Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot has outlined his vision of the future Green Paper on urban transport, following four months of stakeholder consultations, which revealed that Europeans do want the EU to take action in this area, which is traditionally reserved for local authorities.

With an increasing number of European cities suffering heavily from congestion, noise, accidents and pollution largely caused by excessive use of private cars, the Commission will in Autumn present proposals for a European strategy on urban transport.

While urban issues are generally subject to the subsidiarity principle, which requires solutions to be developed at local level, in order to respect the specifities of each city, the Commission believes that the scale of the problems faced by urban areas and their spread mean that local administrations cannot manage the situation in isolation.

The Commission, on 4 June, presented the main results of four months of stakeholder consultations aimed at identifying whether and how the EU could contribute to improving urban mobility, while respecting the principle of subsidiarity.

Two thirds of the 900 respondents said that the EU must take action so as to tackle transport problems in urban areas, arguing that congestion and pollution are the most important challenges.

70% said that improving public transport services should be a priority, with 90% agreeing that all public transport vehicles should be clean and energy efficient.

Other priority areas include the exchange of best practices, the promotion of RTD activities, and initiatives to increase the market acceptance of new technologies, as well as innovative and intelligent transport solutions.

Speaking at the final stakeholder conference on 4 June, Commission Vice-President, Jacques Barrot, in charge of transport, stressed the importance of urban mobility, not only in fighting climate change, but also for improving the everyday life of European citizens.

Based on the results of the consultations, he outlined the “skeleton” of the future Green Paper, at the final stakeholder conference on 4 June, saying that it would first and foremost focus on the financing of infrastructure and rolling stock.

He stressed the need for a balanced approach between passengers and freight, and underlined the importance of developing green propulsion methods and intelligent transport systems.

Furthermore, he said that the paper would pay attention to demographic trends and the ageing population and highlight the role of taxis as a chain in the public transport network. He also proposed establishing a European Charter of rights and obligations for citizens using public transport and suggested Erasmus-style exchanges for city planners in order to promote the spread of good practice.

He concluded: “My idea is not to impose solutions but to enable them. The Green Paper must be a toolbox at the disposal of the deciders in our cities.”

Representing the German Presidency, Achim Grossman, secretary of state for the traffic ministry, stressed that mobility is “one of the basic requirements for our society to function”, adding that a functioning transport system is “of major economic significance”.

MEP Paolo Costa, president of the Parliament’s transport committee, stressed the importance of strengthening Community competences on urban-related issues, saying that the EU would fail in the vast majority of its policy objectives if it did were not tackle urban issues. “Either we deal with the problems of cities, or we cannot deal with the major challenges facing Europe, such as energy supply, road safety and pollution,” he said. He called for a “policy of radical alternatives”, where private transport would be made redundant, adding that progress can only be achieved through “drastic measures”.

The International Association of Public Transport (UITP) stressed that the role of the EU Institutions is to set the “framework conditions” that will enable “appropriate” local and regional policies.

These should include, among others, a mandatory requirement for cities to establish sustainable urban transport plans; increased financing of public transport infrastructure through EU structural funds; rules for the standardisation and interoperability of transport systems between member states and measures to facilitate the cross border enforcement of traffic offences.

The group also called for an urban transport officer to be appointed in each Directorate General of the Commission to ensure that contradicting initiatives with a negative effect on urban mobility are avoided.

In a joint letter to Barrot, European cities, regions, transport authorities and operators called for the Green Paper to support the reduction of dependency on the private car and the shift towards more sustainable modes of transport, including public transport, cycling and walking. They also urged the Commission to tackle the question of appropriate financing of sustainable urban mobility solutions, stressing that this is a “major challenge”.

Eurochambres  told the Commission not to plan on imposing new legislation and to continue keeping the subsidiarity principle in mind when finalising the Green Paper. Secretary General Arnaldo Abruzzini said: “In general, the business community supports initiatives that contribute to creating a level playing field throughout the EU. However, because of the diversity of urban areas in terms of size, topography, financial situation, demographic structure and local business activities, common solutions are bound to work well only for some cities, while they might be completely inappropriate for other urban areas. In this case, one size does not fit all.”

The association would rather see the EU contribute to the financing of research and pilot projects for innovative transport solutions, promote best practice exchanges and raise awareness among cities of the repercussions their activities may have on a wider area.