After concerns in the rail industry about public transport issues, the European Commission has set out its post-COVID-19 recovery plan including a boost for rail travel and clean mobility.
Following a joint statement by the International Union of Railways (UIC), the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), and the European Rail Industry Association (UNIFE) urging European decision makers to place public transport at the centre of the COVID-19 recovery plan, the European Commission (EC) has revealed a €750 billion package to help the European Union (EU) recover from the pandemic. The package includes several areas which focus on boosting sustainable public transport.
UIC, UITP and UNIFE all believe that investment into sustainable rail-based public transport is worthy of investment. The statement read:
“Investing in clean public transport also means better health, less pollution, critical for more than 90% of the world’s population that currently live in areas where air pollution exceeds safe levels. While COVID-19 is by no means a victory lap for environmentalists, it is also time for us to seize on those moments of cleaner air and make them a non-negotiable part of our future. We cannot look to a cityscape of more than two-thirds of the world’s population by 2050, without affordable, clean and green transport.”
In their plan the EC has focused on a “green and digital transition” for the future of Europe’s prosperity and resilience, a lot of this ‘transition’ includes areas to boost transport, particularly rail-based public transport. They expect variations in the economic impact between sectors, but with transport being hit particularly hard.
The strategy, which encompasses the European Green Deal, carries the same commitment to invest in cleaner more sustainable transport to aid its recovery post coronavirus. Where the EC’s proposal aims for cleaner transport and logistics, including the installation of one million charging points for electric vehicles and a “boost for rail travel and clean mobility”.
How the plan will ‘clean’ up public transport
Titled “Europe’s moment: Repair and prepare for the next generation”, the EC wants their plan to aid the sustainable recovery from COVID-19. EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen said the fund will not only take Europe out of the crisis but also transform the EU economy.
As EC has identified clean transport as one sector requiring large scale investment, along with renewable energies, clean hydrogen solutions, sustainable food and smart circular economy. Von der Leyen recognizes the challenges Europe will face in the post coronavirus world stating: “This is Europe’s moment. Our willingness to act must live up to the challenges we are all facing. With Next Generation EU we are providing an ambitious answer.”
Concerning the plan, von der Leyen has also stated:
“The recovery plan turns the immense challenge we face into an opportunity, not only by supporting the recovery but also by investing in our future: The European Green Deal and digitalization will boost jobs and growth, the resilience of our societies and the health of our environment”.
Through the implementation of their plan, the EC wants to use the pandemic as a springboard to develop an economy that is more digitally focused and economically friendly.
Not only will their plan create jobs through the production and deployment of sustainable vehicles and alternative fuels, but the Connecting Europe Facility would be increased by €1.5 billion to €14.521 billion to support the financing of sustainable infrastructure and aid the shift to cleaner urban travel. This €1.5 billion investment will assist in creating high-performance transport infrastructure to facilitate cross-border connections such as the Rail Baltica high-speed rail project linking Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Also outlined in the plan, the EC wants to strengthen the Single Market and adapt to the digital age by investing in more and better connectivity through the rapid deployment of 5G networks. 5G connectivity can be used to benefit the development of sustainable vehicles as it can provide the foundation for autonomous vehicles, the internet of things, and artificial intelligence, which the rail sector is already working on.
Keeping the world clean with new travel options
The push for cleaner public transport options is gathering a lot of momentum with cities across the world investing in sustainable transport for their citizens. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, cities are newly cleanbecause of less pollution, which according to C40 air quality specialist Zoe Chafe has meant “citizens around the world have seen that change is possible”.
Cities around the world are also beginning to recognise the need to invest in public transport, adopting policies similar to the EC’s and EU’s post-COVID-19 recovery plan. Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, is turning their transport system upside down with the world most ambitious plan to cut emissions in the city to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025.
Mexico City is also leading the way in sustainable transport options by raising emissions standards for new vehicles, promoting the use of hybrid and electric vehicles as well as investing in the metro system, cleaner buses, light railways and cable cars.
The plans made by the EC and EU paired with the individual developments made by cities and regions, Copenhagen and Mexico City as key examples, highlight that clean, sustainable public transport can help repair the world from the effects of the pandemic.