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SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT: Why does it matter and what can we do?

Submitted by on 30 Sep 2015 – 09:00

The growth of urban population combined with widespread use of cars has led to increasing congestion and a rising level of air pollution and transportation collisions.  Member of European Parliament and former Transport Minister for Finland Merja Kyllonen discusses why europe’s transport policy needs some bold and ambitious steps to attain sustainability

FI As a former minister for transport in Finland, I am in love with transport. Yes, transport. The infrastructure that makes our societies and cities run smoothly. The backbone of integrity and competitiveness in Europe. I love the nitty-gritty of transport regulation, but even more I love the opportunities transport offers: access to education, participation in society, social interaction, imports and exports. Transport is in my opinion a crucial lubricant for the employment and value creation of economy. It is also one of the most important services for European citizens.Therefore the transport policy implemented in EU, national, regional and local level really makes the difference.

At the EU level, both the Commission and the Parliament are working with long-term transport policy guidelines for Europe, evaluating and re-thinking Transport White Paper 2011. The European Parliament is currently also drafting its position on sustainable urban mobility. The update and facelift of transport policy are now needed. The transport sector and the world around us have really changed in the last few years. A dramatically different view is now required, especially in terms of environmental and climate issues, but also in terms of digitalization and the boom of sharing economy.

Emissions must be cut
The need to reduce the emissions of transport system is by far the biggest challenge for European transport policy. There is an undeniable need to drastically cut emissions both in logistics and in passenger transport. Today more people are killed by harmful effects of transport emissions than by traffic accidents.

The White Paper of Transport 2011 already set ambitious targets for decarbonization of transport. Unfortunately, there has been more talk than action. New bold and ambitious steps forward are needed especially in urban transport. It is worth noticing that smart and sustainable urban mobility is definitely not of interest only to the big cities or metropolises in Europe.

Instead, in many cases, it is exactly the smaller cities and towns which have a privilege of shorter distances and thus easier promotion of sustainable solutions based on local conditions.

Digitalisation offers its helping hand
The ever-increasing digitalization in transport is not the enemy but a friend. It´s an influential way to improve (the terribly low) productivity of transport system. Our beloved cars, for example, are used for less than 5 percent of their lifetime. The ”default settings” based on private ownership of cars as the backbone of everyday transportation should be questioned.

Shared transport (car sharing, ride sharing etc.) is also a trend that has made a strong entry to transport. If we take advantage of these new modes of transport, the number of cars in urban areas could be reduced by 90 %! This would mean more space for green areas, new cycling lanes or fantastic new playgrounds for us all.

New kind of transport services
I am convinced that the transport markets will be transformed, and the change is already happening.

The boom of new transport services is bubbling under, eager to make the European transport system more efficient and provide new tailor-made services to customers. I am also pretty sure that there are many much-needed new jobs and new businesses just waiting for an opportunity in the transport sector.

This is challenging in terms of existing legislation. Regulators have to make their choice now: whether to protect the current, traditional market structure and the traditional way of provision of transport services, or whether to give some space for the new forms of transportation, shared transport and services of the digital era. The underestimation of indisputable demand is the underestimation of the voice of customers: in Europe alone there are already more than twenty million people using some kind of new services.

The speed of technological evolution and development is of course extremely rapid and it is almost impossible for regulators to follow. Therefore it might be more useful to keep an open mind: we should think about transport differently, and also take bold steps towards a more enabling regulative environment which is now needed.

Regulative focus has to shift to consumer protection and to ensuring a level playing field for market actors. More attention should also be paid to ease market access and to enable true competition between different transport modes by harmonizing the regulatory framework in different transport modes. However, we must not sacrifice our high standards of working conditions, the fair taxation and the respect for environment in the process – these are the golden values that contribute to a European success story, not something that we should let go.

© Harry Schiffer, Eltis

European transport policy is all too often arguments about funding, core networks or investments in infrastructure. All this is also important, but I find it sad that in the 21st century we still find it easier to build a tunnel through a mountain than make an enabling regulative framework for new transportation services.

We could use less money and more brains.

Whilst improving energy efficiency should be one of the top priorities of European transport policy, we should also be aware that the problems of harmful environmental effects or congestion will not disappear through the introduction of cleaner engines and fuels alone.
Instead, there is an acute need to improve the efficiency of transport system as a whole. We need to use the existing capacity more efficiently and improve the utilizisation rate of vehicles. We must also ensure that the public financing is allocated to measures with highest impacts both on national and EU level.

The need of the hour is a new European model for transport. I would be very eager to see Europe as a trend-setter for high-quality, customer-orientated and efficient sustainable transport system for the entire world. There is huge potential to create a new green economy and new jobs, and the market potential is not only in Europe. There are already many interesting visions of how this all can be done,”The Mobility as a Service” concept (developed in Finland!) being one of the most promising.

The momentum of making these visions into reality is now.