Bike for all or free public transportation. What path should Europe take in its quest for sustainable mobility?

30 May 2023 /

5 min

Mobility is one of the most important issues facing the European Union today. In an interview with Le Figaro newspaper, MEP and President of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee Karima Delli said that “Transport accounts for around 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe”. To face this challenge, the European Commission has declared that it intends to ban thermal engines from 2035. This decision was taken with the aim of achieving the European objective of carbon neutrality in 2050. However, what are the alternatives proposed by the European Union to reduce the rate of CO2 emissions in the transport sector? This article takes a closer look at two of them, cycling and public land transport.

A bike for the future?

The European Commission has expressed its interest in the development of infrastructure for bicycles as well as for its industrial sector. To do this, it wishes to set up a European strategy with the aim of developing the bicycle sector. The project is called “European Declaration on Cycling” and will bring together the three institutions of the European Union this summer (2023) to decide on the actions and financing of this strategy. Allegedly, this project could be financed up to three billion euros from the Cohesion Fund and should result in more than 12,000 km of cycling infrastructure created by 2027.

A second element which, according to the Commission, would enhance the sector is the need for the Member States to prioritise their investments in the field of mobility, specifically focusing on bicycle and related infrastructures, such as the development of cycle paths in the countryside. Another element that could prove decisive is the mandatory installation of bicycle parking during the energy renovation of public buildings, shopping centres or schools.

European Commissioner Frans Timmermans also declared in an interview with the newspaper l’Echo, that “Electric bicycles should benefit from the same attractive VAT rate as electric cars”. This measure would extend to the sale, rental and repair of bicycles. Nevertheless, according to Karima Delli’s statement in the 20 Minutes newspaper: “The bicycle is popular, but manufacturers are struggling to meet demand.”

Consequently, even if the new European strategy fulfils its objective by doubling cycling infrastructure throughout Europe, it is not certain that this will result in an increase in the use of bicycles. This will depend on the ability of the industry to adapt to market growth while keeping prices reasonable and competitive.

In order to achieve this, MEPs call on the Member States and the Commission to support the cycling sector and European manufacturing sectors. One of the proposals put forward by MEPs would be to increase and strengthen the number of training courses in this sector. The aim is to increase the professional workforce in order to meet the growing demand of the sector.

The European Parliament has also called on local authorities to increase their investment in the sector, in particular through the construction and maintenance of cycle paths or secure parking lots for bicycles.

Finally, the MEPs decided to name the year 2024 as “the European year of travel by bicycle”. The aim will be to promote this mode of travel throughout the year through various activities, although the specific program is still being deliberated. 

On a related topic : Eurovélo : Le réseau de voies cyclables trans-européennes pour découvrir le continent

The train to break from the routine?

European action policies in this area focus above all on one form of transport in particular, the train. Indeed, it is one of the means of locomotion that produces the least carbon dioxide. However, there is a constraint:  Europe cannot act directly on the policies concerning them.

In fact, there are two models of railway operation in Europe. On one side there are the nationalised railway companies, which are directly subject to state control. On the other hand, we have the private railway companies, also called liberalised railway companies. In both cases, it is impossible for European countries to act directly on the policies and practices put in place. The Council of Europe was able, at most, to make these conclusions on the rail in 2021. Within these, one can find Council incentives for Member States to pursue the development of the rail sector. A point highlighted in this report and to continue to support between the national systems of the Member States.

However, European countries have been able to impose certain decisions on the railway companies via its regulation relating to rail passengers. This regulation aims to protect the rights of passengers, in particular those who suffer from a disability or have reduced mobility. Indeed, to promote soft mobility, this report requires companies to provide specific locations for cyclists. A minimum number of four spaces must be made available by the European companies.

On the Member State side, several countries and cities have studied the possibility of making their public transport free. Some have even taken the plunge and tried the experiment. This is the case of Luxembourg, which is a pioneering country in this area. The country’s authorities state they are satisfied with the application of this policy. Indeed, they have witnessed an increase in the use of public transport. Conversely, in Estonia’s capital city of Tallinn, the opposite phenomenon could be observed. According to Euronews journalists, an element that may have been decisive in obtaining these results could be the state and maintenance of public transport. The inhabitants of Tallinn also describe the lack of punctuality and the risk of accidents as factors which discourage them from using public transport.

In conclusion, it is possible to observe that the mobility policies of the European Union favour the bicycle more than public transport. This preference is not due to ecological, economic or political reasons, but quite simply because of the field of competences that the Union possesses, since it has greater leeway in what concerns the creation of infrastructure for cycling.

Read our magazine to find out more about EU green alternatives : European Green Deal, une Europe plus verte est-elle possible ?

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