Kick conventionally-fueled cars out of Europe's centers by 2050, European Commission urges

Author: 
Philip Langdon
New Urban Network

The European Union is not thinking small. On March 28 the European Commission, an executive branch of the EU, announced a set of proposals that would dramatically reshape the continent's transportation patterns by 2050. Among the goals:

• Use of automobiles powered by gasoline or diesel fuel would be cut in half by 2030 in urban areas, and would be phased out altogether in cities by 2050.

• Thirty percent of the road freight traveling more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) would shift to other modes — basically rail or water — by 2030. By the middle of the century, more than 50 percent of the road traffic traveling that 186 miles or more would shift to the alternative modes, aided by the development of "efficient and green freight corridors."

• The current high-speed rail network would triple in length by 2030, and "a dense railway network" would operate in all of the EU's member states. By 2050, a high-speed rail network for Europe would be completed, and the majority of medium-distance passengers would travel by rail. 

• Except for long hauls (of which there would be many), there would be far fewer passengers traveling in Europe by air. And the use of "low-carbon sustainable fuels in aviation" would rise to 40 percent by 2050. By that time, the plan also envisions that all "core network airports" would be connected to the rail network — preferably to high-speed rail.

The aim, according to the European Commission, is to achieve "essentially CO2-free movement of goods in major urban centers by 2030." EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas defended the proposal — the Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area — as essential to cutting European's production of greenhouse gases. 

"Oil will become scarcer in future decades, sourced increasingly from uncertain supplies," the EU white paper argues. The less successful the world is in moving away from carbon-based fuels, "the greater will be the oil price increase," the report says, noting, "In 2010, the oil import bill was around 210 billion euros [$296 billion] for the EU." 

In Britain, automotive interests and some politicians heaped disdain on the plan. Hugh Bladon, a spokesman for the Association of British Drivers, said Kallas should check himself into "the local mental asylum." The Association rejected the ida of banning conventionally fueled cars as economically disastrous and as a "crazy" restriction on mobility, The Telegraph, a London newspaper, reported. 

The Daily Mail reported that Open Europe, a think tank skeptical of the EU, criticised the plan, charging, "This goes to show the extent of the EU's ambitions to interfere in the UK's national affairs. Banning all petrol-fuelled cars in city centres is an absolutely crazy idea and one that could only have come from unaccountable bureaucrats in the European Commission."

"UK Independence Party transport spokesman Christopher Monckton said the commission's plans were 'in the realm of fantasy,'" The Independent reported. "'They want to ban cars from cities, they want to force everybody on to rail and canals — it is as if they have been taken over by the shade of the Victorian engineers."

Actually, cars would not be prohibited, but they would have to convert to other power sources, such as hydrogen or electricity, and they would be used less extensively. "Curbing mobility is not an option; neither is business as usual," Kallas said. "We can break the transport system's dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility."

Another part of the goal, the Daily Mail noted, entails having Europe "move close to zero fatalities in road transport" by 2050, with an interim target of halving the number of road casualties by 2020.

Crazy like a fox?

The EU proposal would cost an enormous sum —"We are talking about the necessity of investment of 1.5 trillion euros [$2.1 trillion]," Kallas said — and it would require major, coordinated improvements to all forms of transportation. But the Commission also sees the program as having a tremendous economic upside.

Says the White Paper:

Many European companies are world leaders in infrastructure, logistics, traffic management systems and manufacturing of transport equipment – but as other world regions are launching huge, ambitious transport modernisation and infrastructure investment programmes, it is crucial that European transport continues to develop and invest to maintain its competitive position. ...

There is a large pay-off in taking decisive policy action. The transport industry in itself represents an important part of the economy: in the EU it directly employs around 10 million people and accounts for about 5% of GDP.

How could such a major conversion be accomplished? According to The Telegraph, Kallas said EU directives and new taxes on fuel would be used to force people out of their cars and toward alternative means of travel.  "Action will follow, legislation, real action to change behavior."

The white paper also said: "Demand management and land-use planning can lower traffic volumes. Facilitating walking and cycling should become an integral part of urban mobility and infrastructure design."

Critics were having none of it. "They may as well call for an end to wars and large subsidized chocolate cakes for pre-school infants as to make these impossible, self-aggrandizing statements," the Daily Mail quoted the Independence Party's Monckton as saying. 

In environmental circles, the plan got a more welcoming reception. "One would think that such impending oil shortages should be well-known among those denying the need for immediate action — considering the placement of their heads in relation to the sand, from whence so much of the stuff is pumped," wrote Stephen Messenger on the website Treehugger.com.

"Weaning our transport system off its oil addiction is essential to protect people from soaring fuel prices and the planet from climate change," Friends of the Earth transportation campaigner Richard Dyer was quoted as saying by The Independent

The Independent, in its generally favorable coverage of the proposals, also found support for the plan coming from the UK trade organization AeroSpace Defence Security (ADS). ADS spokesman, Matthew Knowles, was quoted as saying:

The UK aviation sector — aerospace manufacturers, airlines, airport operators and air traffic managers — has signed up to the sustainable aviation initiative.

Our CO2 roadmap demonstrates how we will use new technologies to meet the predicted threefold rise in passenger demand to 2050 while simultaneously reducing our CO2 emissions back to 2000 levels.

An example of progress from manufacturers is the Airbus A380, which in standard, three-class configuration travels 100 passenger kilometres on three litres of fuel, where the average hybrid car needs four litres.

We are confident we can meet our environmental obligations while continuing to support economic growth because both of which are vital for our future.

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