A position paper drafted by a Green city politician, which will be promoted as bolstering an existing EU commitment to sustainable and accessible transport, has been formally adopted by the EU’s Committee of the Regions (CoR), a grouping representing European cities and regional authorities.
Passed by a majority vote in Brussels on October 11, the paper—known as an opinion—was produced by Linda Gaasch, a Luxembourg City councilor, with the help of mobility experts, including Philipp Cerny, author of the European Mobility Atlas.
Gaasch was chosen to be a CoR rapporteur for mobility at the beginning of the year. (A rapporteur is an appointee tasked with reporting on a specialist subject.)
Her opinion—which calls for improved cycling networks and for the EU to develop emission-free and affordable urban transport systems—supports the EU’s new Urban Mobility Framework.
CO2 emissions from Europe’s transport sector, especially from passenger cars and vans, account for a third of the EU’s total greenhouse-gas emissions.
According to a European Commission analysis, the negative externalities of transport—the costs borne by third parties—amount to around €1,000 billion annually or the equivalent of about 7% of the GDP of EU nation-states. Urban congestion alone is estimated to account for €180 billion per year in costs due to delays.
Gaasch argued there is an urgent requirement for a systems-based approach with substantial changes made to all transport modes. This is the so-called “mobility transition.”
Gaasch’s opinion, altered only slightly by amendments negotiated mainly in advance, highlighted the social, economic, and personal benefits of promoting climate-friendly modes of transport.
European cities and regions play a crucial role in promoting and developing accessible and sustainable transport in the EU. They are at the forefront of delivering the decarbonization targets agreed upon at EU level.
While the adoption of Gaasch’s opinion at CoR’s 151st plenary session is not binding on the EU, it could be used in further argumentation from now on.
The opinion argued that there had been decades of under-investment in public transit and active forms of transport. Public transit must be the backbone of urban mobility in the EU, confirmed the vote, complemented by improved conditions for increased active mobility and micromobility such as e-scooter use.
In a statement, Gaasch said: “With the opinion on the Urban Mobility Framework, the Committee of the Regions sends a strong signal to the other European institutions: cities and regions are ready for the mobility transition!”
In an interview the day following the vote, Gaasch added that other political groupings in the Committee of the Regions had wanted to draft the opinion but that the Greens had been the most persuasive.
Gaasch has been meeting with fellow CoR members for several months, aiming to convince them to back the conclusions of her opinion.
“I met with members to see what their local challenges are. Every city and region is different, but all the members I spoke with were convinced that the mobility transition needs to happen; it was just a question of how to make it happen and what the EU can do to make it happen.”
She added that cities and regions are now more open to help and support from the EU, which is different from, say, ten years ago when autonomy was more of a core concern.
“Today, it has changed and there is now a big will to move in one direction, and the desire for the mobility transition is clear; everyone wants it.”
To mitigate mobility poverty, there needs to be an overall increase in public transport capacity and a more strategic approach to innovation, such as on-demand public transit, added Gaasch’s opinion.
To meet the EU’s sustainability targets, it is essential, argued the opinion, to ensure improved access to EU funds for local and regional authorities.
Urban Mobility Framework
The European Commission introduced the new Urban Mobility Framework in December 2021. The framework calls for a stronger public transport network, efficient zero-emission urban logistics, and better management of mobility flows through multimodal hubs and digital solutions.
Calling the adoption of her opinion at the CoR plenary a “really good step,” Gaasch said the report would be sent to the various EU institutions.
“Then it is my job to make them aware of what is written in the report,” she said.
“I will make sure to meet representatives of the different EU institutions and promote the message written in the report. [CoR] members have given me a clear mandate to promote this position on behalf of cities and regions.”
To date, CoR has not been one of the most prominent of EU bodies but, stressed Gaasch, the ethos of “think global, act local” means cities and regions now have more important roles to play in mitigating climate change and transforming transport.
“If you are a locally elected politician, or if you are a mayor, you are much closer to citizens than if you are in an EU institution,” pointed out Gaasch.
“Locally elected politicians see the everyday problems of the people they represent; they know only too well the challenges their cities face, with congestion, with air pollution and the often unfair allocation of space in cities where too often motorists have been given the lion’s share of space.”
Green politicians, she said, seek consensus with other politicians and the people they represent.
“The key to success is to involve all the actors and explain the necessary changes. Drastic changes to mobility in cities are possible if you take people with you. Not everybody is happy at first, of course, because people are resistant to change, and if you think that somebody is taking something away from you may oppose it.
“For example, when you say your goal is to take cars out of a city center, shop and restaurant owners fear losing all their customers, but the custom usually increases in those cities that have removed cars.
“Politicians have to make bold decisions, but they must try to get almost everyone on board. Cities designed for people don’t ever want to return to being dominated by cars.”