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Why should Europe embrace multimodality?

Submitted by on 28 Sep 2015 – 09:47

Rising greenhouse gas emissions and global temperatures highlight the imminence of developing a sustainable culture towards mobility. Yet, which road should we take to initiate such a culture in a society that is predominantly urban? In an exclusive interview with Janani Krishnaswamy, Commissioning Editor of Government Gazette, Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport, shares her vision for a sustainable transport network and explains how multimodality can be an compelling approach towards a resource-efficient transport system

© European Parliament/Violeta Bulc

Transport systems worldwide are facing innumerous challenges. Urbanisation, globalisation and climate change are three such challenges which have a profound impact on infrastructure and transport. Expanding highways, rising demand for road space and limited parking availability have become major challenges for the passer-by, the passenger or the commercial driver in urban jungles.


Most European countries have experienced speedy urban expansion and greater than before use of motor vehicles. According to the UN World Urbanization Prospects, 2011, nearly 74 percent of Europe’s population lives and works in cities and towns, and by 2050 some 82 percent of the continent’s population will be concentrated in urban areas. Moreover, road transport contributes to nearly one-fifth of EU’s total emissions of carbon dioxide.

While urban transport is an important starting place for greenhouse gas emissions, recent evidence from the European Society of Cardiology suggests that vehicular air pollution is the leading cause of heart diseases. The traffic jamming caused by resource-inefficient transportation systems has reportedly caused deaths of more than 10,000 people every day in Europe.

With the degree of car reliance undeniably growing, the day is not too far when all trips taken by millions and millions of city residents and visitors will be by car. With cities and towns across Europe already facing the same kind of problems caused by transport and traffic, congestion, accidents and pollution, findings of a few recent studies are highly disturbing and imply that urban mobility calls for a total re-think.

Back in 2012, when the UN Secretary-General launched his five-year agenda, he identified sustainable transportation as an important means to a sustainable society. He insisted on the pressing need for imperative action on developing sustainable modes of transport to minimize the negative impacts on the environment.

Unfortunately, there is no single solution to solve all these major transportation challenges.

It takes an objective grouping of incremental strategies to design and build a safe, resource-efficient, multimodal network that is incorporated within these urban jungles.

Munich walking in city centre

© Harry Schiffer, Eltis/Munich – Walking in city centre

Re-inventing the wheel
Creating a roadmap towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system, the European Commission adopted 40 concrete initiatives to build a competitive transport system that will increase mobility, remove major barriers in key areas and fuel growth and employment. Several European cities and towns are increasingly becoming convinced of shifting towards more sustainable modes of transport such as public transport, cycling and walking. In fact, intermodality and its corollary multimodality have become synonymous to sustainable urban mobility.

The European Commission’s key goals of phasing out conventionally-fuelled cars in cities, promoting the development of intelligent systems for interoperable ticketing and embracing multimodality might soon become a reality. In an exclusive interview with Janani Krishnaswamy (JK), European Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc (VB) discusses the key mandates of the European Commission in achieving sustainable mobility.

JK: As Europe gears up to host the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK in over 2,000 towns and cities across Europe, what does the European Commission want to achieve in terms of sustainable transport?
VB: We want to address the challenges generated by urban traffic: congestion, air quality, CO2 emissions, road safety, and noise. The Commission’s White Paper on Transport, adopted in 2011, listed ambitious objectives such as the reduction by half of the use of ‘conventionally-fuelled’ cars in urban transport by 2030. We must continue to work towards these goals. This requires a close cooperation with the national and local authorities, which can best address urban planning. Back in 2013, we also proposed an Urban Mobility Package which established procedures and EU financial support for the development of local “Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans.” It recommended coordinated action specifically in urban logistics, urban access regulations, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) deployment in urban areas and urban road safety. We are currently developing many additional guidelines and tools and urban mobility will definitely remain high on our agenda in the coming years.

JK: In achieving sustainable urban transport, what is at stake at the moment? What will be the main challenges ahead in your mandate?
VB: The first challenge is the decarbonisation of urban transport, in line with the objectives set in the Transport White Paper. To do so, it is urgent to develop alternative-fuelled vehicles and their recharging and refuelling infrastructure. Last October, the EU adopted a Directive, which foresees the deployment of electric charging points and alternative fuels filling-stations in urban and suburban areas all across Europe. We now have to ensure that it is correctly implemented. Decarbonisation also requires a shift from private motorized transport to public transport, cycling and even walking for the shortest distances. Intelligent Transport Systems can contribute to it. Finally, road safety is a never-ending challenge, which I will continue to tackle.

JK: What are some key issues the European Commission hopes to address in the near future? Essentially, what’s Commissioner Bulc’s vision for EU transport?
VBMy vision is of a seamless, competitive and sustainable transport. To implement it during my mandate, I will focus on the digitalisation of transport, on decarbonisation through the use of alternative fuels, on electrification based on alternative fuels and on the internationalisation of European transport. I will also build on the work of my predecessor to remove all technical and administrative barriers in the transport sector. In the near future, my action will also focus on aviation. The sector is facing a number of challenges, which we need to address. In December I will propose a new aviation strategy. Its objective will be to make the EU’s aviation sector more competitive internationally; while maintaining the highest level of safety worldwide.

JK: How can multimodal transport be an effective way towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system? What are the commitments of the European Commission in improving multimodality?
VBCars still represent 72% of all passenger transport. While cars provide an available door-to-door transport mode, they are rarely the optimal mode to use from an energy efficiency and sustainability perspective. Multimodality is a preferable alternative as it involves at least a partial use of more efficient modes, such as urban public transport, coach or rail. To encourage a change of habits, citizens need to be given the right incentives: multi-modality will only work if it is easy and reliable. In particular, through-tickets and multi-modal journey planners are prerequisites. This requires a high degree of integration across the modes: information, management and payment systems must be interoperable. The ITS Directive provides a good basis for further progress. An impact assessment is currently ongoing in view of an initiative for fair and equal access to multimodal travel and traffic data. Another important aspect is to guarantee the protection of passenger rights during multi-modal journeys. Currently, these are not covered by EU legislation, which risks acting as another deterrent. Following an impact assessment, the Commission may come up with a legislative proposal by 2017.