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Green light for the European Commission’s action plan on urban mobility

Posted: 22 December 2009 | Anne Houtman, Directorate-General for Energy and Transport Internal Market and Sustainability, European Commission | No comments yet

On 30 September 2009, the European Commission adopted an action plan on urban mobility, proposing 20 specific measures to assist local, regional and national authorities in reaching their targets for sustainable urban mobility.
Europe needs sustainable urban mobility

Urban transport is of growing concern to citizens. Over 70% of the European population lives in urban areas1, and this percentage is expected to increase over the next decade. Cities need efficient transport systems to support their economy and the welfare of their inhabitants. But urban transport systems are also part of the overall European transport system. Many long distance freight and passenger journeys start or finish in urban areas.

On 30 September 2009, the European Commission adopted an action plan on urban mobility, proposing 20 specific measures to assist local, regional and national authorities in reaching their targets for sustainable urban mobility. Europe needs sustainable urban mobilityUrban transport is of growing concern to citizens. Over 70% of the European population lives in urban areas1, and this percentage is expected to increase over the next decade. Cities need efficient transport systems to support their economy and the welfare of their inhabitants. But urban transport systems are also part of the overall European transport system. Many long distance freight and passenger journeys start or finish in urban areas.

On 30 September 2009, the European Commission adopted an action plan on urban mobility, proposing 20 specific measures to assist local, regional and national authorities in reaching their targets for sustainable urban mobility.

Europe needs sustainable urban mobility

Urban transport is of growing concern to citizens. Over 70% of the European population lives in urban areas1, and this percentage is expected to increase over the next decade. Cities need efficient transport systems to support their economy and the welfare of their inhabitants. But urban transport systems are also part of the overall European transport system. Many long distance freight and passenger journeys start or finish in urban areas.

Urban areas are diverse, face different challenges and have different needs. They are best placed to define and implement urban mobility policies. But actions at local level are not taken in isolation but in the framework of European Union policy and legislation. Enhancing mobility in urban areas is closely related to a variety of policy challenges, for example, climate change, competitiveness, energy, cohesion and road safety.

The European Commission has no intention to prescribe one-size-fits all or top down solutions, but it can support, enable and encourage action at the local level. Much is to be gained from working together! This will help to bring urban mobility in Europe to the forefront of the 21st century – thus addressing the daily concerns of European citizens.

Cracks in the pavement

Opinion polls have shown that European citizens are increasingly dissatisfied with urban transport services. Nine out of ten European Union citizens believe that the traffic situation in their area should be improved2. This is hardly surprising when we consider that citizens across the European Union are affected by the way their local and regional transport functions: either as passengers or taxpayers or as road users. Two in three of all road accidents and one in three of road fatalities in the European Union happen in urban areas, with pedestrians and cyclists being the main victims.

Looking closely at urban mobility, it is essential for the success of the European Union’s overall strategies to combat climate change, while promoting economic growth and sustainable development. Road transport emits around one fifth of the total carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union. Urban traffic accounts for up to 40% of carbon dioxide emissions from road transport and for up to 70% of other pollutants from road transport. Last but not least, congestion in the European Union is often located in and around urban areas and each year costs nearly €100 billion, or 1% of the European Union’s gross domestic product.

A long journey together with the European Union

Urban transport is certainly not a new item on the European agenda. Public transport markets in urban areas have been regulated by the European Union for 40 years3, since 1969. All important policy papers on European Union transport policy since the early 1990s have addressed urban transport.

The action plan on urban mobility is a follow-up to the European Commission’s Green Paper on urban mobility4, adopted on 25 September 2007. The Green Paper put urban transport firmly in the heart of the discussions on the future of transport in Europe, while focusing the discussion around key questions of free-flowing and greener towns and cities, smarter urban mobility, and urban transport that is accessible, safe and secure for all European Union citizens. A wide consultation brought more than 400 responses and helped to direct work on the action plan.

The topic of urban mobility was also picked up by other European institutions. In April 2009, the European Parliament adopted its own-initiative report asking for an action plan on urban mobility to be quickly put on the Commissions’ agenda. At the same moment, a similar strong signal came from the Committee of Regions which also spoke out in favour of further action at the level of the European Union. Finally, in the European Commission’s Communication on a sustainable future for transport which was adopted on 17 June 2009, mobility in urban areas was identified among the key future challenges for European Union transport policy.

A breath of fresh air for urban Europe

Sustainable urban mobility is a significant challenge for towns and cities. While it is true that local, regional and national authorities are best suited to define and implement urban mobility policies, the European Union can play a major role by providing support to their efforts and by providing opportunities to enable and encourage the development of a new culture for urban mobility in Europe. The European Union can also facilitate such issues as policy debate and the exchange of best practice.

The action plan on urban mobility represents a watershed in the European Union’s involvement in the area of urban mobility, as it is for the very first time that the European Commission puts such comprehensive support at the disposal of the local, regional and national authorities. They will be able to benefit from the support that the action plan provides – not only when they are looking for solutions to facilitate their day-to-day policy making – but also when facing the broader challenges of creating and maintaining sustainable urban mobility systems in their towns and cities.

Getting the wheels rolling on specific actions…

The 20 actions in the action plan are centred around six themes that respond to the main messages from the Green Paper consultation.

Promoting integrated policies

The complexity of urban transport systems calls for coherent policy making that takes into account the different factors that impact on urban mobility solutions (environment requirements, land use planning, social aspects of mobility, industrial policy). To accelerate the take-up of sustainable urban mobility plans, which are considered an excellent planning tool by many experts, we will prepare information material, support training and launch promotional activities.

Focusing on citizen’s needs

The European Commission will look at several topics which directly affect daily life of European Union citizens. A dialogue on the rights of passengers in urban public transport will complement ongoing work in the area of passenger rights legislation. The question of accessibility of public transport in cities will be also discussed. The European Commission will discuss with Member States the question of energy-efficient driving, which can significantly contribute to energy saving. Last but not least, transport operators and authorities will be encouraged to introduce more integrated and interoperable travel information systems.

Making urban transport greener

The European Commission will assist local municipalities in their efforts to introduce new and clean transport fleets. An internet-based guide on clean and energy-efficient vehicles will provide objective information on clean and energy efficient vehicles on the market. It will help to organise joint procurement of such vehicles to facilitate the implementation of the new legislation on public procurement of clean and energy efficient vehicles. The European Commission will continue to support research and demonstration projects in such areas as lower- and zero-emission vehicles and alternative fuels.

Strengthening funding

The use of European Union funding can provide major incentives and encourage co-funding from private sources. Existing funding opportunities can be explored, along with innovative public-private partnership schemes and possible new funding schemes. The European Commission will thus endeavour to optimise existing European Union funding sources. It will also examine future funding needs in the area of urban mobility. A guidance document will be prepared on sustainable urban mobility and cohesion policy.

Supporting an exchange of know-how

Valuable sources of untapped information are available across Europe, including from projects that have been implemented through European Union funding. This information can be collected and made available to policy makers, who can capitalise on these experiences. The database will include an overview of urban mobility related legislation and financial instruments in the European Union and provide access to educational tools. The European Commission will also examine how to improve the availability of statistics. Using existing mechanisms, the European Commission will also facilitate dialogue, city-twinning, and information exchange on urban mobility with neighbouring regions and global partners.

Optimising urban mobility

An efficient transport system is characterised by effective integration, interoperability and interconnection between different transport networks and these features are to be encouraged. A high degree of road safety is of prime importance, especially with regard to vulnerable road users. Working together with stakeholders, the Commission will prepare European guidance documents on important aspects of these plans, such as urban freight distribution and intelligent transport systems for urban mobility. This guidance will provide examples of practical solutions to cities that are preparing sustainable urban mobility plans.

Action time – an urban truth!

The new action plan on urban mobility will be evaluated in 2012. It opens the door for further common action on a number of priority topics. I very much hope that this will allow us to work even closer together with relevant local, regional and national authorities, and to provide the citizens of the European Union with smoother urban mobility.

References

  1. According to United Nations figures, the proportion of the European population living in urban areas in 2007 is around 72%. By 2030 this will be close to 80%.
  2. Attitudes on issues related to EU Transport Policy. Flash Eurobarometer 206b, July 2007.
  3. Regulation (EEC) No 1191/69
  4. Towards a new culture for urban mobility. COM (2007) 551.

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