Modal shift of transport from road and air to water and rail has failed

Europe should take advantage of the vast economic potential of its transport sector, argues Wim van de Camp.

By Wim van de Camp

30 Jun 2015

In 2011, the European commission presented its very ambitious white paper on transport. The white paper sets out a strategy to make the EU's transport sector stronger, cleaner and more competitive, while improving the access and quality of transport for all Europeans.

Europe's transport sector provides 10 million jobs in Europe and accounts for five per cent of GDP. It is a crucial economic sector that can support economic growth and we have to attach greater value to the sector's economic potential.

I refuse to see the sector as a burden, unlike many of my colleagues in the European parliament. They have an unrealistic vision and I am sure they would be struck by the dramatic effects if Europe were to be without transport for even a single day. 


Nevertheless, it is true that there are some major challenges facing the sector that must be addressed if the commission's ambitious goals are to be met.

European decision making, especially in the member states, remains slow and vague. Irrelevant decision making and a lack of urgency are damaging the internal market. In my report, which I presented to parliament this spring, I have addressed these challenges and opportunities.

One of my main concerns is that the policy to shift transport from road and air to the more sustainable modes of water and rail has clearly failed. We have to find another way to increase the market share of transport via inland waterways and rail. 

The market share for inland waterways, for example, has remained largely stable for 20 years at 6.5 per cent. While road transport remains very successful, rail and inland waterways need more flexibility and interoperability.

It is time to reconsider our efforts to make this 'modal-shift'. I suggest we stop making the less sustainable sectors of road and air transport more expensive and start making waterways and rail transport more financially attractive by investing in infrastructure. Better cooperation between the different transport modes should lead to their better use.

The Juncker investment fund should give priority to these infrastructure projects. In this light, completion of the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) is a necessary precondition for a more sustainable and efficient transport system. 

I am of the opinion that investing in these important projects that tackle the missing links in nine important cross-border transport corridors need to be at the top of the commission's list of priorities.

More also has to be done to eliminate the differences between the levels of infrastructure development all over Europe. Besides investments in new infrastructure, we need to be aware of the poor state of maintenance of our infrastructure in large parts of Europe, which is becoming critical.

The transport sector is damaged by the many different toll systems in Europe. We need a single European toll framework. Member states can decide for themselves whether they want to use this system and the amount of toll to be paid per kilometre.

Two other related issues in the transport sector that need to be tackled are working conditions and fair competition. Poor working conditions, denying high standards of social rights, and illegal state aid are threatening the sector and the working conditions of everyone employed within it. 

I therefore recommend, for example, an aviation dialogue with the Gulf countries and Turkey on financial transparency and fair competition and for a social code to be adopted for mobile road transport workers to address the problem of false self-employment. I want to strive for more investment in intelligent transport systems. 

New methods such as tube transport need to be given a chance and should be stimulated by the commission. 

These solutions not only help make transport more sustainable, many innovations improve efficiency and provide greater safety.

Bureaucratic hurdles need be reduced, and I urge the greater simplification and harmonisation of all transport modes to make room for innovation instead of blocking it with unnecessary red tape. 

European standards will not be adequate forever and we have to realise that there is a need for global standards in sectors such as air and maritime.

The aim of the report, which will be voted on in parliament's transport and tourism committee in July, is not to lower the ambition of the goals in the white paper, but to increase and streamline efforts to meet these goals. 

I am confident that there is a bright future for the transport sector, as long as transport policies are based on a long-term vision for the sustainable mobility of people and goods.


Read the most recent articles written by Wim van de Camp - Platooning could be game-changer for road transport CO2 emissions