EU looks to ease traffic gridlock
Author: Robin Pomeroy
As the flip side to growing prosperity, the European Union faces a massive increase in demand for transport - 25 percent more passenger traffic with 10 years and almost 40 percent more freight, the Commission warned in its strategy paper.
Unchecked, the result would be more pollution, congestion and accidents and a continued increase in road transport at the expense of most other modes, the EU executive said.
The policy paper on improving all aspects of transport, "European transport policy for 2010: time to decide" will feed into discussions between transport and environment ministers from the 15-nation bloc who meet in Brussels this weekend.
Among its some 60 policy recommendations is a plan to radically alter the way transport infrastructure is funded.
FUNDS FROM ROAD TO RAIL
The Commission will propose a law next year that would lead to distance-based fees for road use, rather than flat rates such as an annual tax, which do nothing to discourage motoring.
Such plans would initially be aimed at truckers rather than private motorists, EU officials said.
The law would also allow money from these road-use charges to be ploughed into the railways, currently not allowed under EU rules.
The Community of European Railways (CER) hailed the strategy as great news for the sector. "The guidelines are the best the railways could have hoped for," CER Secretary General Anna Ottavianelli told Reuters.
But the road freight lobby called the strategy "naive" for failing to acknowledge the need for more roads to cope with the inevitable growth in transport demand.
"We accept the diagnosis, we mainly accept the (Commission's) forecasts, but we question the prescription," the International Road Transport Union's Soren Rasmussen said.
The haulage organisation said that, at worst, the Commission's ideas could stifle economic growth by failing to provide sufficient transport provision to keep goods moving.
The strategy envisages extra funding to freight railways, coastal shipping and "intermodal" facilities, which allow freight to be switched quickly from road to rail or water.
Despite the emphasis on "environmentally friendly" transport modes, green campaigners were unimpressed by the strategy.
"It falls far short of the objectives which were promised," Frazer Goodwin, policy director at European Federation for Transport and Environment, said. The group wants EU policies to discourage growth in demand for transport for passengers and goods.
But transport safety campaigners were delighted by the focus on passengers, particularly a target to halve road deaths by the end of the decade from the current annual level of 41,000.
"It will mean that the EU over 10 years will have to achieve more than what the best performers, Britain and Sweden, have achieved in the last 10 years," Jeanne Breen, executive director of the European Transport and Safety Council, said.