More than 75% of the population of the European Union lives in urban areas. Urban transport is indeed a significant part of total mobility, and an even greater proportion of impact on the health of citizens and the integrity of buildings. For example, one fifth of the kilometers traveled in the European Union are carried out in urban areas on routes less than fifteen kilometers. Between 1995 and 2030, it is estimated that the total number of kilometers traveled in urban areas in the European Union will increase by 40%.

The car constitutes the dominant means of transport, contributing to 75% of the kilometers traveled in the conurbations of the European Union. Cars cause so much congestion that in some European cities the average speed of rush-hour traffic is less than that of the time of horse-drawn cars. The increasing use of the car has been accompanied by problems for safety and the environment, as well as a negative spiral of underinvestment in public transport.

Urban transport contributes to global warming. More than 10% of global carbon dioxide in the European Union comes from road transport in urban areas. It is also the main source of carbon monoxide and fine particles. These emissions pollute the immediate area and pose serious public health problems.

The Kyoto Protocol calls for an 8% reduction in total carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union, by 2008-2012, compared to the 1990 level. However, if the current trend continues, CO2 emissions from transport will be 40% higher in 2010 than in 1990.

The challenge of a future urban transport system will be to meet the demand for accessibility, including people with reduced mobility and goods. At the same time, it will reduce the impact on the environment, while safeguarding the quality of life.

Financial sustainability of public passenger transport

Collective passenger transport is an important and sensitive link in mobility systems in Europe. They are indispensable and, whatever the political color of the local and national authorities, they are more or less heavily subsidized. All activities and individuals are therefore directly or indirectly beneficiaries, including motorists who do not use them. Environmental concerns (local pollution and greenhouse gas emissions) are an additional motivation for supporting public transport, which is deemed more efficient from the environmental point of view.

However, the same questions emerge at the international level on the opportunity and the possibility of extending current practices. Production costs tend to increase, because of the improvement and extension of supply but also of insufficient or declining productivity, much faster than commercial revenues. It is estimated that in France (according to a study by the UTP: Union of Public and Rail Transport) the rate of coverage of public transport costs by commercial revenue fell from 67% in 1976 to 32% in 2014. The The deficit is widening and calls for an additional subsidy.

Can the delegation of urban or regional transport services to companies through calls for tenders encourage innovation through competition for the market?


The question of the financing of public transport is raised everywhere in Spain but, being a decentralized competence, it receives a different answer from one regional autonomy to another. This is how the Parliament of Catalonia was the first to vote in 2014 a law on the financing of regional public transport.

The actors involved are multiple, with different and even divergent logics and interests. In general, the law requires all cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants to organize urban public transport. Public authorities are present in their organization at several institutional levels: state, autonomous communities and local authorities intervene simultaneously in large cities.

The operators are diverse, both in terms of their technical specialization and their status. There are municipal or regional public companies for the operation of buses and metros (the two modes being, as the case may be, in the same entity or separate), a national public railway undertaking (the incumbent operator RENFE) for the Iberian gauge network and regional railway undertakings operating narrow gauge networks. Private companies are more frequently encountered in the management of public service concessions in medium and small cities.

The economic equilibrium of the operation is all the more difficult and the debt of several networks increases. The rate of cost coverage by commercial revenue varies significantly from city to city, ranging from 27% to 72% for the same sample (with an average of 43% to 53% 2008 and 2015).

la France

The organization of public transport in France has entered a phase of change. On the one hand, several institutional reorganization laws have changed the distribution of responsibilities for public transport between the various territorial levels. On the other hand, the regional passenger transport market is promised opening to competition.

The choice exists between two management modes: the dedicated management (where the operation of the system is ensured by a structure directly dependent on the organizing authority) and the delegated management (where the organizing authority entrusts the operation of the transport system to a company after a call for tenders).


The organization of public transport in Greece shows a great diversity. Interurban bus transport is provided by multiple companies, grouped into 51 CTEs (KTEL). Bulletin of the Observatory of Transport Policies and Strategies in Europe. The maritime services of the islands are provided by private owners. 75 vessels perform 200 services per day, under public service agreements awarded by the Coastal Services Board of Management following calls for tenders from shipowners. Interurban passenger rail transport is provided by the historic operator Trainose, in a monopoly situation. Its financial situation was restored after 2010, at the cost of abandoning the service of the entire Peloponnese. The only remaining line connects Athens and Thessaloniki, undergoing modernization. Traffic is increasing due to better quality of service and modulated pricing. Public transport in the two largest cities, Athens and Salonika, are specific cases.

In Athens, where 40% of the country’s population resides, the organizing authority is the Athens Urban Transport Agency (OASA), under the Ministry of Transport. Three separate operators are respectively in charge of buses and trolleys (OSY), trams and three metro lines (Stasy) and the regional railway (Proasteiakos). There are some 6 million trips per day in the capital region of Attica, including 43% by private car, 3% by taxi, 42% by public transport and 12% by non-motorized modes (without know the part of the bike in this number).


In Italy as in other countries, the financing mechanisms for public transport are numerous and complex. International studies (such as those of the Victoria Transport Institute) detail the main sources of funding, with their advantages and disadvantages. It appears that there is no perfect solution, and that any public transport financing policy must be based on a mix of different solutions.

According to the UITP (the International Union of Public Transport), some taxes relate to the direct (users) or indirect beneficiaries of transport (employers, businesses, property owners), others to polluters who are thus obliged to finance alternative transport (taxes on pollution, congestion by toll, parking, fuel). Financing investments in public transport involves long-term agreements between public entities and private financiers, spreading the risks and expected benefits between the various partners.

The Italian public transport sector is highly fragmented, with around a thousand operators, of which about 160 are semi-public. There are 5.3 billion travelers each year (more than 14 million per day) for a turnover of 9 billion euros, with 110,000 employees using 50,000 vehicles.


In general, urban public transport in Poland has seen a decrease in attendance for several years, as a result of the intense movement of motorization of households and the increase in mobility linked to it. With around 7 billion passengers a year, cars now account for two-thirds of all mobility in the country. The share of public transport in urban mobility has increased from 31% in 2000 to 19% in 2017.

Urban transportation is under municipal responsibility or urban communities. Two cities (Warsaw and Gdansk) have an urban railway company. Warsaw is the only city with a metro, 15 cities have a tram.

The 2010 Public Transport Act requires cities to establish a “sustainable transportation” plan. It must cover all the components of the system: offering services, marketing, financing, and take into account all modes including walking. The law sets the division of competences distinguishing organizer and operator of the transport. Some 220 Polish cities are organizing authorities (AOT) and have urban public transport, with a denser network in the big cities.

The rate of cost coverage by users has increased from 63% in 2000 to 35% in 2016. In some cities this rate is only 15%.