The COVID-19 pandemic is re-defining our approach to public transport. From modernizing our transport systems to highlighting sectors vital for our society – Commissioner Vălean outlines the EU’s plan to build back better, and get passengers back on board.
I am often asked how my priorities have changed in light of COVID-19. It is true that the sector was hit particularly hard by the global health crisis and national measures taken to prevent the virus spreading. Obviously the sector needs a great deal of support to get back on its feet, and we stand more than ready to provide this. But it is also true that our priorities from before the pandemic struck – of making transport sustainable and embracing digitalisation – are no less important today than they were at the start of the year.
The challenges posed by climate change and international competition have not gone away and this is why, as we look ahead to rebuilding our transport sector, we need to seize this opportunity to build back better – to make our transport system more sustainable, more efficient, and more resilient. We need resilience to known threats such as climate change and pandemics, as well as to currently unknown threats.
More resilient public transport
In the short term, as we restore transport, we are following a two-pronged approach. We are focusing on the conditions needed to resume services and restore public confidence on the one hand, and ensuring that safety is never com-promised on the other. Once transport is operating at full speed once again, we will be much better placed to address other economic impacts.
Longer-term, resilience means modernization and decarbonization. Both will form the basis of our Strategy on Sustainable and Smart Mobility, which we will publish before the end of the year. We are currently examining the responses received to our public consultation, before finalizing the document.
The transition to sustainable fuels
The strategy will set out the key areas in which we see a need for policy action – either now, or in the near future. These actions will support the sector as it strives to meet the ambition set out in the European Green Deal of cutting transport emissions by 90%, while boosting resilience.
You can expect actions on the transition to sustainable alternative fuels, for example. We will also need to boost the uptake of clean vehicles and alternative fuels. And we want to improve efficiency across the whole transport system, cutting unnecessary emissions wherever we find them.
We need to seize this opportunity to build back better – to make our transport system more sustainable, more efficient, and more resilient.
One sector that has more than proven its worth in recent months is that of road haulage. If we had failed to realise it before, the pandemic underlined how essential lorries and their drivers are for our economy and daily supplies.
New legislation – Mobility Package 1
This sector needs a modern set of rules, which was the Commission’s motivation for proposing a package of legislative measures – known as Mobility Package I – to improve conditions for drivers. The measures also seek to boost growth and create jobs in many sectors directly dependent on road transport.
The new Mobility Package I rules came into force in August after long and tense negotiations. The objectives of are well known. To find the right balance between: the much-needed clear rules for the road transport sector; the onus on transport to cut its emissions under the Green Deal; and the obligation to establish solid social conditions for drivers on Europe’s roads.
In this context we are currently assessing the impact on our climate-neutrality ambition of the new rule making the return of the vehicle to the Member State of establishment compulsory every eight weeks.
We are also looking at the effects on combined transport. We want to make sure that the new rules do not diminish the effectiveness of multimodal freight operations, which are crucial for shifting freight away from the road and onto more sustainable modes of transport.
The parts of Mobility Package I intended to ensure fair competition between operators will start applying at the beginning of 2022. This will give companies time to adapt to the new requirements on stable establishment, cabotage and the posting of drivers.
My top priority is to keep lorries moving and their drivers safe – just as I want to see planes, trains, ships and public transport back to full capacity, with happy and healthy transport workers at the controls, and equally happy and healthy passengers on board.