cannot afford the costs associated with running one. "Cycling is a cost-effective form of travel, the main expenditure being the bike purchase price. However, this initial outlay is a considerable expense for those in lower income brackets. Governments could encourage bicycle purchase by zero-rating or cutting the level of VAT paid on bicycles," it suggests. 

report from the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), which represents more that 43 million motoring consumers, states: "For those of us who believe that the car provides many positive benefits to society it is doubly important that we do not forget those for whom those advantages do not flow, people who are locked out of the car society and also very often bear the disproportionate brunt of the negative impacts of the car on their human environment." It highlighted the poor recognition of this problem up to now and the unco-ordinated and 'piecemeal' policy responses that the issue has received. 

Although the continuous rise in transport demand suggests that European citizens are becoming increasingly mobile, a significant minority of people continue to be excluded from the best that society has to offer, with poor access to mobility often a key factor. 

European cities have been structured around the car, so that accessing essential services, such as schools and hospitals, shopping, work and entertainment, has become difficult for those without their own vehicle. 

In 2006, the Commission adopted a Communication highlighting the leading role that Europe's towns and cities should play in creating growth and jobs in Europe, including increased accessibility and mobility. 

The Communication Cohesion Policy and cities: the urban contribution to growth and jobs in the regions states that, in European towns "transport planning should take account of those without cars or those unable to drive (eg older people, young people and those with mobility impairments). The goal is to ensure access to jobs and services (healthcare, shopping) and to facilitate personal autonomy without reliance on the private car." 

But are cities doing enough to ensure this, and can the EU contribute further to the objective? 

  • 24-25 May 2007: EU ministers responsible for urban and spatial development to meet in Leipzig to adopt the Leipzig Charter on Sustainabe European Cities.
  • September 2007: Adoption of the Commission Green Paper on Urban Transport. 

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