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Vice President of the European Commission
Europe’s urban environment: using transport to make our cities work
Brussels Metropolitan Conference
Brussels, 13 March 2014
Ladies and gentlemen
Urban transport has become something of a symbol for me.
It was the theme of an informal meeting of EU transport ministers in Spain when I started my mandate almost exactly four years ago.
And since my mandate as European Transport Commissioner is soon coming to an end, it looks like we have come full circle.
Cities are, and always will be, places of exchange: of goods and of ideas. At their best, they are exiting, attractive and dynamic places to live and work.
In Europe we have some of the world’s most successful and attractive cities – with 8 of the top 20 most visited last year.
More than 70% of European Union citizens live in urban areas. With their concentration of trade, business and "people expertise", cities generate 85% of the EU’s gross domestic product. They are the drivers of economic growth.
But they are also where many of transport’s negative impacts are felt the most.
We know that urbanisation is a growing trend. By 2050, that share of European city-dwellers will have risen to 85%.
Many European towns and cities already suffer from severe congestion and substandard air quality. They account for roughly a quarter of all CO2 emissions from transport. Put together, the annual cost of health problems and traffic delays runs into many billions of euros.
It is also a big public concern.
A large majority – more than 70% - of those interviewed in a recent Eurobarometer survey said they viewed congestion, air quality and accidents as serious problems in European cities.
Even more worrying is that only 24% of people think that the situation will improve in the future. More think that it will just get worse.
Successful and beautiful cities don't happen by accident. You get what you plan for. If you plan for attractive, clean, efficient and socially integrated cities – that is what you should get. But without proper long-term planning and attention, you end up with a sprawling traffic-choked urban jungle.
Fortunately, Europe hasn’t yet slid into that level of city chaos.
However, it is this city – Brussels – that has been named as the most congested in Europe. Not something to be proud of. Especially since there are several alternatives to cars for getting around Brussels: train, tram, bus, and metro, as well as cycling and walking.
I do know there are ideas and projects that aim to reduce the pressure of car traffic by 20% by 2018, for example, and a plan to turn Brussels into an exemplary pedestrian city by 2040. This shows that Brussels is developing a long-term strategy to develop its urban area and transport system.
But 2040 is a long way away.
Since I am on the subject of Brussels, I would briefly like to mention the Rue de la Loi project, for which an international competition to redesign a large part of the European Quarter was held in 2008 when I was Commissioner for Administrative Affairs and Building Policy.
This street next to my office is a drab monotonous corridor of heavy traffic. You could call it an avenue … but it still looks more like a slow-moving motorway.
The original idea was to transform it into an open animated street with much less traffic, laying the foundations for a future “eco-district”. This was one of the key factors for improving the quality of life in the area.
Unfortunately, some of these ambitious objectives have been cancelled, particularly regarding transport. I sincerely hope that Belgium will continue to invest in better public transport in and around Brussels and that an initiative will be taken soon to tackle traffic issues on Rue de la Loi.
Ladies and gentlemen
Since most trips originate or end in urban areas, cities are important nodes of the European transport network. It is essential to link them together properly, especially across borders – by rail, road or waterborne transport.
The new policy for the Trans-European Transport Network, especially its concept of corridors that combine different means of travel, will do just this. It will be the future of EU transport. To make sure it becomes a reality, it is backed up by hard cash: dedicated infrastructure financing, in the form of the Connecting Europe Facility.
Let me give you just one local example of how we are building essential cross-border connections: the Diabolo project, which will link Brussels Airport by rail to the eastwards Brussels-Leuven line and the new northwards Brussels-Antwerp line.
This will allow future high-speed services running between London, Paris, Amsterdam and Cologne to call at the airport – and turn it finally into a truly international rail station.
This key rail link will link Brussels to two core European transport corridors.
Urban transport has been high on the EU political agenda for a long time – and there are many EU-supported projects showing that it is possible to make the transition to sustainable urban transport.
Take the CIVITAS programme, which promotes city initiatives for low-emission vehicles, improved safety and reduced congestion.
Just a few among the hundreds of its success stories would be the public transport ticketing system in Estonia’s capital Tallinn; or Stockholm, which has replaced its public buses with clean vehicles running on biogas and ethanol; and the new traffic control system for Bologna in Italy.
As we plan for necessary long-term changes to Europe’s urban environments, we keep long-term policy objectives in mind. One of these is to halve the use of conventionally-fuelled cars in urban areas by 2030 and phase them out by 2050. City logistics should be essentially CO2-free in major urban centres by 2030.
The Commission is supporting EU countries to develop and implement sustainable urban mobility plans.
These span many different policy areas and sectors: transport, land-use and spatial planning, environment, economic development, social policy, health and road safety. They work across different levels of government and administration.
The idea is to promote cleaner local transport, especially public transport. This is a very efficient way to use road space and reduce congestion and pollution.
Another EU initiative for reducing city pollution is to promote more use of alternative fuels. Cities are a showcase of what we can achieve on a wider scale for large-scale deployment of such fuels to reduce Europe’s dependence on oil.
However, their use is being held back by the high cost of vehicles, a low level of consumer acceptance, and lack of recharging and refuelling stations. Even though several cities are already investing in recharging infrastructure, it is far from enough. Europe needs a proper supply network for alternative fuels.
So I have proposed that Member States build minimum infrastructure for fuels such as electricity, hydrogen and natural gas – to go hand-in-hand with common EU standards for the equipment needed.
This ambition will be underpinned by technological advance, so I am pleased to see a good deal more EU funding for transport research and development in the Horizon 2020 programme. Here, urban transport, logistics, green vehicles and infrastructures are priority areas.
With its positive impact on the urban environment, innovation will help to solve city transport problems with newer, safer vehicles and systems - and keep Europe a world leader in manufacturing transport equipment.
We are looking closely at intelligent transport systems, city logistics, access restrictions and green zones, and will continue to help Member States to develop these in cities.
But technology on its own is not enough. It also has to be deployed on the ground. We can help that to happen by identifying and removing barriers that prevent full-scale implementation of innovative technologies.
It is one of the main aims of our Smart Cities initiative, which will build on the success of existing projects like CIVITAS.
This is not an EU funding programme, but a partnership that brings together people, business and organisations to integrate different aspects of innovative technology across the transport, energy and ICT sectors. There is a great deal of unexploited potential to connect these three sectors better, to improve the urban environment and increase the efficiency of how a modern city functions.
Smart Cities will operate via annual calls for projects to cover the areas where the three sectors are closely linked. The aim is to produce commercial-scale results and help companies which find it too risky to move towards quick deployment of innovative technologies. I encourage you to look at the ongoing calls for Smart Cities and the Invitation for Commitments of the European Innovation Partnership on the Smart Cities Platform. There are plenty of opportunities.
Ladies and gentlemen
For Europe to remain home to some of the world’s most successful and attractive cities, we should plan and act now so that our cities can cope with the challenges and demands that rising urbanisation will inevitably bring.
The various EU initiatives and activities I have just outlined will help to do this. They are also the topics I would like to see debated in the Business Summit I am organising on the 27 March, driving transport in the future and in the urban realities of the future is essential for all our partners.
We want to create significant opportunities for innovative European businesses in the global marketplace, make our cities more attractive places to live and help Europe to deliver on its wider climate agenda.
I believe they also fit in well with your own development themes.
Transport is “part and parcel” of the urban environment. It’s why we have designed European transport policy to play a key part in the longer-term thinking for our cities, so they will stay clean, smart, sustainable and attractive.
Thank you for your attention.