The European Commission (EC) published its anticipated 2011 White Paper on transport this week, which outlines the European Union’s passenger and freight transport policy direction and objectives over the coming decades. As anticipated in draft reports, the paper sets a headline target of a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (from 1990 levels). It also calls for greater integration of the EU’s internal market for transport, including an overhaul of railway legislation, the lifting of national restrictions such as cabotage, and a more efficient and comprehensive financing and charging mechanism to fund the network.
“Transport 2050 is a roadmap for a competitive transport sector that increases mobility and cuts emissions,” said EC vice president Siim Kallas, responsible for transport. “Competitive transport systems are vital to Europe’s ability to compete in the world, for economic growth, job creation and for peoples’ everyday quality of life. Curbing mobility is not an option; neither is business as usual.”
Moving medium distances off road
As discussed last week during a dinner debate of EC policymakers and ministers at the European Parliament, hosted by the European Association of Vehicle Logistics (ECG), the paper’s target of a 60% reduction in emissions by 2050 includes ten intermediary targets to be achieved by 2020 and 2030 (read more here).
Included among these goals is a target that 30% of road freight moving more than 300km should shift to other modes such as rail or waterborne transport by 2030, and more than 50% by 2050. This objective would be helped by the creation of “green freight corridors” that would help to make such modes “more economically attractive for shippers”, according to the paper.
The paper signals other plans to make rail more integrated and competitive through a major overhaul of its regulatory framework in 2012-2013, including the introduction of single management structure for rail freight corridors, a structural separation of infrastructure managers and service providers and changes to make private sector investment more attractive.
Another goal set is to achieve essentially CO2-free city logistics in major urban centres by 2030, which would include a significant shift to alternative energy heavy duty trucks as well as more efficient network planning that would help eliminate single-user journeys. The goal is also part of a target of halving the use of “conventionally-fuelled” cars in urban transport by 2030, with a full phase out by 2050.
At the same time that the EC roadmap wants to see a significantly increased share for rail and sea over medium distances, as well as an increase in alternative energy fuelled vehicles, the paper continues to emphasise the importance of “co-modality”, including the need to improve truck efficiency. To improve this, the EC called for the deployment of intelligent transport management systems that are being developed across each mode, as well as integration of the European Global Navigation Satellite System (Galileo). The paper also indicated a move to lift cabotage restrictions, which currently limit the amount that trucks from one country can be operated in another.
More user charges for transport
Fundamental to the targets set out in the White Paper–which are to be followed up by policy proposals over the course of the current parliament–is the development of a more robust pricing and financing mechanism to support sustainable transport for both passenger and freight. The EC estimates the cost of matching the demand for transport with EU infrastructure development at more than €1.5 trillion ($2.1 trillion) up to 2030.
The paper points out that “most of the external costs of transport are still not internalised”, including air and noise pollution as well as wear on infrastructure. Where such costs are internalised, such as the Eurovignette regulation in use for heavy goods vehicles mainly in Benelux countries and Sweden, or other road tax mechanisms, the schemes are mostly uncoordinated between modes and member states. The commission points out that many of Europe’s current taxes and subsidies do not have internalised pricing in mind and have a “distorting effect on behaviour”.
The EC favours a policy and regulatory approach that would include the full pricing of external costs as well as to eliminate such tax and subsidy distortions with the implementation of carbon pricing across all modes, as well as to set high standards for low CO2 emissions that will be met by improved technology for alternative fuels. It estimates that such an approach would add more than €1 billion to the cost of transport by 2050 (a cost separate to the infrastructure costs listed above).
However, if technological advances in greener technology were to fail to meet the targets set, the EC does not rule out more aggressive carbon taxation and cap and trade policy for transport. While individual member states ultimately control their own regulations, the EC’s aim is that those who adapt such internal costs do so in a coordinated and harmonised way across Europe, including universal toll payment systems. The EC also acknowledges that private investment and public-private partnerships will be increasingly important.
In either case, the paper is unequivocal in its assessment that in the future users will pay a greater share of the costs of transport and infrastructure.
A shift away or in support of “co-modality”?
Critics of the paper say that the EC’s position on shifting freight and passengers onto rail or water for distances above 300km is a move away from the “co-modality” principle that it enshrined in its 2006 White Paper mid-term review, in which the emphasis was put on the most efficient form of transport for each particular transport task, rather than a specific shift from one mode to another (such “modal shift” was a primary principle of the EC’s 2001 paper). Ivan Hodac, secretary general of the European automobile trade association, ACEA, accused the EC of a “policy u-turn”, and that such prescriptive targets could be counterproductive in both efficiency and environmentalism.
But the EC maintains that it has not abandoned its focus on co-modality, particularly as it recognises the essential role that road transport continues to play in final deliveries. Policy will support co-modality with emphasis on improving transport management systems, green corridors and continuing to harmonise the internal market across all modes.  
The EC had also responded to outrage express by some ministers–particularly in the UK–over claims that it was going to ban cars in city centres. The goal was to phase out conventionally fuelled vehicles by 2050 as well as to shift to zero-emission logistics in city centres by making alternative forms of transport and alternative fuel-power vehicles “more attractive to users,” according to EC’s head of media in the UK, Antonia Mochan. The EC also said in a statement that cities are best placed to decide their own transport mix.
Trade bodies representing multiple modes tended to view the White Paper more favourably. The UK’s Freight Transport Association said it welcomed the EC’s continuing commitment to co-modality. “The EU ambition of making greater use of rail and water options for freight where possible, whilst acknowledging that road will continue to play a crucial role, is realistic and appropriate,” it said in a statement. However Chris Yarsley, the FTA’s EU affairs manager, questioned picking 300km as the “magic number” above which road freight should be shifted to other modes.
The FTA was also wary over plans to remove cabotage. “[While] lifting cabotage may be a fine idea in a harmonised Europe, UK operators pay by far the highest fuel duty in Europe and doing so would present a massive competitive disadvantage to UK registered operators,” Yarsley said.
The ECG also welcomed the commitment to co-modality, but warned that the EC should abandon efforts to engineer modal shifts. Costantino Baldissara, the ECG’s president, further warned that changes to the tax structure of transport should be considered carefully both in its impact on the sector’s competitiveness as well as how revenue generated from transport is earmarked. “[External costs] must be accurately assessed, and existing taxes and charges on the sector taken into account, before they can be internalised,” he said. “What is more, taxes on transport must be devoted to making the industry more efficient and sustainable, rather than being diverted to other areas.”
Environmental targets
At last week’s debate in Brussels, the ECG called on the EC to harmonise minimum truck lengths at 20.75 metres, from a current variety of more than 25 different lengths in Europe. The ECG has claimed this minimum could lead to savings of €1 billion per year, while reducing the number of trucks on the road (read more here). 
But the EC has yet to give a specific indication as to what direction the EU might take with regards to this policy. However, the objective of increasing alternative fuel-powered trucks and a move towards zero-emissions last mile logistics in urban areas could be in conflict with the prospect of increasing truck lengths across Europe. Longer truck lengths also have the potential to make road more competitive than rail over longer distances.
Today, however, the UK’s Department for Transport has published a report by the road minister that proposes increasing the allowable length of articulated lorries by two metres to 18.75 (the same length for car carriers), without increasing the maximum load of 44 tonnes. The government has so far ruled out any increases above this length (read more here).
Environmental groups, such as Friends of the Earth, accused the EC’s targets of 60% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050 of “lacking ambition”. But the EC said its targets were realistic given the expected growth that is expected in transport. Freight transport activity, for example, is expected to grow by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 compared with 2005.