Transport in the European Union: time to decide John Whitelegg Introduction

A review of the economic consequences of traffic reduction

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A review of the economic consequences of traffic reduction

There is a well-developed literature on this subject. Most of the work is German in origin where resources have been devoted to empirical research on the relationship between traffic restraint (e.g. reducing the number of car parking places in cities) and retail viability. This research carried out by the German Institute for Urban Research in the late 1980s and early 1990s is very clear:

"A study in Germany suggest that retail trade in central city districts increases with policies that encourage environmentally friendly transport modes. Of the 38 cities studied, 14 had above average retail growth. Of these 14, 10 had below average provision of infrastructure for the car"
Source: European Commission (1996) European Sustainable Cities. Report, Expert Group on the Urban Environment, page 176
This is not really surprising. There is a large literature on the costs of congestion and the scale of the defensive expenditures that have to be deployed to cope with the air pollution, noise pollution, road traffic accidents and congestion impacts of traffic growth and traffic concentration in space and time (Maddison et al, 1996).
Authoritative European surveys of the external costs of transport agree that the total external costs of transport in 17 European countries amounts to 270 billion ECU per year, an average of 4.6% of GDP. The road total is 50 times higher than the rail total and for all practical purposes walking and cycling can be regarded as having zero external costs.
The full implementation of already accepted EU policy in the area of internalising the external cost of transport would significantly reduce the number of vehicle kilometres of car and lorry travel while at the same time expanding the use of other modes and liberating significant resources for investment in social infrastructure (e.g. education and training), environmentally high performing buildings and innovation in design and manufacturing to enhance the international competitiveness of UK businesses.
In a seminal study of Japan's urban transport system and economic performance, Hook (1994) associates Japan's reliance on non-motorised transport and rail transit with its economic success:
"High urban density and a transportation system heavily reliant on non-motorised transport and its linkages with rail based mass transit have been critical to Japan's economic success. By minimizing aggregate transportation costs, Japan has been able to minimize its production costs, making its goods more competitive in international markets. Further by discouraging the consumption of private automobiles and encouraging savings, a larger pool of potential investment capital was created, also critical to rapid economic growth....the automobile far from being a symbol of economic prowess is more a symbol of economic assets being wasted on consumption instead of on job creating and productivity-increasing investment. Meanwhile the bicycle and other non-motorised vehicles far from being a symbol of economic backwardness are more symbols of a society able to meet its passenger transport needs in the most cost effective and least environmentally damaging way, allowing scarce economic resources to be invested elsewhere"
Source: Hook, W (1994) Role of non-motorised transportation and public transport in Japan's Economic Success, Transportation Record, 1441, TRB, Washington DC
There are considerable benefits to be had from public transport investments. Steer, Davies and Gleave (1997) in their report for Transport 2000 show that the total non user benefit from investing in the Midland Metro Line 1 amounts to £112.85 million at 1989 prices. Evidence from Portland, Oregon (USA) shows a major wave of economic revitalisation from the new transit system and its associated land use planning (Centre for Clean Air Policy, Washington DC, 1997). Portland's economic decline in the 1960s and 1970s was reversed by new high density housing in the down town area, conversion of streets to pedestrian friendly configurations, replacing a riverside motorway with an esplanade, stringent parking restrictions, free public transport in the central area using a new light rail system and the scrapping of road schemes. The result has been a revitalised city centre with 30,000 more jobs and 40% of commuters using public transport.
Detailed empirical research in Germany shows that there is no relationship between the amount of car parking provision in the main city centres and the amount of retail spending in those areas (Baier and Schaefer, 1997). Freiburg with very low numbers of car parking spaces per inhabitant has a higher level of retail spending than Wetzlar with four times the number of spaces per inhabitant as Freiburg. In the case of public transport there is a very strong relationship. The higher the number of public transport arrivals in the cities the greater is the level of retail activity in those centres. The evidence in Europe points to the economic success of traffic restraint policies and to the non-existence of damaging economic consequences.
The literature and experience from all advanced industrial countries that have invested in alternatives to the car and in forms of mobility other than the car is that there are measurable economic benefits and gains from doing so. Traffic reduction is not about stopping people travelling. Transferring trips to modes of transport other than the car or planning for land use arrangements and accessibility patterns that stimulate innovations in supply (e.g. home deliveries) are more likely to create jobs than to destroy jobs. Indeed sustainable transport policies with traffic reduction at their heart are examples of strategies that have the potential to create, real lasting local jobs that can sustain local communities at a time when globalisation tendencies are making jobs far more mobile than at any other time in the past 50 years.

Trans European Networks

Europe is unique on a global scale in that it has a supra-national authority (the European Union) planning for transport and providing resources for transport projects. The 15 countries that are currently members of the European Union are still responsible in every sense for their transport plans, policies, programmes and strategies and they also make strong inputs to the EU policy level. At the European Union level there are a number of key transport policy areas :

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through voluntary agreements with car manufacturers

  • Improving air quality through directives and regulations which are legally binding in all member states

  • Social regulations to protect the health of workers eg limiting the hours that can be driven by lorry drivers

  • Planning and funding major items of new transport infrastructure (trans European Networks)

  • Opening up access to railways systems and making national rail systems capable of being "inter-operable"

  • Opening up road haulage to international competition through "cabotage" ie permitting hauliers from one country to pick up loads in another country

  • Fiscal measures to bring the costs of road frieght transport into line with the damage that is caused by lorries (ie incresaing taxation through infrastructure charging).

In this section I will discuss Trans European Networks (TENs) only. Trans European Networks are significant for a number of reasons. They are a key area of European Union policy in that they are intended to deliver broader political objectives. TENs are expected to contribute to the process of enlargement through easing movement across borders. TENs are expected to deliver a fully integrated political union through the binding together of the many remote and disparate regions of the Union and TENs are expected to assist in the stimulation of economic growth which in its turn is expected to remove economic and social inequalities in the Union. The fact that all these wider objectives and motivations lack any sound basis of evidence or validation has never been an obstacle to their promotion as key objectives. The European Union is essentially an economic power bloc locked into outmoded ideas of economic growth, growth in output and growth in mobility. The tension at the heart of the Union is one of this commitment to ever higher rates of growth in mobility sustained by infrastructure investment and a parallel commitment to sustainable development. By definition sustainable development is about the conservation of energy and resources and is incompatible with commitments to the growth of motorised transport. More than any other policy area of the European Union, the commitment to TENs reveals a fundamentally unsustainable core set of beliefs and policies. The European Union is structurally incapable of adopting an economic, social, spatial or transport policy that can deliver reductions in traffic growth. The consequences of this historic missed opportunity are increasing levels of congestion, health damage, climate change and damage to the cultural and architectural fabric of Europeans towns and cities.

The European Union White Paper on transport is very clear indeed on TENs:
"Given the saturation of certain major arteries and the consequent pollution, it is essential for the European Union to complete the trans-European projects already decided." (page 14).
The projects already decided are a list of 14 separate schemes agreed at the Essen Council meeting in 1996. They are:

  1. High speed rail and combined transport north south link

  2. High speed train Paris, Brussels, Cologne, Amsterdam, London

  3. High Speed train south

  4. High speed train Paris, E France-Southern Germany (inc Metz-Luxembourg)

  5. Conventional rail/combined transport Betuwe line

  6. High Speed train/Combined transport France-Italy (Lyon-Turin-Milan-Venice-Trieste)

  7. Greek motorways PATHE and Via Egnatia

  8. Multimodal link Portugal-Spain-Central Europe

  9. Conventional rail link Cork-Dublin-Belfast-Larne-Stranraer

  10. Malpensa Airport (Milan)

  11. Fixed link Denmark-Sweden (Oresund Link)

  12. Nordic Triangle

  13. Ireland-UK-Benelux Road link

  14. West Coast Main Line (UK)

Three of these have been completed (in bold above) and the remainder will be completed by 2005. The EU budget allocated to these projects is 1830 billion Euros in the period 1995-2005. In the period 1996-97 EU funding represented 30% of the total cost. The remainder of the funding was from national governments and private companies.

These huge sums of money are all devoted to encouraging European goods and people to travel further and faster. The large sums of taxpayers money that goes into these projects has not been evaluated in terms of "best value". The EU is silent on the nature of the mechanisms that will convert more road space and higher rail speeds into jobs, prosperity and sustainability. Indeed the weight of scientific evidence in European transport points to the conclusion that these investments will simply stimulate more freight and passenger movement. This was predicted in a European Commission report on completing the internal market. The report "1992" The Environmental Dimension concluded that the removal of barriers to trade and completing the internal market would increase greenhouse gases and lead to a deterioration in air quality.
The Gothenburg European Council (2001) concluded that TENs should form part of an environmentally sustainable policy to encourage the use of "environment-friendly modes of transport". This will be realised through the development of multi-modal corridors and high speed trains. Sadly the decision makers have chosen to ignore the reality of European transport experience. Adding to motorway capacity does not reduce vehicle kms travelled. Building high speed train routes does not encourage less travel (even air travel continues to grow as air traffic control slots are released for other routes). Building airports does not reduce greenhouse gases.
TENs are increasingly concentrating on overcoming major "natural barriers" eg Alpine crossings, crossing the Pyrennees and linking Denmark and Germany (Fehmarn Belt). Alpine crossings are a major political and environmental problem in Europe. The concentration of 20,000 lorries per day on key roads and tunnels has imposed intolerable burdens on people and ecology and has contributed to the breakdown of this system in a series of accidents blocking tunnels in 2000 and 2001 (eg the Mont Blanc tunnel). The emphasis on new rail tunnels funded by the Swiss government (not in the European Union) will only provide temporary relief to what is a fundamental spatial and organisational inefficiency. As long as Northern Europe seeks to provide southern Europe with the same kind of goods that move in the opposite direction we will always have an "Alpine transit problem". The problem is created by dysfunctional production systems and cost driven marketing and consumption systems which encourage as much movement of goods as is necessary to maximise profits and reduce consumer prices. The environment (and health) is not priced in this system and all opportunities for local production for local consumption are enthusiastically and recklessly foregone. It is the express purpose of new infrastructure (road and rail) to support an illogical and unsustainable long distance production-consumption system.
The White Paper highlights the importance of new infrastructure across the Pyrennees to assist trade between the Iberian peninsula and France/countries beyond France. Currently 15,000 lorries cross this boundary each day and this number is growing at 10% pa. The European Union in advocating more crossings is not addressing the "why" question. Why is lorry activity increasing so much when final consumers are not consuming 10% more food, metal, plastic, wood etc each year? The answer (once again) lies in the production system. Each year the distance intensity of each tonne of material increases. This concept is clearly described in the case of yoghurt in Boege (1995) and in Whitelegg (1997). If we continue to eliminate local production for local consumption from our economic systems then we will need to cater for very large increases in lorry numbers at every mountain pass, river crossing and international crossing. The Commission's answer is to ignore the question and to prepare plans for another high capacity rail crossing of the Pyrennees.
The White Paper suggest the addition of 4 new, very expensive, infrastructure projects to the TENs list:
East European high speed train/combined transport to link Stuttgart-Munich-Salzburg-Linz-Vienna
Fehmarn Belt to link Germany and Denmark with a new 19km fixed link (bridge and tunnel)
Straubing-Vilshofen to improve navigability on the Danube
Interoperability of the Iberian high speed rail system

The high priority given to TENs guarantees that a high level of resources will be allocated to these projects. Europe is now very firmly established on a trajectory that will create a distance intensive and movement intensive society for both passengers and freight. The hyper-mobile society that we are now creating with massive subsidies and investments is already altering the geography and geometry of Europe and undermining environmental, ecological and social structures.

Europe is undergoing a radical transformation of its transport landscape. The process is well underway and may be unstoppable. The main elements of the change can be seen in American and Australian transport systems. Distance is becoming a desirable commodity in itself and the fragmentation of production and consumption systems based on a false model of economic efficiency are taking us to higher levels of people and goods movement. Europe is becoming a continent where most people are on the move most of the time and if we can buy an apple that has travelled 1000 km then this must be much better than one that carries with it thousands of years of history, culture and taste and has travelled 50 kms. The direct manifestations of transport failures (congestion, pollution and accidents) attract a response from national governments and from the European Union that will make the problem worse. Air traffic congestion is so bad in Europe that we will build 30 more airports. Road traffic congestion is so bad that we will build 10,000 kms of new motorways and local travel is so awful (especially for children, those with mobility difficulties and the elderly) that we will spend 99% of transport budgets on those kinds of transport that are of no relevance at all to the quality of life and accessibility of those who live in cities or the countryside. We are creating an unequal, polarised, polluted European society where most money is spent on the irrelevant wishes and needs of the hyper mobile and least on the quality of accessibility within 5 kms of where we all live. In the process we are destroying European civilisation with its fine cities and strong cultural identity and its patchwork quilt of fine landscapes. We are destroying habitat, ecology and biodiversity. We are destroying regional identity, regional food and local jobs and we are making our children ill. We are creating a polarised and divided society where the poor and the weak will be expected to absorb the environmental and health consequences of the hyper mobility of the rich. To add a final layer of insult most of the damage is being done by governments committed to sustainable development, by businesses fully accredited to the international environmental management standard (ISO 14001), and by a European Union that is large enough and strong enough to supply the large amounts of cash that are needed to bring about the final destruction of space through the conquest of time.


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