Towards a more sustainable transport policy

This consultation briefing is the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association’s contribution to the International Transport Forum’s summit with international organisations to be held from 21-23 May 1014 in Leipzig. The purpose of this paper, and others submitted by relevant stakeholders is to serve to stimulate thinking and enrich the discussion both at the Summit and beyond.

Introduction: A definition of sustainability

The members of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, ACEA, belong to an industry that has a long and strong tradition of making significant contributions to the quality of life and to the economic growth. The European automobile industry is strongly committed to building on this history and to shaping the future in a sustainable manner.

Transport should therefore be seen as part of a sustainable growth and competitiveness strategy. Transport policies must be based on a positive approach to mobility by highlighting the benefits it brings to society and its direct link to GDP indicators. In the case of road transport, which fulfils – and will continue to fulfil – an overwhelming majority of the transport needs of companies and individuals, its importance has to be fully recognised by policy makers.

In order to further encourage a more sustainable lifestyle and mobility choices, policy makers should first of all have a clear vision for sustainable transport. Such a vision should be an efficient, clean and accessible transport of people and goods in order to support a competitive economy and social welfare.

To achieve such a vision, policy makers should focus on a number of priority areas:

technology-neutral policies;

  • integrated approach;
  • supporting co-modality;
  • improving transport statistics;
  • efficient use of improved infrastructure;
  • integrating sustainable transport into all policy areas.

A sustainable transport policy has to meet the economic, social and environmental needs of citizens and business; sustainability requires a balance between its economic, social and environmental pillars, and each needs to be equally present in the transport debate.

Technology-neutral policies

Setting technology-related targets, with regards to city access for example, has to be avoided. It is a general practice that policy makers avoid prematurely picking technology ‘winners’. Transport policy strategies must adhere to this principle accordingly. A technology-neutral policy approach reinforces the potential for overall technological progress, which is in the interests of society and the competitiveness of the economy.

Integrated approach

The greatest environmental issue challenge for road transport remains the reduction in CO2 emissions. Great progress has already been made –partly offset by an increase of the traffic flows- and will continue to be made, mainly driven by competition and market demand. The increased diversity of fuels and power trains is also changing the situation.

Average CO2 emissions from new passenger cars have come down by close to 20% in 13 years, thanks primarily to technology measures. CO2 for a typical European 40t-truck has been reduced by 20% over the last 20 years. In order to continue making significant CO2 reductions, it will be imperative to address all the ways for reducing CO2 in an Integrated Approach, not only the vehicle technology. Driver/consumer behaviour and infrastructure have indeed a major role to play.

Supporting co-modality

All existing forecasts agree that transport demand will increase in line with GDP and with trade growth. All transport modes will need to increase the quality of supply and improve efficiency in order to cope sustainably with rising demand. Road traffic is expected to remain the dominant transport mode, both in passenger and freight transport. Having fewer motor vehicles is not a realistic option, because there are no other similarly flexible alternatives capable of meeting general mobility requirements. Some of the lowest cost opportunities for emission reductions in transport have not been exploited so far, resulting in sub-optimal outcomes that have disadvantages without commensurate up-sides. The case of the European Modular System (EMS) is a classic example, in which a policy that could markedly increase efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of freight transportation has been obstructed on unscientific grounds.

Policy-makers’ vision must meet with reality: this is a pre-requisite for a credible and motivating transport policy. Policy decisions have to be taken on the basis of credibly-founded, reasonable assumptions. Contrary to what the general public believes, certain modes are not, by definition, more energy-efficient than other modes in general, and no more so than road in particular. Transport modes do not compete with each other: some modes are in competition for the transport of certain classes of passenger or for certain commodities, but in general modes are complementary. In freight transport, the means to identify which modes are in competition and which are complementary is to look at the value of the goods that are transported by the different modes.

Improving transport statistics

Policy makers need to address one of the major issues faced by transport policy: transport statistics. In the EU, the current method for measuring freight transport, at least insofar as goods are concerned, creates serious methodological concerns and is far from satisfactory. The statistics available from official sources show only a partial view and can give a misleading perception of the efficiency of the various modes of transport. The accurate measurement of freight outputs and efficiency on a consistent basis across modes is essential. Freight transport is traditionally measured in the EU in terms of tonne-kilometres (tkm) (freight moved) and tonnes lifted (weight loaded onto vehicles at the start of a journey). Measuring freight output solely by these weight-based measures does not reflect the value of the goods being transported and hence the true economic contribution of the transport operation. Simple mode share proportions may then misrepresent the contribution of different modes to the overall value-added in the economy.

Measuring the freight output by weight does not take account of the volume. Nor does it allow for the fact that the average density of freight is declining in many sectors. Light items can be very bulky causing vehicles to ‘cube out’ before they ‘weigh out’. Weight-based utilisation measures can then give the impression that vehicles are under-loaded when, in fact, their deck-area or cubic capacity is fully used.  The result is that in statistics average truck utilisation appears to be lower than it actually is.

Another area of concern is the definition of load on different modes, as shown in these drawings. In the road freight sector, the net payload weight is measured. By contrast, rail freight statistics sometimes quote gross tonne-kilometres, which include the weight of the rolling stock or intermodal unit. Ferry operators also report the gross weight of the truck in their statistical returns. These practices clearly cause inconsistencies in the measurement of freight traffic carried by different modes.

Efficient use of improved infrastructure

The automobile industry and its customers rely heavily on a functioning transport network that provides reliable and efficient mobility to citizens, and enables companies to conduct business competitively. To sustain the competitiveness of the European economy will, among other things, require a higher-quality transport network. A new impetus is needed to create this. Building today the infrastructure that will be required for continued mobility tomorrow requires facilitated access to alternative fuels as well as making new technologies compatible across the whole transport network.  Dedicated infrastructure is a pre-requisite for higher market uptake of vehicles with alternative power trains.

Policy-makers must avoid addressing transport infrastructure policy on the basis of “modes of transport” but on the basis of “efficient transport”, and should not base its policy on the assumption that some modes of transport would be, by definition, more environmentally-friendly than others and should therefore be given pre-eminence. Policy makers should develop a rigorous methodology to identify and select the projects that will benefit from public investment.  Projects should be subject to a strict environmental and socio-economic evaluation and to rigorous cost/benefit analysis.

In the EU, transport infrastructure, especially its road network, is falling behind what is required for a modern economy. This is mainly due to a lack of investment. It has contributed to bottlenecks, and increased congestion and CO2 emissions. Spending on road infrastructure has fallen to dangerously low levels and this is one trend that must be reversed. Europe should be funding key transport projects that will not only modernize Europe’s infrastructure, but also help reduce negative environmental impacts, and will create millions of jobs by developing existing, new and smarter infrastructure. This is particularly true when looking at the huge contribution that transport, and in particular road transport, has made – and will continue to make – to the tax revenue of Member States.

Integrating sustainable transport into all policy areas

To achieve maximum impact, sustainable transport – and its three pillars equally – must be integrated into all policy areas. Transport policies must be developed in a coordinated fashion, and mobility issues need to be mainstreamed in policy decisions at all levels. Joined-up thinking at policy level is required to deliver an appealing, interconnected transport system, and to encourage companies and people to make sustainable mobility choices. For all of this to come together, it is essential to have a clear mobility strategy in place.

Reproduction of the content of this document is not permitted without the prior written consent of ACEA. Whenever reproduction is permitted, ACEA shall be referred to as source of the information. Quoting or referring to this document is permitted provided ACEA is referred to as the source of the information. 

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