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18 November 2022

Transport policy as part of the Covid recovery package

By : Jeanne Berenguier, Joshua Beuving, Rémi Jégu, Viktoria Nagy


As the Minister of the Republic of Slovakia said, “In recent decades, transport has been heavily burdened with the stigma of being the biggest polluter”(Vrtovec, 2021).
In 2020 the transport sector accounted for 23.2% of the EU’s greenhouse emissions. In fact the EU managed to reduce carbon emissions in almost every sector during the period of 1990 and 2020 that accounted for 32% of reduction (Masterson, 2022). However in the transport sector a 7% increase could be observed. According to Masterson this can be attributed to the fact that transport volumes have increased over the past decades, but fuel efficiency hasn’t improved the way it should have/ sustainably enough.

Transport is a major contributor to air, noise and water pollution (Rodrigue, 2020). At the same time, it was one of the sectors most hit by the COVID-19 (Falchetta and Noussan, 2020). Due to the pandemic supply chains were disrupted and overall connectivity was reduced, that created financial, and operation difficulties for businesses and operators. With the help of digitalisation, collaborative economy and other innovative transport strategies, the current way of mobility could also be improved in order to to reduce its impact on the environment and be more adaptable to future changes.

The development of the transport sector is an indispensable part of the European Green Deal. It is essential to reduce the sector’s contribution to the emission of polluting gasses, through the modernisation and development of transport, in order to achieve the goals formulated by the Green Deal.
The EU has no single comprehensive strategic document about transport development. However, a study elaborated by the Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies was able to define 29 EU priorities based on a number of documents. The Strategic Plan 2020-2024 DG MOVE, the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy (SSMS) are the most important documents forming the foundation of the EU’s transport policy. Other documents involving development are EU funding programmes such as the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) or European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and policy documents focusing on one specific topic of the transport sector such as the EU Aviation Strategy or the TEN-T Regulation (Trans-European Network for Transports).

What is important to understand is that although the EU determines some priorities, goals to be achieved regarding development in the transportation sector , concrete measures are coming from the member-states. Countries set out the reforms and investments that are in line with the EU priorities, to be implemented by the end of 2026, in their National recovery and resilience plans (NRRPs) that they submit to a temporary recovery instrument, the Recovery and Resilience Facility. They can receive financing on the basis of their plans. (European Commission, 2022)
The 29 EU priorities can be identified within three themes of transport: sustainable, smart and resilient transport.

Sustainable transport

Sustainable transport is the theme that covers the majority or 56% percent of all transport sector measures and is furthermore one of the focusses of the European Commission when it comes to creating a greener transport sector. Within sustainable transport, the pillars the Commission has identified are to (European Commission, 2020, 3):

1.   Make all transport modes more sustainable

2.   Make sustainable alternatives widely available

3.   Put in place the right incentives to drive the transition

The measures to attain these goals take a multitude of shapes (European Commission, 2022b):

·         Alternative fuels

·         Multimodal transport

·         Calculating in externalities

·         Promoting active modes of transport

These different groups of measures all link together in an attempt to significantly increase the sustainability in the transport sector. In the field of alternative fuels, the commission is trying to quickly and smoothly transfer from carbon-based fuels. This means a push for a large increase in public recharging and refueling stations and research into other fuels than electricity, such as hydrogen, biofuels, synthetic fuels and in certain sectors LNG and LPG (European Commission, 2022a). In terms of personal vehicles, the commission is pushing for zero-emission vehicles, but they also try to create a more sustainable truck, rail, maritime and aviation sector. In order to do this, they want public hydrogen and LNG refueling stations at appropriate distances (European Parliament, 2022). In the national recovery plans, some member states have committed to the research and development of alternative fuels and others to the deployment of said fuels (Pape, 2022).

           But that would only be the first step. Currently, a lot of transport of goods is done by trucks, which are not as sustainable as rail and inland waterway transport. As part of the Green Deal, the Commission wants to stimulate multimodal transport by creating links between the different modes of transport and eliminating authorization procedures and quantitative restrictions. The goal of these measures is to change 75% of inland freight transport from road to rail and waterway transport (European Commission, 2020, 10).  A good example of road-rail linking is the GEODIS GROUP in France, which uses cranes to quickly change goods from road to rail and back (GEODIS GROUP, 2022). In their recovery plans, Italy and Spain, among others, have also committed to creating such systems (Pape, 2022).

           Another measure will be calculating in externalities, partially through the including the maritime sector into the Emission Trading System (ETS) as a part of the fit for 55 package (European Commission, 2022). Denmark, Croatia, Malta and Spain, among others, have plans in their NRRPs, to invest in green ships, which should grow this sector further (Pape, 2022). With the decrease of the free ETS allowances in the aviation sector (European Commission, 2022), the commission is further pushing said sector to increase sustainability as well. The RefeulEU Aviation initiative is further targeted at creating a cleaner aviation sector (Soone, 2022) and France is investing over a billion euros into the development of clean aircraft (Pape, 2022).

           Finally, and probably the simplest measure is the promotion of active modes of transport, walking and cycling, within the cities (European Commission, 2020, 9). Not only would this cut down emissions within the cities, this would further increase the quality of living in the cities through better air quality, less noise and less traffic.

Smart transport

In the context of the recovery plan the EU aims not only to make transport more sustainable but also smarter. The goal of smart transport is to make transport more efficient and safe. The US Department of Transportation defines Smart Transport as “Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) apply a variety of technologies to monitor, evaluate, and manage transportation systems to enhance efficiency and safety”. Therefore 44% of the projects prioritized as part of smart transport in the EU Recovery Plan consist of IT projects such as software projects and the development of IT infrastructure.

Today smart transportation is already being implemented in several cities around the world. These implementations do not only take place in big metropolitan areas such as New York or London but also in rural areas like the state of Wyoming (DIGI, 2022).

Benefits of Smart Transportation:

Safety: Smart transportation technologies allow for a higher percentage of autonomous transportation systems which have proven to reduce one of the most important factors for accidents, “humans”. Also can the collection and usage of data help to improve infrastructure and adjust your use of resources. For example, data can help to identify intersections that are particularly dangerous and give indications on how the intersection needs to be modified in order to augment safety. Data can also help you to get a better understanding of how to make traffic more fluid and therefore reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Better Transport Management: The important and smart data collection in smart transportation allows for a better management of transportation systems. This allows operators to “monitor operations, track maintenance needs and identify key sources of problems” (DIGI, 2022)

More Efficiency: The use of quality data allows also for more efficiency, as resources can be better allocated and used. Better maintenance allows for smoother operations. An adjustment of the timetable of a rail line allows it to be more attractive and have a higher ridership for example. The adjustment of a traffic light at an intersection allows for more cars to cross through. The use of smart transportation technology allows “to cut down costs thanks to preventive maintenance, lower energy consumption, and fewer resources used towards accidents” (DIGI, 2022).

Better Crisis Management: Smart transportation technologies such as the city traffic management centers (TMCs) can help to quickly adapt, react and communicate, when a crisis arises (GIDI, 2022). Especially the better visibility of the issue at hand helps significantly to react faster, and to do so in an efficient and problem focused way.

Higher Resiliency: Smart transportation technologies allow for a higher resilience, as they enable the operators to react faster and more precisely to difficulties and issues arising. This is due to the systematic and intelligent use of data, as well as minimizing the human factor with more autonomous vehicles (GIDI, 2022).

Lower environmental impact: Due to the higher efficiency, mass transit becomes more lucrative and is used more widely thereby reducing the overall environmental impact of transportation (GIDI, 2022).

Disadvantages of Smart Transportation:

In order to operate a smart transportation system, a lot of sensors require power to function. Another issue that arises with this enormous amount of new sensors is whirring of these to the power grid which demands an important amount of raw materials such as copper (GIDI, 2022) .
A big difficulty of smart transportation is the responsible use of data. One important thing with this is the anonymization of the data as well as the need for “responsible laws and policies for managing data” (GIDI, 2022) Such laws are going to be needed no matter how strong the anonymization of the data.

Barcelona a pioneer of smart transportation:

The City of Barcelona is a leader in the field of smart transportation. In order to develop their smart transportation system the city is investing in numerous different projects that focus on hardware as well as software.

The Internet of Things: Connected objects are at the heart of Barcelona’s smart transportation. Therefore the city has incorporated an important amount of sensors in public infrastructure such as roads, traffic lights, street lighting (Asiag, 2021). Besides investing heavily in new sensors the city is also deploying a city wide 5G network which is set to be one key infrastructure base for future infrastructure such as autonomous buses, cars and trains (Asiag, 2021).
Connected objects can be a lot of different things, such as connected parking spaces that can communicate if they are free or traffic lights that recognize how many cars are waiting at the intersection and then individually adapt its traffic reglementation. A third and final example of connected public infrastructure in Barcelona that I want to mention here is the connected bus stop, which provides live information about the traffic and provides free public wifi (Adler, 2016).

Supercomputing and Software for a Smart Mobility: In order to efficiently operate and really connect all these connected devices and to process and analyze the important amount of data collected from the sensors. To develop this software the city of Barcelona created a supercomputing center in order to develop and test software dedicated to the analysis of big data. Barcelona already operates an intelligent traffic management system but aims to develop more advanced software in order to be able to more effectively treat and process the rising amount of data collected from sensors and then also to be able to manage more aspects of transportation.

Smart Transportation on an EU-level:

The collection and software in order to harvest and process data alone only creates smart transport on a local level. In order to have European smart transport more harmonization and interoperability is needed in order to facilitate cross-border travel (Belicka, Krupenko Panteia, Hindriks, Rodrigues Stratec, Fuchs, 2022). Unfortunately only four member states “are planning projects to support data availability, access and exchange of mobility data” (Belicka, Krupenko Panteia, Hindriks, Rodrigues Stratec, Fuchs, 2022). It is important to invest and promote more cross-border cooperation in transport in order to better connect Europe.

Resilient transport

In order to make transportation more sustainable and smart, first the system must be prepared so that it can respond to changes and can be used extensively.
Resilience is the ability of a system to continue operating at an adequate level of efficiency in the face of disruptions or unforeseen events (RideAmigos, 2022 & . The adoption of this concept to transportation means that a transportation system is expected to continue to function even when major obstacles hinder its normal operation, or is expected to recover from effects caused by disruptions and obstacles. Major obstacles can occur in terms of extreme weather conditions, apparel or infrastructure failures and even pandemics. In case of a resilient transport system, the supply chain has wider inventories and a larger number of suppliers that helps to avoid close dependence. Thus, if one part of the supply chain is interrupted, other segments may still be available.
It also means that the system is available and accessible for any individual facing any kind of difficulties, be it physical or economical. Furthermore, on a strategic level, it means the establishment of such a transport system that is able to accommodate the potential changes and contribute to future growth.

Resilient transport is the third policy area of the EU transport priorities. The concept of transportation resilience is used in a broader meaning by the Commission. Resilience includes the safety and security of users of the transport system, the adequate level of attractiveness and equity of profession in the transport sector (SSME, 2022) . The objective of the EU in making the transport system resilient, is: “bouncing back from the COVID-19 pandemic by creating a Single European Transport Area that is affordable and accessible for all citizens and businesses and resilient against future crises and safety and security challenges.” (European Commission, 2022)

Taking into consideration the DG MOVE, the SSMS, NRRPs, policy documents focusing on the transport sector and the relevant EU funding programs, eight resilience related EU sub-priorities could be determined by the study conducted by the Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies. This is an overarching term crosscutting different areas of measures including transport, infrastructure, IT system and governance measures. However, observing the NRRPs, lead to the conclusion that 78% of measures introduced by member states are governance related. (European Parliament, 2021) This shows that most of the measures need to be implemented in the area of governance to achieve the desired result.

The sub-priorities are:

  1. Improve transport sector governance
  2. Completion of the TEN-T
  3. Improve resilience of the transport system against disruptions
  4. Fair, accessible, and just mobility and passenger rights
  5. Improve conditions and the attractiveness of working in transport sector
  6. Improve gender equality
  7. Improve road safety and security
  8. Improve safety and security of other modes of transport

Let’s explore what is meant by these goals in a more detailed way.

Improving transport sector governance mainly refers to simplifying government procedures, and providing support to businesses involved in the transport sector. For instance Belgium is aiming to implement a legal system making it possible to monitor vehicle emissions, as well an IT system that combines data from emission monitoring and road safety monitoring. It also includes ensuring that SMEs have easier access to finance innovative green investments (European Commission, 2021; European Parliament, 2022).
The Commission is aspiring to meet the necessary requirements of the TEN-T (European Commission, 2021). The focus will be on integrating every member-state to the European railway system, and making cross-border travel accessible, as well as connecting rural remote areas with central regions.
By improving the resilience of the transport system against disruptions the Commission and member states aim to promote transport infrastructure investments across the EU in order to ensure connectivity and cohesion among countries (European Parliament, 2022). Making the infrastructure adaptable for climate change, and improving its resilience in case of future disasters. Furthermore, supporting strategic value chains of batteries, raw materials, hydrogen, renewable and low-carbon fuels in order to avoid dependence on external suppliers and improvements of crisis contingency plans also lead to the same goal (European Commission, 2021).

Under achieving a fair, accessible, and just mobility and promoting passenger rights, measures are aiming at creating a mobility system that is accessible, and available for all passengers including disadvantaged groups (European Commission, 2021; European Parliament, 2022). Availability also means the reduction of the costs of transportation for people with lower income or disabilities, particularly train tickets. Moreover, it means improving public transportation in rural and remote regions. The Commission is also planning to provide financial help for member states who are in need. Fair mobility means the protection of rights of passengers when transport operators are facing a liquidity crisis or even bankruptcy. For example Malta is planning to allow remote work for disadvantaged civil workers (European Parliament, 2022)
Long working hours, times spent away from the family, and not sufficient salary decreases motivation from potential employees (European Commission, 2021; European Parliament, 2022). On top of that the workforce is aging. In order to improve working conditions and make professions in the transport sector more attractive, the Commission is planning to strengthen the legislative framework of workers’ conditions, and make them more clear. The Commission is seeking to promote high social standards for improving the attractiveness of the sector. They are also aiming to promote digital transformation of the transport sector in a way that low- and medium-skilled workers rights can also be protected when facing automatisation processes. (European Commission, 2021)

Another goal is to create equal conditions for all genders to be able to work in the mobility sector, as well as increasing the number of women in transport related professions (European Commission, 2021; European Parliament, 2022).
Protecting individuals by ensuring the safety and security of transportation routes through technological improvements and management measures is an essential part of transport development. The EU emphasizes the importance of road safety, and meeting the goals set by the EU road safety strategy of 2018. In this regard the Commission aims to push back speeding, alcohol and drop consumption and tackle distractions problems for drivers. Furthermore they are planning to connect data collection and the reparation of aging and underdeveloped road networks. (European Commission, 2021) The Commission extends the aforementioned measures to the maritime sector as well. The comprehensive goal is to make maritime transportation safer, more secure and less costly for firms and administrations. (European Commission, 2021)


Recommendations from the EU Institutions on  Smart, Sustainable and Resilient Transport

The EU Recovery plan also called Next Generation EU Fund aims to tackle EU challenges with an allocation of EUR 723.8 billion in non-repayable support and loans. In the field of transport, the RFF (Recovery and Resilience Facility) – the centerpiece of the EU’s Recovery Plan- includes all the EU transport priorities under its scope. All of the three institutions has published priorities to tackle in transport,

Three main documents highlights the Commission’s priorities in the EU transport policy: Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy (SSMS),  Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE) Strategic Plan 2020-2024 and  the EU’s webpage on Transport and Mobility, They have identified 29 priorities divided in 3 themes: smart, sustainable and resilient transport:

Source: Research4committees

In order to sum up, the Commission settled their strategy in “A sustainable transport area that reduces transport impact on the environment, provides healthier and cleaner alternatives to mobility and increases the uptake of sustainable alternative transport fuels for land, waterborne and air both in the EU and globally” 

The Council also approved priorities to promote smart, sustainable and resilient transport within the National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRPP).The NRPPs are 218 measures related to Euy’s priorities under the theme “sustainable transport”, 68 fro “smart transport” and 98 on “resilient transport”.  RRF contributions to the approved NRPPs total EUR 449.9 billion, of which EUR 291.1 billion are non-repayable support and EUR 158.8 billion are loans.

TEN-T policy objectives are achieved through RRPs. The rail sector will be the main beneficiary of the NRRPs, with nine Member States upgrading their existing rail infrastructure, four Member States constructing new rail lines compliant with ERTMS, and six Member States implementing the ERTMS. The measures on the “sustainable transport” theme concerns the deployment of alternative fuels in road transport.

There are a lot of IT projects going on in smart transport, including software development and IT infrastructure development. The majority of smart mobility measures are planned for road and rail transportation. On “resilient transport”, the focus is governance related measures. Governance measures include developing transport master plans, improving the regulatory framework, and reforming the transport sector.

The research for the Parliament’s Transport Committee called for more push in policymaking.

The NRRPs of the Member States do not sufficiently address several aspects of the EU transport sector objectives and require further attention and investment.

  • Cross-border projects or the development of the transport network from an European perspective.
  • Rail and waterborne transport must be better facilitated by increasing investments and incorporating cross-border components where possible.
  • Public transportation could increase multi-modal passenger transportation by reducing the use of private cars.
  • The NRRPs do not adequately address safety and security measures; therefore, it is recommended to increase the number of such measures, especially in high-fatality states.
  • Include social  aspects as a cross-cutting priority for the different transport sector measures.
  • To reduce the carbon footprint, more measures to “internalize external transport costs” would help .

According to the TRAN Committee other areas are not addressed in the priorities and are completely left over by the NRPPs. The research on energy efficiency and the development of public transport needs to be considered. Moreover, the behavioral pattern of the citizens to rightly guide them along the way of smart, sustainable and resilient transport is crucial in order to succeed the policies implementation


The EU aims to address the Smart, Sustainable and Resilient Transport within the Green Deal Package.  Sustainable transport covers incentives for alternative fuels, multimodal transport, calculating in externalities… Most of the priorities tackled by the Commission and the Council relate to sustainable transport. Smart transport aims to increase efficiency and safety. In the EU Recovery Plan, 44% of the projects are IT-related, such as software development projects. Finally resilience is mainly the idea that a system must be able to survive change and disruption. The EU institutions respond to the need for resilience by proposing governance measures.

In November and December 2022, the TRAN Committee from the European Parliament will present for debate some legislative proposals on smart, sustainable and resilient transport. The ETN-T proposal will be voted next year for instance.


Communication from the Commission –  Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy (SSMS),- 2020 

Daina Belicka, Dace Krupenko Panteia, Ivo Hindriks, Maria Rodrigues Stratec, Georges Fuchs; The future of transport in the context of the Recovery Plan; Research4Committees Last accessed: 25.10.2022

DIGI (2022), An Introduction to Smart Transportation: Benefits and Examples, DIGI Last accessed: 25.10.2022

Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE) Strategic Plan 2020-2024


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