The EU’s Transportation Overhaul: Coming Full Circle

In 2010, the European Union spent nearly $300 billion on imported oil. With prices only sure to grow in future years, it’s time to act quickly and strategically toward reducing our collective reliance on this finite resource. One solution is clear—it’s time to push the envelope in term of making cities more efficient and less dependent on oil. This is true for cities across the globe, and now, the European Union has set ambitious goals to do just that.

On March 28th, the European Commission, an executive branch of the EU, announced the Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area— a set of proposals that would overhaul member states’ transportation systems with promising economic, environmental, and social implications. The proposal aims to strategically cut greenhouse gas emissions, improve transport safety, and support transit-sector job growth by 2030 and 2050. Proposal highlights include goals to:

  • Reduce the use of gasoline and diesel fuel in automobiles 50% by 2030 and 100% (in cities) by 2050
  • Shift 30% of road freight traveling more than 186 miles (300 km) to rail or water by 2030; 50% by 2050
  • Triple the length of the current high speed rail network throughout the EU
  • Increase the use of "low-carbon sustainable fuels in aviation" to 40% by 2050, with more passengers choosing rail for shorter distances

Skeptics are concerned about feasibility and the financial costs of the ambitious plan, which according to EU Transport Commissioner, Siim Kallas, would require roughly $2.1 trillion. However, supporters (including environmental groups and the UK aviation sector) are heralding the proposal’s long-term implications for improved health, safety, and efficiency that would, once again, make the traveler a primary focus of the transit experience.

Commissioners of the proposal anticipate that success will be achieved through a combination of legislative measures designed to influence behavior as well as long-term convenience and money-saving measures that will further reinforce sustainable transit behavior. For example, top-down directives and new taxes on fuel would be used to phase out petroleum-based fuels and support the use of alternatives like hydrogen and electric. In turn, this would result in fewer cars on the road and, in theory, push even more commuters and travelers toward rail. Coupled with the facilitation of walking and cycling as more consistently viable means of local transportation, Kallas believes the plan will “break the transport system's dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility."

Many EU members already have enviable high-speed rail systems and commuter-friendly cities. That’s part of the reason why the proposal may seem visionary. But with so many world regions launching extensive infrastructure investments of their own, it’s clear that the EU plans to remain a leader in livability.