Smart moves are needed in the EU

By Peter Staelens, Coordination European Mobility Week

BRUSSELS - A decade ago, the European Commission started preparing the Transport White Paper which, by the time of its release on 12 September 2001, included roughly 60 measures to combat the largest transport problems by 2010. Action was needed to further stimulate and harmonise the growing sector, but also to harness the many social, environmental and economic problems facing the European transport system. Loyola de Palacio, former commissioner for energy and transport, noted in her foreword that "If nothing is done, the cost of congestion will, on its own, account for 1% of the EU's gross domestic product in 2010".

"Nine out of ten EU citizens believe that the traffic situation in their area should be improved."

Various of these and other measures have been implemented over the years, leading to improvements in air traffic and freight transport. Nevertheless, issues such as climate change and energy security have been propelled to the centre stage, while old problems still persist ten years later. Notably in urban areas, where more than 72% of the European population lives, transport-related problems have been a growing concern for policy makers and citizens alike. Nine out of ten EU citizens believe that the traffic situation in their area should be improved. Progress has been made, but more short, medium and long term action is required.

The Commission's Action Plan on Urban Mobility, released one year ago, stressed the need for practical actions in six different themes, to be launched progressively until 2012. It calls for research and implementation, intelligent transport systems and a focus on citizens. In the longer term, the need for a holistic approach becomes even more pronounced. For example, the recent project undertaken for the European Commission, "EU Transport GHG: Routes to 2050?", highlighted the need for economic, regulatory, technological and communicative policy measures.

A holistic approach is also forwarded by the recently published European Environment Agency's TERM 2009 report. The report compares Avoid, Shift and Improve (ASI) policies to find the highest reduction in GHG emissions in the transport sector. The authors conclude that policy packages combining all three, i.e. avoiding unnecessary mobility, shifting to more sustainable modes and supporting (technical) improvements, give the greatest saving potential. A successful policy thus utilises different instruments, from smart planning and management to information dissemination, to reach the best results.

If we are to make smart moves for the future of transport in urban areas, we should opt for a diverse package of measures such as forwarded by the ASI approach. Initiatives like the European Mobility Week, currently the largest global awareness-raising campaign on sustainable mobility, can play an essential role in any such approach. In particular to create the new culture of urban mobility deemed necessary to complement and support the regulatory, economic and technological instruments. And with that, contribute to more energy efficient, less congested and healthier cities for us to live in.

16 september 2010

De Nederlandse vertaling van dit opiniestuk is eerder verschenen in Change Magazine, "Duurzame mobiliteit langs de meetlat, resultaten en kansen", jaargang 6, nummer 2.

Bij dat artikel is per abuis de verkeerde functietitel van Peter Staelens vermeld. Die dient "Coordination European Mobility Week" in Brussel zijn.