Remote areas ideal for testing transport solutions

Transport issues in remote regions cannot be dealt with in the same way as urban areas, writes Merja Kyllönen.

By Merja Kyllönen

16 Oct 2015

My nearest supermarket in Finland is 15 km away. The nearest railway station is 104 km away, and the nearest airport is 130 km away. It takes eight and a half hours to drive to the capital, Helsinki, roughly the same amount of time it takes to get to the European Parliament in Brussels.

Currently, over 70 per cent of Europeans live in urban areas. Soon, this proportion will exceed 80 per cent. There is a reason that urban mobility is the main focus of transport policy. 

Smart urban planning, combined with bold policies that promote walking, cycling and public transport, could have a huge impact. They could help ease congestion and reduce the harmful effects of traffic on the environment. In other words, urban solutions for urban living.


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The reality of everyday life in more scarcely populated areas is a different story. Yet people living in remote places have the same basic rights to mobility and fundamental services, education, work, hobbies and social life.

According to statistics, exports and gross national product are mainly generated in urban areas. However, production stocks - food, timber, water and minerals, for example - are concentrated in these scarcely populated areas. Unless raw materials are effectively transported from remote areas, company headquarters in capital cities won't have much to export.

The Finnish national public administration is responsible for approximately 78,000 km of highways. Year-round, 24/7 maintenance of state-owned roads, including snow ploughing and de-icing, costs over €550m annually.

Clearly, this is more than it costs to invest in construction and repairs. Year after year, the size of the road network, combined with shallow flows of traffic, results in a headache for governments.

In Finland, 70 per cent of freight is transported by trucks. Although monster trucks seem to frighten people in central Europe, in Finland we see them as a sensible solution for improving the capacity - and energy efficiency - of road transport. This was the subject of a heated debate Parliament last spring.

Finland is located along the EU's north-eastern border, meaning we live side-by-side with our Russian neighbours. In recent years, cross-border connections between Finland and Russia - meaning connections between the EU and Russia - have been improved thanks to EU funding.

However, the crisis in Ukraine has caused tensions in the political climate, and interest in eastward connections has diminished significantly, as has funding. This has made everyday life in the region difficult, both directly and indirectly.

Economic activity, trade or commerce, or even commuting, does not respect the borders of nation states or of the EU.

When it comes to transport policy, it's crucial to remember that the issues and needs of urban areas are not the same as those of sparsely populated areas. The same applies to the solutions, and this is something we must acknowledge.

It would be foolish to leave out remote areas when allocating funding for innovation. The potential for new solutions is at least as big as in urban areas. Imagine how drones could transform everyday shopping over long distances. 

Delivering mail or medical supplies could look completely different in the future. We have a huge northern test lab, just waiting for the first experiments.

 

Read the most recent articles written by Merja Kyllönen - Can the EU's circular economy apply to ports?

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