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A sustainable future for European transport

This communication presents the results of a wide reflection on the future of the European Union (EU) transport system. It considers recent developments of the European transport policy, identifies challenges that the EU will face in the future, proposes policy objectives to address the emerging challenges in the transport sector, and suggests how the objectives can be achieved.

ACT

Commission Communication of 17 June 2009 – “A sustainable future for transport: Towards an integrated, technology-led and user friendly system” [COM(2009) 279 final– Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

Objectives for European Union (EU) transport policy were set both in the mid-term review of the White Paper 2001 and in the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) of 2006. The European transport policy has largely achieved the objectives defined in those strategy documents, by facilitating market opening and integration, by establishing high quality standards for safety, security and passenger rights and by improving working conditions.

However, the environment remains a policy area where further improvements are necessary. Within the EU, transport is the sector with the highest growth rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in comparison to levels in 1990: the transport sector has significantly increased its activity without making sufficient progress in reducing its energy use and GHG intensity.

There are several societal trends which will challenge the transport sector in the future:

  • ageing of society, requiring an increased emphasis on the provision of secure and reliable transport services, while increasing social spending and leaving less public funds for transport;
  • increasing oil scarcity, putting pressure on prices;
  • environmental challenges, as transport emissions continue to grow and local pollution is still too high;
  • migration, internal mobility and globalisation of the economy, entailing more movement of people and goods and putting strain on ports, airports and their access;
  • growing urbanisation, causing more congestion in urban areas.

Policy objectives for sustainable transport

The European transport policy aims to establish a sustainable transport system that meets the economic, social and environmental needs of society, and contributes to a fully integrated and competitive Europe. This goal can be divided into the following policy objectives:

  • quality transport that is safe and secure;
  • a well maintained and fully integrated network;
  • more environmentally sustainable transport;
  • keeping the EU at the forefront of transport services and technologies;
  • protecting transport workers and their rights as well as simultaneously developing the human capital to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the EU economy;
  • better price signals to improve economic efficiency by providing economic incentives to, for example, use the road in off-peak hours or use more environmentally friendly means of transport;
  • improving accessibility.

POLICIES FOR SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT

The Commission suggests how the following policy instruments could be best used to respond to the sustainability challenge:

Infrastructure

Integration and interoperability of the individual parts of the transport network are necessary to achieve the optimal functioning of the European transport system as a whole. The creation of new infrastructure is expensive, whereas a lot can be achieved by simply upgrading the existing network within the EU. Intelligent transport systems and European global navigation satellite systems can be used to complement and enhance the ‘traditional’ transport networks.

Funding

The transition towards a low carbon economy will require significant and well coordinated funding. The transport sector needs to become increasingly self-financing in relation to infrastructure. The Commission suggests that charges representative of the costs of congestion, air pollution, CO2 emissions, noise and accidents can provide funding for transport, while promoting more sustainable behaviour and giving better signals for investments.

Technology

There is a significant need for a technological shift towards low-emission vehicles and for the development of alternative solutions for sustainable transport. The Commission proposes fostering R&D expenditures towards sustainable mobility, for example through the European Green Cars Initiative and Joint Technology Initiatives.

The legislative framework

An increasing number of companies are active across national markets, which benefits overall economic performance and employment within the EU. The internal market needs to be completed with the removal of the remaining barriers between countries and transport modes and the reduction of administrative burdens on transport companies. The legislative framework in the transport sector needs to be developed towards harmonised environmental obligations, effective supervision, uniform protection of workers conditions and users’ rights.

Educate, inform and involve

Education, information and awareness raising campaigns have a strong influence on consumer behaviour and could facilitate sustainable mobility choices. Citizens should be better informed on the reasoning behind EU transport policy decisions and on available alternatives. Workers in the transport sector should be involved through information and consultation on the development, application and monitoring of transport policy.

Governance: effective and coordinated action

The EU transport system involves political, economic, social and technical interaction. Effective coordination will be required to ensure the interoperability of new technologies and regulatory practices and to avoid the multiplication of different systems at national level. EU level cooperation can also help urban authorities in making their transport systems more sustainable while respecting the principle of subsidiarity.

The external dimension

The EU holds a prominent position in the transport sector at a global level, setting standards which are increasingly also being adopted outside of the EU, such as EURO emission standards for road vehicles. International cooperation in the transport sector, aimed to establish interconnection of the major transport axes with neighbouring regions, should be promoted.

Last updated: 10.11.2010

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