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The future of human mobility: In light of increasing travel demand across all modes of transportation, how can the EU ensure mobility is both accessible and diverse as well as sustainable and carbon-free?

In combination with climate change, global megatrends such as population growth and urbanisation bring about a double-edged challenge for transportation: For individuals, the access to transportation is closely related to social mobility, health and education. Therefore, globally increasing and changing needs for transport call for the provision of accessible transportation to all. At the same time, however, increasing emissions from transportation are incompatible with required developments to address climate change. Researchers suggest that current policies aiming to enhance the energy-efficiency of transportation are insufficient in meeting international sustainability goals such as the Paris Agreement. The Committee on Transport and Tourism therefore faces the challenge to propose an intelligent transport strategy that addresses both the need for more accessible and less polluting passenger transport.

Changing demands and transport emissions

In order to understand the relevance and context of the topic, global megatrends need to be considered.

According to the UN, the current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050[1]. This global growth in population comes with an increase in transport demand. An increasing wealth in many parts of the world accelerates an even faster growing demand for faster modes of transportation such as aviation.

Today, more than half of the global population lives in cities. The UN estimates that by 2050, this share will increase to two thirds[2]. As relevant for the topic at hand, this urbanisation constitutes a major shift in individuals’ transportation needs. For the individual, transportation plays an important role in various aspects of life. The access to transportation largely determines an individual’s access to healthcare, education and work and is therefore closely linked to social justice. While the demand for transport is increasing overall, there is also a growing need for cheap and ever faster transport.

At the same time, the issue is strongly related to sustainability. In 2010, the OECD projected the global emissions from transportation to double by 2050[3]. Such a development would be highly incompatible with the efforts required to mitigate climate change, including the need to reduce GHG. With the continuous increase in transport emissions, reaching the Paris goal of a 20% reduction in GHG emissions between 2012 and 2030 becomes highly unfeasible. Climate change research, however, suggests that an achievement of the Paris goals is crucial for avoiding a critical threshold after which the effects of climate change would be disastrous and irreversible.

Taking the two factors of accessibility and sustainability together, a major challenge for future transportation becomes clear: One the one hand, future transportation needs to be faster and more accessible for a growing number of people in an increasingly urban environment. On the other hand, the total amount of GHG emissions resulting from this transport have to be reduced.

Scope of unsustainability and aspects to accessibility

Current unsustainability of transport sector in numbers

Several factors constitute the current unsustainability of the transportation sector. Some key elements are listed to illustrate the situation:

Share of renewable energy in transport - EEA 2016
  • EU transportation is highly dependent on oil, relying on it for 94% of its energy needs[4].
  • While the share of renewable energy varies largely throughout the Member States, it is overall still very low.
  • There is a strong reliance on road transport. In 2014, passenger cars contributed to over 70% of the European passenger transport overall[5]
  • At the moment, aviation is estimated to account for 4.9% of man-made global warming. It is, however, the faster growing, yet least efficient mode of transport. [6].
  • 78% of European citizens are currently living in cities[7]. The GHG emissions from urban transport constitute a large share of GHG emissions and many cities rely heavily on road transportation.

Close relationship between accessibility to transport, diversity and social mobility

'Lack of mobility is inextricably linked to social disadvantage and exclusion.' [8]

Identifying the main links between accessibility to transport, diversity and social mobility allows to understand the sociological aspect of the topic. The fact that mobility is connected to many fundamental aspects of an individual’s life, lays at the basis of this consideration. Generally, low access to transportation threatens to limit a person’s opportunities to access health care, education and jobs. It is therefore that mobility is such a relevant topic for society and that existing barriers to the access to transportation are so closely tied to social inequality. To a large extent, unequal access to mobility stems from the varying user costs for different modes of transportation: faster modes such as cars or trains are more often more expensive than slower modes such as walking or cycling. This is particularly the case for rural areas, in which transportation infrastructure is often insufficient. There, individuals without private cars such as young, elderly or unemployed, are victim to a lack of affordable mobility options[9]. The problem is, however, also increasingly important for urban areas. According to experts, there is and has been an overemphasis of “higher speed” in urban planning, meaning that the transportation infrastructure would be mainly designed in a way to respond for a growing demand of faster transportation. Thereby, the aspect of “high density” seems to be neglected. In such an approach, there is a stronger focus on transportation responding to the growing travel demand as a tool to achieving social justice, ensuring that transport is affordable, easy to access for all parts of the society[10].

Global dimension of issue

Looking at the topic on a European level is only a part of the problem. Taking the global differences in transport developments into consideration, this becomes evident. Overall, the highest increase in transport demands and the involved GHG emissions is expected to take place in developing countries[11]. Furthermore, the UN estimates that these countries account for close to 90% of urbanisation worldwide[12]. This is particularly relevant as sustainable and accessibly transport will be central to addressing the overall problem. The strong societal and global environmental impacts that are generated by transportation give good reason to view the topic from a global perspective.

Measures in place

General goals on international and European level

Under Goal 11, ‘’Sustainable Cities and Communities’’ of the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN agreed on a target to create "access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all to improve road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, such as women, children, persons with disabilities and elderly persons."[13]

Furthermore, the New Urban Agenda was adopted at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (UN Habitat III) in Quito in October 2016. It aims to "Improve connectivity and support innovative and green initiatives" and "Promote safe, accessible and green public spaces"[14].

With regards to emissions, the 2015 Paris Agreement laid down key international goals. It set the objectives to keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial level and thus limiting the increase to 1.5°C. Moreover, the Agreement aims at reducing GHG emissions by at least 20% between 2012 and 2030. Expressing their commitment, the EU as well as most Member States individually ratified the Paris Agreement[15]. On a European level, the EU 2020 strategy, adopted in 2010, set general targets to address climate change and energy sustainability such as cutting GHG by 20% until 2020, compared to 1990 levels. Additionally, the 2030 Energy Strategy aims to reduce emissions by 40% until 2030. Additionally, national emission targets are set by the Effort Sharing Decision.

Looking more specifically at transport, the European Commission’s 2011 White Paper outlines the EU’s main policy objectives for sustainability[16]. For 2050, these include:

  • reduction of 60% in GHG from transport (compared to 1990 levels)
  • European cities free of conventionally-fuelled cars
  • reduction in dependence on oil
  • development of alternative fuels strategy

In 2016, the EC proposed A European strategy for low-emissions mobility.

Measures at the European level

  • In 1996, the EU established the Trans-European Transport Networks programme (TEN-T) to enhance the European infrastructure network. The programme consists of a variety of infrastructural projects aiming to improve the cohesion, interconnection and interoperability of trans-European transport[17].
  • Adopted in 2009 by the European Commission, the Action Plan on Urban Mobility includes measures to help local, regional and national authorities in achieving their goals for sustainable urban mobility[18]. In 2013, this commitment was reinforced with 2013 Urban Mobility Package[19].
  • Adopted in 2016, the Fourth Railway Package aims to improve the competitiveness, quality and cost-efficiency of rail transport by opening it to the market and facilitating railway undertakings beyond single Member States[20].
  • Some European legislation directly addresses the use of alternative fuels. The 2009 Renewable Energy Directive (RED) set legally binding targets for Member States to obtain at least 10% of their transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020[21]. As the transport sector achieved a 6% share of renewable energy in 2015, some Member States will have to intensify their efforts in order to meet this target[22]. Additionally, the 2014 Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive - (AFID) requires Member States to develop a national policy framework for the market development of alternative fuels and their infrastructure[23]. The 2015 Fuel Quality Directive limits the share of biofuel that can be counted towards the 2020 renewable energy targets to 7%[24].
  • The EU has several financial instruments to support investment and research in the area of transport, such as the Horizon 2020 work programme and the Connecting Europe Facility.

European States and Local Authorities

Transport is a policy area in which both the EU and the Member States holds legislative competence. National Governments therefore play a key role in the making policy-making process, infrastructure investments as well as implementing respective EU legislation. National approaches vary in many aspects, with some Member States being more ambitious in shifting towards sustainable transportation than others.

Often, cities and local authorities are responsible for urban planning and transport infrastructure. While measures taken by different cities vary largely[25], sustainable urban transportation concepts include the establishment of public space for low-emission mobility including cycling and walking as well as accessible public transport. There has been both governmental and non-governmental efforts to foster cooperation and exchange of best practices among cities. On a European level, these include EPOMM [26], Smart Cities and Communities[27] and EUROCITIES[28]. To a much smaller extent, there has also been effort for global cooperation of cities such as Action Platform: Urban Electric Mobility Initiative (UEMI)[29].


In 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN specialized agency, agreed to a plan to reduce aviation emissions and cap them at 2020 levels. While all other transport sectors are excluded from it, aviation is part of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). While its scope has been limited to flights within the EEA until 2016 in order to support the ICAOs efforts for a global agreement, it is now being discussed whether this limited approach should be continued.

Key Conflicts, Opportunities & Challenges of (Potential) Measures

Unsuitability of purely technical solutions

Analyzing the current trends and policies, the EEA expects European passenger transport to grow by 40% between 2010 and 2050[30] Furthermore, it expects GHG emissions in 2050 to be three times higher than envisioned by the EC. Therefore, the report suggests that current policies are insufficient in achieving sustainability. The EEA urges that besides technical solutions and improvements in the energy-efficiency of existing modes of transportation, a much more fundamental change in travel behaviour is needed. Thus, the EES proposed a multi-perspective method to address the issue: Avoid, Shift, Improve:

  • Avoid high transport demand: Measures that aim to reduce the individual’s behaviour in everyday practice of using certain transportation.
  • Shift to more sustainable modes with low or zero emission: Measures that facilitate a shift from aviation and road to more energy efficient modes such as waterborne and public transport as well as cycling or walking.
  • Improve energy efficiency of individual transport modes: Incentives for increased competitiveness.

Factors that hamper the exploitation of existing opportunities for improvement:

Some factors can be identified that appear to hamper the exploitation of already existing opportunities, such as new transportation technologies, or mobility concepts. These include:

  • investment in certain infrastructures: In 2014, the investment into road infrastructure accounted for 52% of European investment in transport. Such high levels are argued to generate new demand, reinforcement of car-dependency and hinder investment in more sustainable transportation.
Investment in transport infrastructure - EEA 2016
  • according to the EEA, incumbent interests of car manufacturing industries seem to play a role, as the industry’s interest to seek niche technologies is dependent on external pressure for change.
  • incentives generated by current taxation policies, such as the absence of a kerosene tax on international flights, are described to insufficiently encourage a shift to more sustainable alternatives.

Possibilities for change

A variety of different actions is discussed as holding the potential to create sustainable and accessible transport. In the following, a few options are presented:

  • Taxation constitutes a possible tool to encourage the development and usage of more sustainable alternatives, as for example fuel in the aviation sector. An internalisation of external costs, such as environmental destruction, into the price of transportation could affect consumers decision in their mobility choices. However, high pricing of certain modes of transportation could also increase social injustice in access.
  • Measures to lower the purchase costs of electric vehicles could increase sustainable private mobility, allowing more people to use them as alternative. However, there are concerns that facilitated access to electric vehicles could reinforce the reliance of private transportation and thus ultimately have a possible rebound effect, resulting in higher emissions and energy-usage.
  • Shared mobility, including car sharing, on-demand ride services, ride-sharing and bike sharing, might be increasingly provided by local authorities or private companies such as Car2Go or DriveNow. However, the are concerns about a possible reverse effect of car sharing, with a decline in public transport ultimately leading to higher emissions[31]. Additionally, controversy exists concerning unfair competition of sharing mobility services, with several countries having banned Uber[32].
  • Public-private partnerships promise a more competitive, higher quality and seamless transport.
  • Multimodality: the combination of different modes of transport bring hope for a reduction of road transport in urban areas, offering even more public space for zero-emission mobility. At the same time, shared mobility can supplement public transport in more peripheral areas, that would otherwise be inaccessible.
  • Information and communications technology (ICT) enables demand responsive transport services, which could provide more efficient and accessible public transport in rural areas[33].
  • Large potential is seen in the investment into technological transportation innovations such as autonomous vehicles (AVs)[34] or even more visionary projects like the hyperloop[35]. There are, however, controversies about these transportations, including concerns about the environmental meaningfulness, security and economic feasibility[36].

Sum Up and Food for thought

Global megatrends such as population growth and urbanisation give rise to new challenges for passenger transportation. On the one hand, there is a need for transportation to respond to the mobility needs of people and become more accessible. On the other hand, the transport sector generates environmentally harmful emissions which need to be reduced. For the TRAN committee, this poses questions such as:

  • Are accessibility to transport and sustainability counterproductive?
  • Are they mutually exclusive and do they require a trade-off or could they be combined?

Current research suggests that the future development under the existing legislation is insufficient in achieving policy goals to reduce GHG emissions. Taking the model ‘’Avoid, Shift, Improve’’ in account:

  • How explicit and restrictive should measures be if they seek to trigger behavioural change?

Having these general considerations in mind, the topic can be viewed on the local, national, European and global policy level, with a variety of governmental and non-governmental actors involved. Moreover, it appears that there are ample opportunities for an improvement of transportation, including technological innovations, ICT, and shared mobility. Still, there seem to be factors that hinder the exploitation of such opportunities.

  • What are the best tactics to most effectively address transportation on these different policy levels?
  • What role should the EU play in the global scope of the problem?
  • What roles should local authorities, Member States and companies play?

While various cities within and outside of Europe have already implemented sustainable and accessible mobility concepts very successfully, many others have not yet undergone such a development.

  • How can the exchange of best practices among cities and local authorities be facilitated?

Links for further research

  • Official Sources:

EEA (2016): Term 2016: Fundamental changes needed for sustainable mobility: [1] (the entire report is rather long but at least scrolling through it is highly recommended)

EEA (2016): A selection of various charts:

  • Media coverage:

Euractiv news on the Future of Mobility: Euractiv news on Public Transport Accessibility:

BBC. (2016). Aviation industry agrees deal to cut CO2 emissions.

The Guardian. (2017). What if Uber kills off public transport rather than cars?

Government Technology. (2014). How Transportation Technologies Will Change Everything.


  1. United Nations. (2015). World population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Retrieved from
  2. United Nations. (2015). World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas. Retrieved from
  3. OECD. (2010). OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050. Retrieved from
  4. European Commission. (2017). Alternative fuels for sustainable mobility in Europe. Retrieved from
  5. EEA. (2016). Term 2016: Fundamental changes needed for sustainable mobility. Retrieved from
  6. European Federation for Transport and Environment AISBL. (2017). Aviation. Retrieved from
  7. Market Place of the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities. (2017). Cities - key for Europe. Retrieved from
  8. Titheridge et al. (2014). Transport and Poverty. A review of the evidence Retrieved from
  9. The Telegraph. (2014). Rural communities more isolated as transport forgotten. Retrieved from:
  10. Litmann, T. (2017). Evaluating Accessibility for Transportation Planning. Retrieved from
  11. OECD. (2010). OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050. Retrieved from
  12. United Nations. (2014). World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas. Retrieved from
  13. United Nations Development Programme. (2017). Goal 11 Targets. Retrieved from
  14. United Nations. (2016).The New Urban Agenda: Key Commitments. Retrieved from
  15. European Council. (2016). Climate Change: Council adopts decision for EU ratification of Paris Agreement Retrieved from
  16. European Commission. (2017). White Paper 2011. Retrieved from
  17. European Commission. (2017). TEN-T Projects. Retrieved from
  18. European Commission. (2017). Action Plan on urban mobility. Retrieved from
  19. European Commission. (2017). Urban Mobility Package. Retrieved from
  20. European Commission. (2017). Fourth Railway Package of 2016. Retrieved from
  21. European Commission. (2017). Renewable energy directive. Retrieved from
  22. European Commission. (2017). Progress Report. Retrieved from
  23. European Commission. (2017). Alternative fuels for sustainable mobility in Europe. Retrieved from
  24. EUR-Lex. (2015). Directive (EU) 2015/1513 of the European Parliament and of the Council. Retrieved from
  25. EPOMM. (2017). TEMS - The EPOMM Modal Split Tool. Retrieved from
  26. EPOMM. (2017). Overview. Retrieved from
  27. European Commission. (2017). Smart Cities and Communities. Retrieved from
  28. UROCITIES. (2016). about EUROCITIES. Retrieved from
  29. UEMI. (2017). about UEMI. Retrieved from
  30. EEA. (2016). Term 2016: Fundamental changes needed for sustainable mobility. Retrieved from
  31. The Guardian. (2017). What if Uber kills off public transport rather than cars? Retrieved from
  32. The Independent. (2017). Uber: Which countries have banned the controversial taxi app. Retrieved from
  33. Ringalink. (2017). Demand responsive transport.
  34. Government Technology. (2014). How Transportation Technologies Will Change Everything. Retrieved from
  35. TechChrunch. (2017). Hyperloop Transportation Technologies plans to connect all of Europe, starting with the Czech Republic. Retrieved from
  36. The Guardian. (2016). Hyperloop and our misplaced love of futuristic technology. Retrieved from

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