Commission adopts new transport guidelines

The European Commission has adopted a set of policy guidelines, in advance of the publication of its Common Transport Policy White Paper this September, which aim to shift travellers from road to rail, sea and canals.

The guidelines, which form the basis for around 60 proposals, set out a framework for developing a transport policy that aims to support economic competitiveness and sustainable development, and which are intended to gradually decouple transport growth from economic growth.

The preamble predicts that economic growth to 2010 will lead to an increase in goods traffic of 38% and a 24% hike in passenger traffic, worsening the existing congestion experienced in urban centres and the main trans-European corridors. An extra three million cars a year are being added to the EU road network. While this growth is likely to stabilise in the existing EU, the same is not true for accession countries where cars are seen as a symbol of freedom.

Loyola de Palacio, vice president of the Commission in charge of energy and transport, warned that “in the long term, the economic competitiveness of the Union will be compromised, pressure on the environment and congestion will reduce safety and the quality of life.”

The guidelines recommend supporting rail, maritime transport and inland waterways to bring their market share back to 1998 levels, to achieve a re-balancing of the modes. This action plan is the first concrete outcome of the EC’s sustainable development strategy, which called for a shift in the balance between transport modes through infrastructure investment geared to rail, inland waterways, short sea shipping and inter-modal operations.

“This approach is far more ambitious than it looks, bearing in mind the historical imbalance in favour of road for the last 50 years,” said Ms Palacio.

Road now carries 44% of the goods transported across Europe, compared to 41% for short sea shipping, 8% for rail and just 4% for inland waterways.

When it comes to passenger travel, the disparity between the travel modes is even more marked – road takes 79% of the market, with air at 5%, and about to overtake rail, which appears to have peaked at 6%. The preamble notes that if nothing is done to rectify the situation between now and 2010, road goods vehicle traffic alone will increase by nearly 50%.

Rail is seen as key to achieving re-balancing for goods traffic. Opening markets is the priority, which will entail harmonising inter-operability and safety standards, and the creation of dedicated freight routes.

For shipping, ‘sea motorways’ are envisaged, and a promotion of re-flagging as many ships as possible to Community registers. A pan-European maritime traffic management system will also be developed.

A new financial support programme, code-named Marco Polo, will target initiatives to make inter-mode transport competitive and economically viable. Technical harmonisation and inter-operability between systems, particularly for container traffic, are seen as the final elements in the plan.

The EC also proposes to boost funding to trans-frontier projects that cross natural barriers or projects aimed at removing existing bottlenecks on borders with candidate countries. There is also a proposal to levy tolls or fees on an entire area while a trans-frontier project is under construction, so that it receives an ‘income’ even before it is operational.

Of significant interest to British hauliers will be the proposal to align infrastructure charging and fuel taxation for commercial users. The proposal will entail integrating external costs to encourage transport modes with a lower environmental impact and fund infrastructure investment.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie