Significant events in 2016-2017: the constant nature of the transport system in Europe is change!

The « milestones » listed below were freely chosen by members of OPSTE’s panel of experts. Marked by the news, they are very different from one country to another, while other issues of this newsletter, organized around a common theme, suggest that, on the contrary, the fundamental problems are generally the same, even if their acuteness and the solutions provided are not identical, everywhere in Europe. Of course, each national situation is specific, considering the institutions, the aspirations of the citizens, the state of the transport system as it results from a long history (the « dependence of the way » as the economists say), etc., but is still rich in lessons in other contexts. The development of air transport – both passenger and freight – inevitably poses strong problems in the local environment (noise and pollution, not to mention a growing contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions). Large airports must be located close to major cities, so as not to lengthen the terminal land routes, whereas these urbanized areas are particularly sensitive to nuisances, particularly noise (daytime and nighttime): what a compromise economically and ethically satisfactory to establish conflicting aspirations to mobility and quality of life? The professional and social status of transport workers – both salaried and self-employed – is deeply challenged by the development of digital platforms, which link supply and demand and destabilize traditional organizations and regulated professions. What framework, what regulation ensuring a minimum of rights and coherence in social solidarity? Public opinion and public authorities are increasingly sensitive to the environmental effects of transport. In addition to concerns about the greenhouse effect, the fight against local pollution is intensifying, particularly in urban areas. Various measures aim to limit the traffic of older vehicles and to renew the fleet by supporting the purchase of less polluting vehicles and, more or less distantly, electro-mobility. Institutional issues have eminently a transport dimension. In Spain, the Catalan separatists criticize not only the distribution of public investment between autonomous communities but the very form of the network of infrastructures that Madrid’s centralism has shaped: a polar network, in star, and not a ramified network. The role of public authorities is decisive in terms of infrastructure. A radical turning point seems to be taking place in several European countries, with a slowdown or even abandonment of investments in new sections – high-speed rail lines or highways – with uncertain socio-economic profitability, to give more means to maintenance. and the modernization of the existing network, long neglected.

Transportation is experiencing both a proliferation of technologies, whether they are energy sources that replace fossil fuels or the driving of vehicles, and a proliferation of new uses (car pooling, car-sharing enabled by digital forms, etc.). Railway undertakings do not want to be locked into their traditional domain and intend to become major players in an integrated system of intermodal and end-to-end mobility, including the railways. Other players, with other assets and skills such as the control of information networks and big data, can develop competing strategies in this field … All these movements are not without tensions and conflicts. Thus, the economic and social contradictions between EU Member States are strong in the field of road haulage and mark debates on the posting of workers or cabotage practices. Progress is not a calm river. The emergence of new technologies and new operators triggers strong social innovations, where the boundaries between the individual and the collective, the commercial and the volunteer, the private and the professional are questioned, at the risk of the development of a « informal » economy. Traditional professions accuse newcomers of unfair competition and social dumping. What public policy can be put in place to support this flexibility, preserving innovation but restricting abuses and ensuring a significant level of social protection? Symptomatically, the general tendency to precarious use of the name « uberisation » is commonly referred to. Once again, transport is the seat of questions that interest society as a whole.

Michel Savy

Professor Emeritus at the University of Paris East (Paris School of Urban Planning, Ecole des Ponts-ParisTech) Director of the OPSTE