• Conclusions about city charging apply to Eurovignette

    Editorial by Nina Renshaw ‘Towards a new culture for urban mobility’ is the ambitious sounding title for a Commission green paper launched last month. Sadly the title reflects nothing of the sort in the contents of the paper, which shows the EU still feels rather lost in our cities.


    After all, previous EU ventures into urban transport policy have ended with a stern reminder of the subsidiarity principle under which local issues are resolved at local level, but there is still a certain amount the Commission can do on urban mobility. And if it is in listening mode, it might listen to some of its own conclusions as reported in the green paper and apply them to the wider questions affecting Europe’s transport.

    As a transnational body, the EU is well placed to spread the word about best practice in urban transport. Quite rightly, the green paper finds much to recommend in the London and Stockholm city charging schemes. Charging fair prices for the use of transport in our cities offers the best option to control urban traffic growth, and make our cities clean, safe and healthy places to live. London and Stockholm are showing the way, also by reinvesting the revenues into better quality public transport to break out of the vicious circle. At least 20 other European cities hope to follow their lead.

    The truth is, though, that the EU cannot take any credit for theses home-grown successes. This is not just because they were measures decided locally, but because the approach the Commission has taken to its equivalent dossier, the Eurovignette directive on road charging, has been to avoid the principle of charging for externalities that the London and Stockholm charges incorporate. If the EU is serious about replicating these successes elsewhere, it must listen to its own warm words about the value of city charging schemes and transpose them into action when it comes to revising the Eurovignette next year. Member states must be allowed to include the costs of congestion and environmental damage in the price of using all roads. To date, the Eurovignette rules only apply to lorries and to major European highways, and only relate to infrastructure costs. Cities rightly fall outside this scope, so local administrations are free to decide on the best schemes to tackle their own local problems and their costs. The EU should not interfere in any way that would impact on a cities’ right to do this.

    One of the best things the Commission could do, when it tackles the Eurovignette revision, is to show how external costs should be calculated, so they can be included in transport prices if national, regional or municipal authorities see fit. The scope of the directive does not need to change — cities must still be able to design their own solutions under subsidiarity. But a model showing them the way is a first step to encouraging more widespread use of fair pricing to manage transport demand.

    Of course, a good urban public transport system and safe infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians should ideally be in place before road charging. But here the EU has another vital role to play. Cohesion funds worth almost €40 billion for 2007-13 are available for many regions. Small scale urban projects present much better value for money and have positive effects for more people, compared to infrastructure mega-projects. The Commission can still steer member states’ spending in a more sustainable direction.

    The EU is still questioning its own role in cities, but its real job is to smooth the functioning of the transport system as a whole. Next year, it has a chance to answer both questions by smoothing the way to including the real costs of transport in the prices.

    This news story is taken from the October 2007 edition of T&E Bulletin.