eMobility more than ‘just electric cars’

This article was first published in Parliament Magazine on 13 June 2014

The Ukraine crisis highlights the urgent need to rethink Europe’s energy use and dependence. Two thirds of EU oil use is in transport, and transport itself is still almost 100 per cent dependent on oil. A third of the EU’s oil comes from Russia, entailing a massive capital transfer of around €100bn a year.

All this burning oil has led to transport becoming (on a par with energy) the highest emitting sector, responsible for 32 per cent of the EU’s CO2 emissions and growing year on year.

It has become politically correct to say that energy efficiency is a triple win for climate, people and the economy – but it remains true. EU legislation to make cars more fuel efficient entered into force six years ago.

Carmakers have to make cars 30 per cent more fuel-efficient by 2021 and the results are already on display, with cleaner models coming in all the time and mainstream models becoming more fuel efficient too. It’s now time to fix the next step of standards for 2025, so that industry can start preparing and investing in the next generation of technologies and cars.

Fuel economy standards for lorries are also overdue – the US, China and Japan already have them in place. We cannot afford to fall behind in this global technology race which brings so many benefits.

We also need to think more strategically on how we can best organise the transition towards sustainable eMobility. Electric mobility has to be more than just replacing today’s fleet of private cars with more electric ones. The eMobility boom is already upon us: for every electric car sold in 2013, Europeans bought 62 eBikes.

Our railways, metros and trams are already largely electric, and there are more and more buses. Smart mobility apps make different mobility choices much more attractive. As well as this, young people are less interested in buying cars and keener on biking, public transport and car-sharing, which lends itself very well to eVehicles. We need coordination to make sure that the end result is more than the sum of all the hundreds of eMobility initiatives that are taking place across Europe.

On trains, Europe has ambitious targets for the modal share for rail in 2030 and 2050, but there is little progress beyond better rules for cohesion funds. The EU’s unhealthy obsession with high-speed rail drains funds from more cost-effective conventional rail projects where there is far more passenger demand, and risks converting rail from a service for people into a subsidy for business.

Passengers seem to get forgotten during the in-fighting over rail liberalisation, which distracts from common-sense policies, like ensuring cross-border tickets can be bought anywhere, online. These common sense policies will surely win over more passengers and save more emissions than pouring billions into a few prestige projects.

Arguably the biggest anomaly in the EU’s transport system, and its policy, is aviation. The EU still forbids national governments from taxing aviation fuel and levying VAT on tickets.

These prohibitions are both unacceptable and unnecessary. But the EU also turns a blind eye to subsidising aviation through state aid for airports and airlines and generous (lax) enforcement of these rules. All this costs each European taxpayer around €150 per year, whether they fly or not.

The EU enters into a new five year period with a clear choice: either be at the forefront of smart and sustainable mobility, or fall behind and pay the – oily – bill.

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