Presenting a new Green Paper on Urban Transport, Commissioner Jacques Barrot outlined a large range of potential solutions and areas where the EU could take action in order to tackle the growing congestion, pollution and safety problems in Europe’s cities.

As an increasing number of European cities suffer from congestion, noise, accidents and pollution, largely caused by excessive use of private cars, the Commission believes that it is time for a European strategy focusing specifically 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 specific situation 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.

Indeed, urban traffic accounts for more than 10% of all emissions of carbon dioxide – the principal greenhouse gas – in the EU. It is also the main source of other pollutants, including carbon monoxide and fine particulates, which pose serious health hazards, including respiratory problems such as asthma, and are estimated to cause 300,000 premature deaths each year.

Furthermore, 14,000 people lose their lives and many more are injured in urban road traffic accidents each year.

What’s more, the quasi-permanent state of congestion in and around many major cities results in an annual economic loss of nearly €100 billion or 1% of EU GDP.

The Commission has led consultations with stakeholders over the past six months to identify how the EU can help local authorities to remedy these problems, while respecting the principle of subsidiarity.

Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot formally opened the debate on how to solve Europe’s urban mobility woes with the presentation of a Green Paper entitled “Towards a new culture for urban mobility”, on 25 September 2007.

The aim is to create “free-flowing and greener towns and cities, smarter urban mobility and an urban transport which is accessible, safe and secure for all European citizens”. And, among the means suggested to achieve these goals, the Green Paper suggests:

  • Promoting less car-dependent lifestyles by making alternatives to car use (walking, cycling, public transport, scooters and motorbikes) safer and more attractive, as well as by encouraging car-sharing or car-pooling solutions and increased ‘virtual mobility’ – i.e. tele-working and tele-shopping;
  • encouraging towns and cities to implement urban charging schemes, such as those in place in London and Stockholm;
  • establishing harmonised rules for setting up urban green zones, so as to enable local authorities to implement measures such as pedestrianisation, restricted access or urban charging, without creating barriers to mobility for citizens and goods;
  • making use of Intelligent Transport Systems to improve urban traffic management and traveller information;
  • setting harmonised minimum performance standards for the opeation of vehicles;
  • supporting the introduction of clean and energy-efficient vehicles through ‘green public procurement’, which could mean including life-cycle costs for energy consumption and CO2 and other pollutant emissions in the award criteria in addition to the vehicle’s price (see LinksDossier on Green Procurement);
  • teaching new drivers and professionals to reduce consumption through ‘eco-driving’ techniques;
  • limiting transport demand growth linked to urban sprawl (due to the dispersal of home, work and leisure facilities) thanks to better urban planning, and;
    setting up a European Observatory on Urban Mobility to collect and exploit data and identify best practices.

The financing puzzle

The Commission points out that the financing needs are “huge”. They include investments in infrastructure and intermodal terminals, as well as operating costs and the maintenance and renewal of rolling stock.

“All stakeholders at local, regional, national and EU level, including users, must contribute,” it concludes.

Among the potential solutions, the Green Paper identifies:

  • A better targeting of existing sources of financing, such as the EU’s structural and cohesion funds, towards clean urban transport activities;
  • the use of urban road user charging schemes or parking charges to finance urban transport measures, and;
  • public-private partnerships.

Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot
stressed that he did not intend to “impose centralised solutions which wouldn’t suit local conditions” or try to exert control over cities, but said “local authorities and European cities should not be abandoned in managing this very delicate situation”.

For example, he said that the EU could work as a facilitator by creating a legal framework on urban tolls that would make it easier for municipalities to use these tools.

As regards financing, he said: “We have to be careful regarding the proper use of structural funds…We have to convince cities and regions to improve the way they target the use of the funds.”

Klaus Bondam, Vice-Mayor of Copenhagen and Chair of the Eurocities Mobility Forum, which represents local governments of more than 130 large cities in over 30 European countries, said the paper represented “a great step forward for all citizens living in our cities”, by emphasising the need for common solutions to the challenges faced by cities and for support and coordination at European level.

The European craft and SME employers’ organisation UEAPME warned that “solutions should not focus exclusively on the needs of private citizens as the EC seems to assume”, adding that SMEs could be “hurt by premature measures limiting urban transport without weighing up all economic consequences”. UEAPME’s Transport Coordinator Oliver Loebel commented: “At the risk of stating the obvious, the first concern of a small enterprise is survival by maintaining competitiveness. Clean technologies will be adopted if their burden is not excessive or if it is reduced by fiscal or financial incentives.”

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), which represents professionals involved in land, property, construction and environmental issues,  argues that a stronger link is needed between transport planning and land use. It calls for the development of of ‘Transport Development Areas’ or ‘self reliant sub-centres’ within cities, where high development density and good public transport services are combined, thereby reducing the need to travel between jobs, shops, leisure and housing. “Good public transport should not be confined within a single urban area,” it stressed.

Green NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) urged the Commission to come forward with a proposal on the green public procurement of vehicles, that covers not only heavy-duty vehicles and air pollution, but also other vehicle categories and also CO2 emissions.

On charging schemes, Director Jos Dings called on the Commission to “put its money where its mouth is and finally allow member states to include social and environmental costs in their national schemes”.

Italian liberal MEP Paolo Costa, who chairs the EP’s transport committee said: “So far, the EU has competence on transport but not on town planning, which is precisely where transport issues are of greatest concern as regards mobility, pollution, safety, etc. This Green Paper opens the path to a common sense approach raising to EU level a focus on the urban dimension. The EU can indeed play a catalyst role.”

Austrian MEP Reinhard Rack, from the centre-right EPP-ED group, was lukewarm, commenting: “The new Commission Green Paper on urban mobility does not seem to be a masterpiece of better legislation on a European level: Better management of parking spaces, congestion taxes and parking charges or the establishment of bicycle routes are all important issues indeed for the future of our cities – but not an encouraging sign of the Commission taking their own goals towards better legislation and reduction of bureaucracy seriously.”

German Green MEP Michael Cramer underlined the contradiction between wanting to promote alternatives to cars, such as cycling, buses and trains, while at the same time 95% of all EU co-financing in towns currently goes into streets. “At least 50% should be invested in alternative forms of transport,” he stressed.

On financing, Austrian Socialist MEP Jörg Leichtfried pointed out: “We have the miracle solution available to us: internalisation of external costs. If we manage to achieve this, we could then subsidise public transport.”

Latest & next steps:

  • 15 March 2008: Final date for stakeholders to contribute to the consultation on the Green Paper.
  • Autumn 2008: Expected action plan on urban mobility, based on the consultation.

DATED: 26th September 2007