Discussion on EU Transport White Paper


By URBACT, on March 31st, 2011

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Within the framework of the “Commentvisions” Sustainable Mobility theme (March) a debate was organised in the European Parliament (29th March, 2011) on the “EU white paper: a blueprint for smarter and greener transport”.

Emphasising the fundamental tenet of the internal market – free transfer of people and goods – the importance of transport for economic growth and in the daily lives of citizens is undeniable. However the white paper recognises that within the current urgency accorded to reducing greenhouse gas emissions a “business as usual” approach to transport and mobility cannot be sustained (minimum 60% reduction of GHG from transport needed by 2050 if EU energy targets are to be met).

Keir Fitch, responsible for the co-ordination of the white paper on the future of transport policy in Europe, eloquently set out the main thrust of the proposed strategy which presents a series of radical and valid objectives. So while during the debate representatives of various transport lobbies reacted with some nervousness, few  actively disputed the desirability of halving the use of conventionally fuelled cars in our cities by 2030 and phasing out by 2050, or the reaffirmation of modal shift to rail and maritime options for long distance and freight transport, or the commitments to intermodality and a zero vision on road safety, etc.

However Martin Rocholl director of the transport programme of the European Climate Foundation did place some serious counterpoints to the ambition of the document, not least concerning the lack of concrete indications of how such targets will be realistically implemented. He also raised scepticism on the option to preview most (2/3rds) of the reduction effort between 2030 and 2050 worrying that this is based on a reliance on future technological advancements which cannot be confirmed at the present and may not develop to produce the desired impact in reality. Furthermore in the discussion on alternatively fuelled vehicles the spectre of Fukushima hung heavily over the meeting – posing uncomfortable questions about energy sources to support fully-fledged emobility, for example.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the white paper is the continuing predominantly sectoral nature of the approach. The document pays lip service to urban planning and employment goals but does not appear to make structural links to location policy, transport hub development, connecting rurban hinterlands to TEN nodes…  The concept of conditional Urban Mobility Plans provides no guarantee that a more holistic methodology is in prospect.
Finally the paper clearly states that “Curbing mobility is not an option”. Within the context of attempting not to diminish people’s mobility through the measures proposed, rather to preserve that mobility, this may seem logical. However is it not that “Curbing mobility is not the solution”.  Clearly this cannot deliver the structural trend break required, but surely with the advancement of IT at our disposal – options for more tele (home)- working, virtual conferencing etc. this can also contribute to the multi-pronged package of measures which could ideally be activated as part of an improved integrated approach. Already we are seeing public authorities and private concerns seriously questioning the need for staff travel  as a consequence of crisis spending reviews.

The URBACT project EVUE (electromobility) and particularly the Lead expert Sally Kneeshaw has been actively contributing to the Comment Visions Debate on “ Is sustainable mobility about changing users behaviour or changing transport infrastructure”.

Philip Stein
Thematic Pole Manager

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