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Vice-President of the Commission, responsible for Transport
Research and innovation for smart sustainable transport
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International Transport Forum, Leipzig
27 May 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen, Excellencies,
I am very pleased to be here today to discuss some thoughts about innovating transport. I would like to briefly outline our thinking on a future EU transport policy before going into more detail on the role of innovation. I will then conclude by asking a question to which I have no innovative answer – yet.
With its "Europe 2020" strategy, Europe is laying the foundations for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The role of transport in making the economy function, regain strength and respond to new political challenges is explicitly recognised in the strategy's seven flagship initiatives. Transport is an essential backbone of our economies and, indeed, of our society. The Commission is currently preparing a new European long-term vision for the future of transport and mobility. Let me share with you some preliminary thoughts.
My view of the European transport system of tomorrow is one that is highly integrated, efficient, cross-modal, resilient and low-carbon. We need to reduce transport's dependence on fossil fuels – without negatively affecting the social and economic achievements in European mobility. We want to address infrastructure bottlenecks and tackle the remaining barriers to the single market – these are anachronistic remnants of a time of "splendid national isolation", so heavily exposed by the borderless volcanic ash cloud.
In light of the well known limitations in public funding, we are reflecting about a more effective and comprehensive funding structure, which might take the form of a dedicated European Transport Funding scheme.
I want to stress the role of people in transport. The professionals who make our transport systems work, the passengers who use them, and the clients who depend on them. Neglecting their expertise, neglecting their needs and neglecting quality and service orientation as a basis for innovation would pose a direct risk to the sustainability of transport's role in society.
Dedicated transport research and innovation initiatives remain a key feature of European transport and mobility policy.
In air transport, the Single European Sky initiative redesigns the European sky according to traffic flows rather than national borders. Its technological pillar – the SESAR programme – develops an air traffic management system that replaces an obsolete infrastructure. All this will cut the cost of flying by half and will reduce the environmental impact of flights by 10%. It will improve capacity, reliability and the very good safety record of European airspace. The ash cloud made it evident: the Single European Sky has to be in place as soon as possible.
The European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) will put an end to the current patchwork of often incompatible national systems. River Information Services (RIS) support inland waterways as a reliable, flexible and easy-to-access transport mode. Their design, similar to the sea shipping information system, allows further integration between seas and rivers. This, together with our focus on e-Maritime services, will limit administrative burden and facilitate integrated freight management.
Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) and research projects contribute significantly to a cleaner, safer and more efficient mobility on the road. The ITS action plan and the forthcoming ITS directive focus, among other things, on real-time traffic information services; multimodal travel information; and better vehicle–infrastructure connections.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The recent closures of European airspace show us: all transport modes should be interlinked, as part of one integrated system. The ash crisis led to more than 100,000 cancelled flights and more than 10 million passengers unable to travel. We do not want to face this situation again. In the event of major disruptions of one mode of transport, other modes should be able to assist. The current planning and ticketing systems, focussing on a single transport mode or regional or national borders, are not really capable of addressing this concern. Research is going on and researchers and professionals, for instance in the "Link" forum under the EU's research programme, make strong recommendations to move in this direction.
Whenever I ask companies why we do not succeed in moving more freight to more sustainable and less congested transport modes, they tell me it is simply not possible to organise a flexible, fast and reliable co-modal shipment – at least not for the majority of smaller companies. I cannot believe this is insurmountable. Our e-Freight project, just recently started, is one answer to this bottleneck. I am ready to accompany innovative IT solutions in this domain with infrastructure support in the upcoming revision of the guidelines for the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).
I am convinced that the potential for intelligent transport systems can only be fully realised in Europe if we move from a limited and fragmented approach to a coordinated one. Here, we need more Europe: not by taking everything into our own hands, but by supporting the right framework conditions – the policy priorities, legal certainty, possibly the choice of generic ITS components to be shared or re-used, and agreement on a clear timetable.
In this context, I see the forthcoming ITS directive as a powerful tool to foster innovation and technological development in transport. It will allow the Commission to adopt specifications that ensure interoperability of systems and continuity of services – following careful consultation and assessment, and without infringing on the right of decision-makers or industry to favour or develop solutions according to their particular needs. It will be a useful tool to drive agreement on the necessary approaches and standards and allow industry and public authorities to make secure and effective investment decisions.
Innovation is often the fruit of long-term, complex research and strategic thinking. What matters is that we agree on the ultimate objectives we would like our economies and societies reach in, at least, the next 50 years. My portfolio as transport Commissioner combines transport research with the development of policy and infrastructure. I therefore look at research, innovation and deployment as one integrated chain. Building on the upcoming Transport White Paper, I plan to present in 2011 a dedicated strategic transport technology plan to define the priorities for research, technological development, demonstration and take-up for the coming years.
Already now we see that key issues will attract further private investment whilst re-focusing our efforts on the most promising technologies; ensure competitiveness on the global scene and a better streamlining of often dispersed initiatives at EU academic level. Why not gather together Europe's "best brains" for free exchanges of ideas while ensuring an effective protection of intellectual property rights?
Before concluding, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to put before you a question that has been on my mind even before I took up my responsibilities as Commissioner for transport.
Why can I not yet plan or book my journey through Europe, switching from air to rail or sea, to urban or road transport – in one single go, online?
Today I can book a flight and rent a car on one site. Another site links road, rail and urban transport – even bicycle lanes. Very good, but limited to one city or one region. No integrated travel planning, not to speak about ticketing. Yet, in many areas of Europe, inter-modal journeys are every day a reality: from the airport to the train to urban transport; from train to a bus to a ferry. People and freight start their journey in one region and end in another.
I would like to use this occasion to pose an innovation challenge to industry and stakeholders: Come up with demonstrations of real European multimodal journey planners! Ideally enhanced by reservation and ticketing facilities, to provide seamless ticketing and travel. Millions of passengers could do their travel more easily; thousands of tonnes of cargo could do it – faster; more reliable; greener; with new passenger services and business opportunities.
I know the obstacles are plentiful – legal, technical, political. But let me assure you we are ready to listen and ready to play our part in removing or reducing these barriers to innovation. I am prepared to host a major demonstration event to showcase and test the results of such a competition for the best and smartest new services, to the benefit of passengers and industry alike.
Research and innovation will play a key role in our moving towards an integrated, low-carbon and highly competitive transport. A system that effectively cares for citizens and businesses. For this to succeed, we need to think in an integrated and modular way: across transport modes and across borders. Innovation builds very often on adding the missing link, providing the next added service level.
Innovation is not only about technology. It has also a soft side. Caring for one's passengers, clients, employees and their needs helps in identifying innovative solutions and new business opportunities. Service orientation is a must.
Interoperability and shared standards and approaches are essential – in all necessary freedom to compete and develop and fine tune sector-specific or regional solutions. Let compatibility be built in to sustain innovation. We are ready to deliver our bit at European level.
Don't expect the EU to develop monolithic solutions on its own. This is not our political conviction nor is it our economic rationale. Yes, the EU is ready to support with targeted funding and with accompanying legal and operational frameworks, but it is for the private sector to take up the challenge and present innovative solutions.
Thank you for your attention.