EU transport policy: from incremental change to fundamental shift

A bold vision for transport policy that is grounded in practicality, the Smart and Sustainable Mobility Strategy from the European Commission charts a course to an exciting destination.

A multi-year strategy that is part of the overarching ‘green’ agenda, the Smart and Sustainable Mobility Strategy sets out an initial plan which will be implemented over the next 30 years. If implemented, the transport infrastructure in Europe will be entirely different from what we know today. The strategy does not hide from this ambition and calls for a move from ‘incremental change to fundamental shift’ in policy development.

The link between the Smart and Sustainable aspects is not limited to the title of the document. The two are linked from the conception stage and flow throughout the objectives of the strategy. When it comes to Smart Mobility, the focus is not on technologies for their own sake, but on those technologies that contribute to the Sustainability goals.

This joined up thinking from the European Commission is not an isolated incidence. It can be found throughout the strategy, which is where we can see that the ambition of the strategy is grounded in practicalities. It’s one thing to say that smart transport technologies should be introduced, but it’s another thing entirely to explore the technical and legal frameworks required to achieve that.

Throughout the strategy there is a focus on the specific measures required to bring the European Union transport environment up to speed to be able to leverage new technologies such as autonomous vehicles and other technologies in the future. In many cases the changes are not required to transport policy to other areas of policy from data governance, artificial intelligence, payment services and legal frameworks.

This shows a long-term approach that seeks to build a capability from the ground up rather than driving forward a policy and having to go back and make changes to the existing framework as an afterthought.

It also points the way forward for companies and organisations that have an interest in the development of these policies. There are many different and varied stakeholders with responsibility privacy, financial transactions, transport, environment and consumer rights to name a few. Engagement strategies should take into consideration the role and objectives of each.

The changes are vital if the transport environment is to be suitable for new and emerging technologies. Similarly investment will be required – not only in these new technologies but also in modernising existing infrastructure and developing new infrastructure.

In the first instance the European Commission is focussing on two distinct deliverables for the coming decade, the introduction of multi-modal ticketing solutions and seeing the roll out of autonomous vehicles in Europe. These are major steps forward and will require an overhaul of legal and technical frameworks.

The scope of this exercise is extremely wide and even with a multi-year strategy you can’t help but feel it is incredibly ambitious, and very exciting. It’s far too early to say whether we will reach the destination set out by the Commission’s strategy, but the journey alone has the potential to be very rewarding.