Where is our love for cars taking us?

Author (Person) ,
Series Title
Series Details 27.07.06
Publication Date 27/07/2006
Content Type

Two MEPs discuss ways of reducing traffic on Europe's roads

The volume of transport in Europe has more than doubled since 1970, putting a significant pressure on the environment and human health. In densely populated urban areas air quality limit values are frequently exceeded, affecting human health, causing asthma and respiratory illnesses and harming the well-being of animals and plant life. Although the transport sector has made substantial efforts over the years to increase its energy efficiency, the continued growth of transport volumes has multiplied environmental pressures. It is clear that more stringent action is called for.

While public transport is not the miracle solution that will help us get rid of air pollution problems forever, increased use of trams, trains and buses is without doubt a more environmentally friendly option than using personal cars.

Public transport can contribute to decreasing the overall transport volume and thus to reducing vehicle emissions, especially in urban environments. It is well known that cities with robust public transport suffer less air pollution than cities with poor transit systems.

The use of public transport therefore needs to be encouraged by making it more attractive to citizens. To guarantee efficient and cost-attractive public transport, investments need to be made in the range of transport on offer, its frequency, quality, speed and cost, the availability of information and the accessibility of transport to elderly and disabled people.

In addition, citizens need to be convinced to leave their cars at home more often, for example by positive fiscal measures. The use of public transport as a viable alternative therefore needs to be promoted through effective information campaigns.

The EU has already taken several initiatives to improve the public transport service to the client. One of these is the proposal for a regulation concerning public service requirements and the award of public service contracts in passenger transport. This regulation will effectively liberalise the public transport market, opening it up to commercial providers. But the political efforts have to be coherent on all levels: European Union, member states, regional and local entities.

The increased use of public transport does more than just contribute to cleaner air in our cities; it also reduces traffic congestion and has a positive economic impact as it reduces time spent sitting in traffic.

But to effectively reduce emissions and conserve energy sources, a wide-range of measures needs to be implemented, across a number of sectors.

The European Union is well aware of the issues at stake and is preparing policy answers to address the various sectors. The EU is currently working on a range of measures in relation to transport, including the reduction of aviation emissions and promoting the production and use of 'clean' cars for personal and commercial use. A concrete example of this approach is the resolution recently adopted by the European Parliament which aims at reducing the climate change impact of aviation via a kerosene tax. EU lawmakers are also currently examining new 'Euro 5' rules that would limit emissions of particulate matter by diesel cars to 5mg/km. The Commission was also asked to bring forward proposals to reduce pollution from heavy-duty vehicles ('Euro 6').

In addition to air pollution caused by transport, the EU is targeting emissions from industry and agriculture. Europe is fostering research and new technological developments, including research on biofuels and other sources of renewable energy.

The conclusion? European cities would definitely become better places in which to live if traffic was cut down thanks to more efficient public transport. To reduce substantially air pollution caused by emissions, however, much more than this is needed. We need a long-term, EU-wide and multi-level approach. Existing EU policies must also be fully applied at the local level and member states should increase the exchange of best practices.

  • German centre-right member Mathieu Grosch is a member of the Parliament's committee on transport and tourism.

Transport - is it really necessary to move people from their cars to public transport to improve air quality?

It is hard not to notice the impact of cars on the air that we breathe, with the stench of exhaust fumes hanging over many European cities, particularly at periods of peak traffic. For pedestrians and bikers with an urban commute, the fumes are impossible to ignore. But the smell is far from being the biggest problem caused by these noxious emissions. Air pollution is a silent but deadly killer in Europe's cities.

Some 80% of EU citizens live in cities or densely populated areas. That means that a large majority of Europeans are exposed to the effects of congestion, including noise and air pollution. According to studies by the European Commission, current levels of air pollution, in the form of particulate matter, cause severe health problems and result in more than 350,000 premature deaths each year. This highlights that choosing to travel by car is not just a personal lifestyle choice, but has an impact on general public health.

Clearly, from a public health point of view, there is a need for a dramatic reduction in vehicle emissions. Low and zero emission vehicles can help to improve air quality, but expectations should not be too high. A decade ago European, Japanese and Korean carmakers made a voluntary commitment to achieve a noticeable carbon emission reduction for new cars by 2008. Despite the promise of remarkable technical improvements, it is now clear that the target for 2008 will not be met, as progress has slowed considerably in recent years.

Even with massive improvements in car emissions, other problems of urban transport would remain unsolved. That does not mean that the development and research in this field is useless or unnecessary. On the contrary the Greens strongly support the idea of greening cars since realistically they will remain one of the most popular modes of transport. On the way to a zero emission car, systematic pressure and support are needed for technological innovations designed to improve conventional propulsion technology and to develop and apply new forms of propulsion technology, such as hybrid engines, fuel cells and solar-powered propulsion, and alternative fuels, like biofuels, natural gas and hydrogen. This presents the highly advanced European car industry with opportunities as well as risks, particularly in the context of dwindling oil resources.

But technical improvements alone can only go so far. Without a shift towards public transport, biking and walking, air quality in Europe will not improve sufficiently. Problems will increase as transport increases. Between 1995 and 2030, total kilometres travelled in EU urban areas are expected to grow by 40%. Already, cars account for about 75% of kilometres travelled in EU metropolitan areas. Without promoting other modes of transport the car will remain over-dominant. Beyond the damage to peoples' health, as well as the environment and buildings, European cities suffer as a result of time-consuming and money-wasting congestion. In its report on Clean Urban Transport the Commission says that in some European cities, average traffic speeds at peak times are lower than in the days of the horse-drawn carriage.

This is where new 'inter-modal' mobility strategies come into play. The prerequisite for an 'inter-modal' transport system is a well-developed public transport network, which acts as the backbone of the system. This can and should be supplemented by individual mobility facilities such as car-sharing and bicycle hire, while a cheap and highly efficient approach lies in the promotion of cycling and walking. Half of all car journeys in the EU are shorter than five kilometres, whilst 10% are even less than one kilometre. Many of these journeys could be made by bike or even on foot.

Moving people from their cars to public transport clearly has an important role to play in improving air quality. As noted above, it is realistic to expect the car to remain a popular form of transport, so efforts must be intensified to progress towards emissions-free vehicles as a standard. In addition, we need to promote a shift to other transport modes such as walking and cycling for short distance journeys. This will naturally have positive side-effects for public health, particularly as the quality of air hopefully improves.

  • German Green MEP Michael Cramer is a member of Parliament's committee on transport and tourism.

Two MEPs discuss ways of reducing traffic on Europe's roads

Source Link http://www.europeanvoice.com
Countries / Regions