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Production and Transport

October 2003


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Braking transport growth

Measures that restrain transport demand, rather than treat the symptoms of rising traffic volumes, have been criticised as restrictive and unfair. But the European Conference of Ministers for Transport says action must be taken if environmental damage is to be reduced and the quality of life improved. Th e transport industry has become a victim of its own success. In 1800, the average person ventured just a few kilometres from his or her home each day. By 2000, the average distance travelled per day had risen to 40 kilometres, thanks to faster and cheaper car and air travel.

Rising incomes have also boosted road freight transport. As the number of brands of beer and exotic vegetables multiply on our shelves, so does the number of lorries required to deliver them. It was once assumed that road freight grew in line with incomes. For more than a decade, demand for road freight has outstripped GDP growth in most EU countries as it has become cheaper, quicker and more reliable.

The latest transport white paper from the European Commission has forecast that road transport in Europe will increase by 50% between 1990 and 2010, a rise boosted by the accession of new Member States to the EU. Overall transport demand will rise by 30% by the end of the decade.

That growth, as any townsperson can attest, comes at great cost - to the environment, to our quality of life and, in turn, to the economies of nations which once assumed that all transport growth was necessary and good.

Tackling causes, not just symptoms

Carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector, which already account for 30% of all polluting emissions within the EU, are set to rise by a further 40% by the end of 2010. Across the EU, it is estimated that 10% of the road network is jammed at some time every day. Road congestion is expected to continue to worsen, costing the EU an estimated €80 billion a year by the end of the decade, or about 1% of GDP, unless action is taken. But what kind of action?

Transport authorities have mostly opted to treat the symptoms of rising transport flows, through palliatives such as building more roads and legislating for more fuel-efficient car engines. Yet such solutions don't always deliver long-term results. New road space quickly fills up, and air pollution keeps rising because the energy savings delivered by more fuel-efficient cars are cancelled out by consumers who tend to drive their new cars over longer distances.

According to the European Conference of Ministers of Transport, governments must consider a more controversial solution - introducing measures that actually restrain transport demand.

"Some commentators have taken (this) as a curb on the freedom of citizens and enterprise," Isabelle Durant, Belgium's former Federal Minister for Mobility and President in office of the ECMT, said in a paper delivered to an ECMT seminar in December 2002. "However, there can be no freedom without duties and no guarantee that the freedom that some enjoy will not encroach upon that of others. We are clearly reaching the stage where we need to plot a better course for transport demand in order to reduce its adverse impacts. We need to introduce rational mobility."

Swiss make a move

The seminar identified the main drivers of rising transport demand such as technological and scientific developments, rising incomes, changing demographics and social trends - which are mostly outside the control of transport planners. Yet it also identified ways in which demand might be curbed, through such tools as congestion charging, higher-quality alternatives and better urban and land use planning. Two ways the Swiss use to manage transport demand with some success - a heavy vehicle fee, and integrated land use and suburban rail planning to improve accessibility in and around Zürich - were also presented.

As Phil Goodwin, the director of the Transport Studies Unit at University College, London, notes in the conclusion to the conference report, demand management may be resisted by some as restrictive and unfair, but it holds out the most hope for governments which want to make their economies more effective by reducing environmental damage caused by transport, and improving the quality of life.


Managing the fundamental drivers of transport demand. Proceedings of the international seminar, December 2002 ISBN 92 82 11376 0 (pbk), 92 82 11377 9 (pdf)

Gérer les déterminants de la demande de transport
ISBN 92 82 12376 4 (pbk), 92 82 12377 4 (pdf)

OECD, Paris, 2003
English, French, 136 pp, EUR 35 (pbk), EUR 28 (pdf)

Conference papers:




cover of publication

Investing in carbon control

The extreme weather that Europe has experienced this year has brought home some of the implications of global warming. Cars are a major source of atmospheric carbon dioxide. A British think tank shows how fuel duties can be used as incentives to reward usage of less carbon-rich fuels. It also makes recommendations on how to support road gas fuels, and examines ways in which government can foster longer-term investment and innovation in the hydrogen and fuel cell cars of the future.

Tomorrow's low carbon cars: driving innovation and long-term investment in low carbon cars
IPPR, London, 2003
English, 37 pp, free of charge