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View from Brussels: Mobility master plan makes EU debut

Image credit: European Commission

The EU has unveiled a comprehensive transport timetable for the next decade, which aims to boost high-speed rail use, launch zero-emission ships and planes, and trigger an electric car revolution. Brussels has also stepped up ‘no-deal’ Brexit prep in the sector.

According to a new transport strategy drafted by the EU’s executive branch, the Commission, the aim is to get 30 million electric cars on the road by 2030, as part of a wider effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Transport is now the only part of the economy where emissions are still climbing and the Commission estimates they must fall by at least 90 per cent by mid-century, in order for the EU to stand a chance of hitting its climate-neutrality goal.

“The strategy will shift the way people and goods move across Europe and make it easy to combine different modes of transport in a single journey. We’ve set ambitious targets for the entire transport system,” EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said.

By 2050, the idea is for every vehicle on Europe’s roads to be zero-emission, including vans, buses and new trucks. However, the automotive industry has poured cold water on those ambitions.

“Unfortunately this vision is far removed from today’s reality,” said Eric-Mark Huitema, the head of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), which represents the likes of BMW, Ford, Honda and Volkswagen.

Huitema insisted that “despite industry investments in such vehicles and their growing market share, not all the right conditions are in place to make such a massive leap”, adding that much more ambitious targets for providing charging infrastructure are needed.

According to ACEA, there were just 200,000 charging points across the entire EU in 2019, far short of the 3 million the Commission says should be in place by 2030.

The EU will review the legislation that governs infrastructure and alternative fuels next year and has already earmarked substantial funding as part of its next long-term budget, which is worth well over €1 trillion, for the cause.

Other parts of the sector were also left unimpressed by the mobility plan, with the International Road Transport Union condemning it for using a “tank-to-wheel” approach, rather than a “well-to-wheel” methodology.

“Diesel coaches are already dramatically cleaner than electrified rail, so we don’t understand why the Commission continues to ignore the unparalleled contribution of collective passenger transport by road,” said the IRU’s Raluca Marian.

The association contends that the Commission is putting its faith in options like electrified rail over road transport, without duly considering where the power behind the plug actually comes from. In countries like Poland it is very likely to be fuelled by polluting coal power.

But the EU is confident that the power sector will continue its trend towards green options like solar and wind, meaning its other major target - to double and then triple high-speed rail by 2030 and 2050, respectively - is a safe bet.

“The milestones proposed by the Strategy will enable European railways to continuously evolve their role to be the driving force behind the next-generation mobility that is resilient, smart and sustainable,” said Libor Lochman, head of rail association CER.

To add to road and rail, the plan is also to launch zero-emission ocean-going vessels by 2030 and green aircraft by 2035. Both initiatives could hit their deadlines, through projects unveiled by shippers Maersk and DFDS ferries, and aerospace giant Airbus.

Brexit planning

The Commission’s schemes will all go ahead without the United Kingdom. Post-Brexit trade talks are still ongoing and there are serious doubts about whether a deal will be possible in the next two weeks before the end-of-year deadline elapses.

That has pushed the EU to publish its no-deal contingency measures, several of which are focused purely on transport links with the UK, including aviation connectivity and safety, the Channel Tunnel rail link and road transport links.

For air travel, the Commission has proposed a six-month-long grace period where current rules would continue, so long as the UK offers reciprocal measures to European airlines. Aircraft certified by the EU’s safety regulator will be given a clean bill of health.

According to plans for the Chunnel, France will be given two months to negotiate a new deal with the UK that will govern the management of the tunnel and dictate who has jurisdiction over the different segments of the rail link.

Licences granted to drivers and operators will also be extended for nine months, so services can keep running. That will be a huge relief to Eurostar, which is struggling to stay afloat on a much-limited coronavirus timetable.

Road freight and passenger bus services will be given a maximum of six months transition period after January. All measures are dependent on the UK government offering the same perks to EU operators.

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