Sustainable European transport: trends and new initiatives

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   Transport is one of the EU’s most strategic common policies; among the transport modes, road transport provides for a majority of negative externalities in the transport sector. It is also the most importance mode of transport with about three-forth of intra-EU inland transport and over half of all intra-EU transport. Recent EU initiatives to revise an old transport directive intend to make transport not only intermodal but more efficient and competitive. 

    According to the EU Treaties, transport policy aims to ensure the smooth, efficient, safe and free movement of people and goods throughout the Union countries by means of integrated networks using all modes of transport (road, rail, water and air). The policy guidelines also aim to provide the EU-wide efficient, safe and environmentally friendly mobility solutions as well as creating necessary conditions for a competitive industry generating growth, jobs and services.
The EU-wide transport policy and law is also dealing with such issues as climate change, passenger rights, clean fuels and all transport-related issues; main legal instruments are those in the article 4(2,g) and the Title VI (Articles 90–100) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Transport sector’s share in the Union’s GDP is around 10 percent; about 10 million people work for the sector.
More on transport law in: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/chapter/transport.html?root_default=SUM_1_CODED=32

EU transport policy
The EU’s transport policy aims to increase mobility, remove major barriers in key areas and fuel growth and employment. The European Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy together with an Action Plan of 82 initiatives, guide the work in the field of EU transport policy for the period 2021-2024. This strategy lays the foundation for how the EU transport system can achieve its green and digital transformation and become more resilient to future crises. The result will be a 90% cut in emissions by 2050, delivered by a smart, competitive, safe, accessible and affordable transport system.
Other topics falling within the EU’s transport policy include infrastructure planning, information technology applications, security and safety, passenger rights, and international cooperation (safety, security and environmental standards-setting in international organisations).
Source: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM:eu_transport_policy

In the EU-wide transport network’s breakdown, transport in goods is dominated by road – 44%, followed by sea waterways – 41%, rail – 8% and by inland waterways – 4% (other means – 8%). In passengers’ transport the road transport is also dominant with 79%, followed by air – 5% and by rail – 6%; other means 10%.
Road transport is responsible for the majority of negative externalities in the EU-wide transport sector: a) it is the most common mode of transport with about three-forth of intra-EU inland transport and over half of all intra-EU transport (data for 2020); b) it today causes more externalities per tone kilometer of freight transport than rail, inland waterways or short sea shipping. Thus, a shift from road-only transport to intermodal transport would help to reduce the negative externalities of transport, while still ensuring the flexibility needed for freight services to reach every point in the EU member states by reducing the “road feeder-legs” between the terminals and place of loading and unloading.
Reference to: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/qanda_23_5588

Transport’s health-ecology issues
The European Green Deal adopted by the Commission in December 2019 puts emphasis on cutting air pollution, which is among the key factors affecting human health: reducing air pollution is also central in the EU-wide “zero pollution” initiative. Full implementation of the air quality standards enshrined in EU legislation is vital to effectively protect human health and safeguard the natural environment.
Based on the principle of subsidiarity, EU legislation on ambient air leaves to the member states the choice of instruments to comply with the limit values set by the EU legislation. Despite the obligation on the states to ensure good air quality for their citizens, air pollution remains a problem in many countries and the situation is being particularly serious in urban areas. Besides, air pollution remains the number one environmental health problem in the EU: according to the European Environment Agency, around 400,000 premature deaths are attributed to air pollution each year in Europe. This type of pollution is the cause of serious illnesses such as asthma, cardiovascular problems and lung cancer. Particulate matter (PM10) is mainly present in emissions from industry, traffic and home heating, but is also produced by emissions from agriculture.
More in: https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/air-quality-in-europe-2019.

    The Combined Transport Directive was last amended in 1992: for several decades it was one of the key EU law that regulated the process of reducing the negative externalities of freight transport, such as CO2 and other emissions, congestion, noise and accidents, by supporting a shift from long-distance road transport to rail, inland waterways and maritime transport.
Since then, the Commission presented two proposals to update the 1992 Directive, in 1998 and in 2017; in both cases, the amendment proposals were withdrawn by the Commission as no satisfactory agreement was reached by the co-legislators.
It is evident that some parts of the directive are becoming outdated; besides, the definition of “transport” and eligibility criteria are causing the industry practical problems; additionally, the support for transition measures were not as effective as they could be. Besides, with the newly adopted European Green Deal, the Commission proposed again to amend the directive to provide a more ambitious support framework for modal shift to make a real difference.
More in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_23_5587

Expected directive’s revision
New revision of the directive (dated from 7.10.2023) is aimed at making the intermodal transport more efficient and competitive. It refocuses support on operations that reduce by at least 40% the negative externalities compared to road-only operations between the same starting and end points.
Digital platforms established under the electronic freight transport information regulation (eFTI) will provide a calculation tool allowing transport organizers to prove whether their operation is eligible for support. They will submit the necessary information in an accessible manner and the accredited digital systems will do the rest.
The proposal sets the EU member states a competitiveness target to reduce by at least 10% the average door-to-door cost of combined transport operations within 7 years, and requires them to put in place the needed implementing policies.
A new EU gateway for intermodal transport information will provide links to all 27 member states’ national policy frameworks, as well as to practical information on national actions and measures aimed at increasing the transparency of national transport governance.
Source: https://transport.ec.europa.eu/news-events/news/european-commission-adopts-new-proposal-combining-transport-modes-more-sustainable-freight-2023-11-07_en

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