The EU White Paper on Transport 2011

A critical review 1

On 28 March 2011 the EU Commission presented the white paper “Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system“. Even the title of this new white paper clearly shows the inconsistency of the project in two different ways:

  • A “single transport area” implies harmony, social equilibrium; accessibility for all – however, a “competitive transport system“ implies the diversity and enforcement of the principle according to which the stronger one has the better chances
  • A “resource efficient transport system“ is targeted towards environmental protection and low power consumption; lowering the so-called external costs of transport – a “competitive transport system“, however, is targeted towards low costs for the operator and increased external costs and subscribes to the principle of velocity and efficiency which is usually linked to a high consumption of resources.

These inconsistencies in the title themselves are no coincidence. In this respect it could be said that the title is somewhat honest and by all means programme.

The new EU white paper did not arouse any enthusiasm but it certainly received praise. In a comment made by the European Traffic Union (EVG) it states that „The white paper contains a number of good approaches which could strengthen the international competition for the railway.” And: “The goals (in this white paper; W.W.) are not new. However, the good thing is that they are now defined as official objectives at the highest level.”

I also reached other conclusions. The targets presented in this white paper have been presented by the EU for over one and a half decades – always at the highest level. It is also exactly these approaches for the EU policy on transport which have been weakening the railways for some time and which will increase damage to the railway in the near future.

Before I go into any details I would like to say something about the character of the EU white papers and at the same time categorise the new EU white paper into the collection of EU white Papers on the subject of transport.

  1. Character and collection of the EU white papers on the subject of transport

On a national level there are different levels of wording and determining politics. There are ceremonial speeches on the “state of the nation”. These are extremely unbinding speeches with a lot of lyrics. There are also government explanations and coalition agreements. These are statements on politics – but still only declarations of intent. They are followed by laws, regulations and resolutions on the budget which are mainly specific and tangible politics for citizens – especially when they concern income, expenditures, loans and taxes. It is not seldom that the specific politics tangible for the local people are in grave contrast to the succession of explanations on general politics.

Two examples: in the government declarations of the red-green coalition elected in 1998 and 2002 there was a lot of talk about social responsibility, social compensation, peace policy and “integrated transport policy”. In reality the laws on the benefits system (symbolised by the so-called Hartz IV laws) were passed during the Schröder-Fischer era, the first war with German participation since the end of World War II was led in Kosovo and privatisation of the railway was pursued.

The programme with which the PASOK was elected as the new leading government party at the end of 2009 and with which the conservative government led by Karamanlis was dissolved expressly gave its support to social equilibrium and to the fact that the crisis beginning in Greece should not be allowed to be resolved at the expense of the population. The actual politics practised under Papandreou and under Papademos since the end of 2011 (which by the way were strongly determined by the EU and the IMF) within two years led to twice the number of unemployed and three times the number of those people living below the poverty line.

At an EU level there are comparably different levels of statements on politics. There are general – and largely non-committal – statements by the Commission and the President of the Commission. There are white papers which likewise demonstrate a relatively low degree of concretisation. There are thus the “Railway Packages” and the specific EU guidelines and regulations which, when implemented at a national level, are then enforced by law. Finally, there are EU programmes and financial resolutions, for example in the case of the transport sector the TEN programmes on the one hand and support of air transport through a lack of kerosene tax and promotion of regional airports on the other, which considerably define the specific policies on transport.

This does not mean that white papers are uninteresting and could be put to one side. The analysis of these texts is worthwhile – and yet we have to leave out the lyrics and place these white papers and similarly interesting green papers 2 on the subject of transport in a larger context.

Since 1992 the EU commission has published two green papers on transport (1992 and 1995) and three white papers on transport (1992, 2001 and 2011). The new white paper is therefore the fifth “coloured paper” on this topic. Purely mathematically, there was a suchlike basic declaration on the EU policy on transport every four years. The new white paper is, however, the first publication of this kind in one decade. In my opinion, this also leads us to become “blinded” by it and thus the present commissioner on transport, Siim Kallas, presented this white paper along the lines of “now it’s my turn”. At this point, and against the backdrop that I have read and compared all white papers and green papers, I maintain that everything stated in the new white paper has been said before and everything was worded better (more precise, clearer, more environment friendly).3

  1. Six fundamental errors in the white and green papers

Taking into account those aspects which are of significance for the unions in rail engineering and railways and those in environmental associations I have discovered six decisive items or web errors which appear in all white and green papers and which focus on the wrong aspects from the point of view of transport and welfare.

Firstly.All green and white papers contain the dogma “growth, growth above anything else”. Growth in transport is particularly honoured and presented as a part of the increasing standard of living or as a contribution to a higher quality of life. In this type of transport there are no crises; the link between growth in transport and the environmental impact is ignored. The view that human happiness and quality of life would increase to the same degree as the number of kilometres a person travels and per tonne-kilometre is simply ridiculous.

Secondly. The green and white papers are based on an inefficiency of the present infrastructure. A demand is made for more transport networks which are often referred to as “closing the gaps” and the “elimination of bottlenecks“. This is not often openly stated but understood as: what have to be expanded are roads, airports and possibly water routes and ports. I will talk about the systematic decrease in railways in parallel later.

Thirdly. The issue of “external costs”, which is so important for the policy on transport, emerges. However, on the one hand increasingly in a watered down form and on the other without any consequences.

What this means is: in the form of burdens and damages in the field of health, the environment, climate, overlaps of landscapes and cities, etc. transport causes enormous costs which are not included in the transport prices. This issue has been known for more than two decades and the white and green papers address this problem. A study carried out on EU level on behalf of the International Association of Railways (UIC – Union International des Chemins de Fer) discovered as early as 2000 that these costs not contained in the transport prices at that point in time were around 650 Euros bn. This was well seven percent of the gross domestic product of the EU at that time … and meant that over 90 percent of these external transport costs were caused by road and air transport.4 The logic of market economy states that those costs not contained in the market offers have to be integrated (or “internalised”) into the market prices, and that this would result in a kind of justified market regulation on the basis of which consumers and investors would make the “correct” decision. This theory certainly has its pitfalls – what, for example, is a “justified price” for a person killed in a traffic accident (or for maintaining a human life)? How much compensation should a person receive who becomes psychologically ill as a result of aircraft noise? How much for that person who becomes crippled as a result of a road traffic accident and is bound to a wheelchair? The aforementioned study states that sums of money from this specific transport organisation have been set aside for results like these. In actual fact the approximately 40,000 persons killed in traffic accidents within the EU each year or those 100,000 persons who become crippled as a result of road traffic accidents should be included in one way or another in the overall balance. At this point I would like to briefly address the problematic of this approach of mere market economy and not go into further detail.

This is about the fundamentals: the issue of external costs emerges in all those green and white papers mentioned but this is watered down increasingly from book to book. In the actual policy on transport there is not only no approach at all to internalising these costs, in actual fact it is quite the contrary – there is a continued scissor-like diverging development of the actual transport costs – the costs in road transport and air transport sometimes actually drop relatively in comparison to the costs of rail and other public ground transport. Please refer to the following section.

What is decisive here is that in this manner and as a result of this kind of “false market signals“ a problematic transport regulation ensues, leading to the “wrong transport“, which has to virtually be consolidated.

Fourthly.Railway and rail transport appear in the green and white papers – if at all – almost only as high-speed transport (and in this case often as part of the TEN projects5). This means that the focus is on long-distance transport, although this only covers about 10 percent of all transport services – and at the most 25 percent of transport services in the railway sector. This means, however, that the decisive mass transport in the railway sector is simply not included in these basic documents of the EU. Rather, the image of transport, as it appears here, correlates to the specific transport needs of the Eurocrats.

Fifthly. The green and white papers mentioned are characterised by a market and competition ethos. I already indicated that this type of orientation is a problem in general; you cannot respond to the major issues we are dealing with here by merely implementing measures used in market economy. In addition to the aspect of persons killed and injured in traffic accidents, let us approach the issue of climatic change. In this instance too there is an attempt to merely react with measures used in market economy, for example with emission trading. In actual fact, however, emissions cause the greenhouse gases to increase significantly which, if not stopped, will have catastrophic consequences. Obviously a meaningful policy on climate will primarily have to be based on specific politics on a major scale, i.e. also on bans, specific restrictions, measures, etc. I will explain this in more detail using the current white paper on transport 2011 as an example.

Generally speaking, this fifth web error can be found in the EU documents in the demand for an “opening of the transport markets” after a “free access to the rail network“ and above all in the demand for a separation of network and operation. (See paragraph 3).

Sixthly. The EU basic books on the topic of transport developed the postulate of a type of new human rights , the “right to mobility“, whereby this mainly concerns the growth of the increased number of kilometres travelled by passengers within the practice of mobility. This is closely connected to the first web error mentioned on the EU green and white papers – the dogma on continued growth. This belief was even documented in the EU white paper on transport in 2001: “There is a basic right to mobility. This and the increase in mobility is regarded by EU citizens as an acquis and even claimed as a right.”

  1. The EU white paper on transport 2011

The new EU white paper is by far the thinnest in its quantitative and qualitative form. The 35 loosely described pages of the actual document are only one third of the 2001 white paper. This corresponds to the contents which are almost all kept in a general manner, where hardly one precise statement can be found with which the white paper now or in the future could withstand a usability test.

Two comparisons. The 2001 white paper still contained the specific value according to which the “market value of the rails in goods transport until 2020 should be increased from eight to 15 percent“. This was ambitious and precise and would have corresponded to about four times the amount of transportation efficiency on the railway in absolute figures. The new white paper does not even mention this target. The reason why is clear: during the past decade the number of rails in goods transport could not increase and now this white paper the target is worded as follows:

“30 percent of the road goods transport over 300 km (distance; W.W.) should be transferred to other transport vehicles such as rail and ship transport by 2030 (the latter means coastal shipping; W.W.); more than 50 percent by 2050.”

At this point there is no link to the current situation: how much percentage of the current EU-wide road goods transport with over 300 km distance, if you please, is presently transported by trucks? How many of them are then “30 percent”, respectively “50 percent”? This target says even in an inverse conclusion that goods transport with distances shorter than 300 km is excluded from this transfer option. If you ask yourself the question of how many truck transportations operate at a distance of over 300 km, the German transportation statistics provides you with the following sobering answers: the average distance of transportation in German goods transport was only 100 km in 2009 (whereby it was still only 84 km in 2000). There is international truck transport of course, which is not exactly unimportant (in German statistics this is stated as being truck transport with foreign trucks), and which generally speaking has a considerably higher distance of transportation. However, as a kind of counterweight there is still the truck transport from the plants and factories, this is truck transportation by those companies which transport their own goods and produce with their own trucks. This truck transport from the plants is not included in the aforementioned “commercial truck transport“; it covers significantly lesser distances. In the overall balance it could be that the average transportation distance for the entire truck transport in Germany is in actual fact around 100 km. The corresponding rate for the entire truck transport in the EU is probably similar because Germany is a large country and a lot of the truck transport to the smaller countries – and all the more truck transport to the UK and Ireland – has a considerably shorter average transportation rate.

In total this means that truck transportations covering a distance of over 300 km represent an extraordinarily small portion of the market. The objective of the white paper to convert these means of transportation to a third over a period of 20 years cannot be taken seriously; the wording of the white paper is a bluff. This lack of seriousness, which can also be noted in many sections of the white paper, also throws a significant light on the entire character of the document.

Another example: the 2001 white paper contained impressive graphics on the diverging development of the rail and road infrastructure: the road network within the EU becomes longer from year to year while the rail network is cut. On this issue the transport commissioner at that time, Loyola de Palacio, bravely stated, “that on an average over the past thirty years 600 rail kilometres disappear each year but 1200 motorway kilometres are newly constructed.”

The 2011 white paper remains silent on this issue, why? Because it is exactly this trend which, as stated in the white paper ten years ago was not allowed to continue, is continuing in the same manner. Further details are given below.

The basic philosophy of the new white paper is stated by the EU commissioner Siim Kallas as follows: “the future well-being of our continent will depend on all regions being able to maintain their extensive and competition-oriented integration into the world economy. Efficient transport is a basic prerequisite for this.”

The white paper on transport which mainly covers 2010 but which was not made available until the end of March 2011 was not able to document the new deep crisis of the EU, in particular the new Euro and financial crisis in its entirety. However, against the backdrop of this crisis it can be noted that “integration into the world economy“ – in short globalisation – is one of the causes of the deep structural crisis we have observed in the EU peripheral countries since the end of 2010 and which is spreading to the core EU. It may well be that this crisis will exacerbate once more and we will experience a new general crisis as a combination of a financial, bank and Euro crisis in 2012 which will exceed the one from 2008/2009 and one which will again be one of the results of the “integration” of unprepared and economically weak countries within the EU and the world economy.

With this in the background the EU white paper on transport once more demonstrates that it is naive and ideological.

  1. Specification of the “six web errors“ with respect to the 2011 white paper

In the following paragraphs I will specify the aforementioned six web errors for the new white paper which have characterised the EU white and green papers for more than two decades.

  1. Optimistic growth

The new white paper demands that “growth in transport be guaranteed“. Kallas postulates, “The widespread assumption that mobility has to be restricted in order to combat the climate change is simply not true.”

The man is simply making it very easy on himself. In actual fact, 25 percent of all greenhouse gases within the EU which are responsible for the climatic change are the result of the transport sector, 90 percent of which are from road and air transport. Within the EU the transport sector is the only economic sector in which CO2 emissions continue to increase. They even increase so quickly that they compensate for all decreases which were and will be in all other EU economic sectors. The much quoted savings in emissions from private vehicles, trucks and aircraft are by far offset by the general increase in transport from private vehicles, trucks and aircraft.

This means that the significant and rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in road and air transport should be top priority on the agenda of a responsible policy on transport. This can only be realised by implementing a policy on transport which also incorporates a significant reduction in those transport services provided. The fact that “mobility“ does not have to be restricted as a result of this is a different matter. What is absolutely absurd and extremely irresponsible in view of the looming climate catastrophe is the demand made by the white paper that “an INCREASE in transport” has to be guaranteed. This effectively advocates a policy on transport which has to contribute towards a continued increase in the climate change.

  1. Inefficiency and congestion

The new white paper states that “congestion is a major concern in the EU transport sector“. This “compromises accessibility“. In a manner typical for this document it also states abruptly and without further evidence as to how this claim ensued: “Congestion costs will increase by about 50% by 2050.” Increase on what basis? How high are these “costs caused by congestion“ today? How are they calculated?

After all: which infrastructures are “congested“? Those who are familiar with this issue realise that, above all, Kallas distinguishes from the so-called “congestion costs” at this point. However, leading transport experts rightfully dispute the fact that these type of “costs“ are of any relevance; in particular, they should not be allowed to be elevated to the level of external costs.6

An interesting fact is that congestion costs are only mentioned in connection with automobile traffic (private vehicles and trucks) – while the motorway network is constantly undergoing expansion. At the same time – definitely due to the system – there are no traffic jams and congestion costs in rail transport, whereby the railway network is constantly being reduced.

This allows us to perform a specific comparison between the 2011 white paper and the 2001 white paper on this issue. The motorway network within the 27 EU countries had a scale of 54,700 km in 2000; in 2007 it reached 65,100; in 2012 it will probably exceed 70,000 km. Within the same period of time the rail network within the territory of the 27 EU member states was decreased from 217,349 212,842 km (in 2008). On an annual level (for those periods with exact figures) this results in a decrease of the rail network at a rate of 563 km per year and an increase of the motorway network at a rate of 1306 km per year? What relation again did Commissioner Loyola de Palacio state in 2001? A 600 km decrease in the rail network and a 1200 km increase in the motorway network … as “development which must not be allowed to continue“. We have now experienced another decade in which this diverging development continued year by year with exactly the same number of kilometres, this is eerie and almost like planned economy.

The transport initiatives created the following saying: “those who sow the seeds for roads will harvest road transport”. This is exactly what is taking place in the EU (and worldwide). In a sense you could also say that the EU is also allowing “pre-concreting” to take place: the motorway network is being expanded faster than the increase in car traffic.

  1. External costs

This topic is largely excluded from the white paper on transport and then, when it is addressed, it is played down. This is in direct contrast to the green and white papers published in 1992 and 1995. Siim Kallas argues in the white paper: “We can break the transport system’s dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility and thus resulting in advantages all-around.”

That is utter nonsense; dependence on oil in the transport sector in particular is greater than ever before. Agro fuels and electric cars play a lesser role and are linked with systemic issues. From a purely technical point of view it is not conceivable that these so-called alternatives to oil dependency will play a major role in the future. Even the official and much too optimistic plans of the EU or the governments in Berlin and Paris for electric cars provide for only a portion of less than 5 percent within the entire fleet of vehicles and less than 3 percent within transport services up until 2025.

The white paper largely ignores the demand for an internalisation of external costs to the actual transport costs which has been on the agenda for more than two decades. Instead, it states: “The Commission will develop guidelines for the application of internalisation charges …” by the way: for at least 15 years recognised studies have been carried out on the amount of external costs in transport and the demand to integrate them. However, the 2011 white paper wishes to first develop “guidelines“, which is a pure expression of inaction and a continuation of playing for time.

In air transport the issue of external costs is particularly obvious; the CO2 emissions from air transport are regarded as particularly critical because they mainly occur at great altitudes and damage the environment significantly more than emissions close to the ground. In spite of this, kerosene is not even subjected to mineral oil tax. The numerous references within national debates on the environment which state that one single country can hardly start kerosene taxation on its own and that “this type of thing” has to be regulated on a global level or at least on a uniform EU level is countered in the white paper as follows:

“Attention is needed however to avoid imposing excessive burdens on EU operations which could compromise the EU role as ‘global aviation hub’. Airport capacity needs to be optimised and (…), increased to face growing demand for travel.”

In actual fact, the majority of all flights by European airlines are domestic flights within an EU country or flights within Europe (= intra-European flights). If European kerosene tax (or adequate charges such as kerosene charges) were introduced, foreign airlines would have to pay these taxes (or charges) within the EU as well. You can also safely say that this type of tax, if it were implemented within a large economic bloc such as the EU, would soon be implemented in North America and large parts of Asia. If the EU white paper defends the “EU as global aviation hub“ and does not demand kerosene tax then only because it is pursuing the interests of the major aircraft manufacturers, in this case primarily those of the EADS airbus, and thus the tremendous damage to the environment is allowed to continue. Moreover, as a result of the financial crisis the EU wishes to pursue a comparable, special strategy and introduce “financial transaction tax“, possibly only for the Eurozone, so there is a way …

The reference that all this is performed because one has to “face growing demand for travel” lacks credibility. This demand does not grow from natural causes, it grows primarily as a result of a policy on the transport market which has made flying extremely affordable while rail transport has become considerably more expensive. For example, this caused domestic flights in Germany – flights within the German borders – to increase by 70 percent from 1995 to 2010 while long-distance rail travel during this time frame stagnated, despite the availability of many high-speed rail connections. The reason for this twisted development is mainly due to the fact that flying within this time frame was significantly more economic while the prices for long-distance rail travel increased by a nominal, average 45 percent and by more than an effective 25 percent (inflation adjustment).

  1. Unilateral understanding of rail transport

The new white paper on transport demands: “By 2050, complete a European high-speed rail network“ and “Triple the length of the existing high-speed rail network by 2030”. (…) By 2050 the ting majority of medium-distance passenger transport should go by rail.”

Again, these objectives sound ambitious. Apart from the fact that, for example, “tripling the length of the existing high-speed rail network” is an illusion and at the same time misleading7, the insignificant truth is that, although there has been an increase in high-speed rail networks and an expansion of high-speed transport over the past 25 years, the entire length of the rail networks (including the high-speed transport networks) has decreased year by year as previously stated. It was not possible to increase the proportion of rails for all transport services.

The reason why can be explained in a modified version of famous words once spoken by Bill Clinton as follows “It’s the economy of railways, stupid”! 90 percent of all rail transport takes place in Germany, i.e. in a large country, in urban transport and transport for distances less than 50 km per trip. If you take into account the transport efficiency8 instead of the amount of traffic per se, a good 50 percent of all passenger kilometres in rail transport are still due to the defined urban transport. The trend is also even on the increase; the portion of urban transport in Germany is on the rise. Even if the entire urban transport is not included and only long-distance transport is taken into account – within Germany this is mainly on trains classified as IC, EC, and ICE and on overnight trains – the average distance travelled during each long-distance train journey is around 250 km. Or to phrase this differently, half of these train trips are for distances less than 250 km and half of them for distances greater than 250 km. This means on the other hand that even the majority of pure long-distance rail travel does not play a greater role, whether the train travels at high-speed or at regular speed. The possible time gains in this range of around 250 km travel distance are relatively low. Also, for the average long-distance traveller, criteria such as punctuality, comfort, seat availability and the price of tickets are much more important than the question of whether the train travels at high-speed or at “regular train speed”.

With the EU white paper on transport once again only mentioning high-speed transport on trains – as with almost all previous white papers – and first and foremost wishing to develop and promote them the authors are focussing on an absolute minority of clients in rail transport. Extensive calculations which include the costs for the infrastructure reveal, by the way, that high-speed transport shows a considerably greater deficit than conventional rail transport.

The EU white paper on transport also demands “where possible, connection of all major airports to the European high-speed rail network.” This item sound good but is absolutely counter-productive. If there is anything in favour of high-speed transport, it would be the reduction of the travel times between large metropolitan cities, thus a possibility of lesser air transport. If, however, additional stops are made within the region of metropolitan cities and possibly even detours are made to “connect” these airports the times gained by travelling at high-speed will be lost. Occasionally, an airport itself becomes a railway hub and passengers wishing to travel to the metropolitan city or cities have to change trains there. However, this means that high-speed rail transport would increasingly only serve the purpose of taking passengers to airports, interconnecting the airports and optimising the slots (landing rights) for the airlines. This would then mean that high-speed transport would be used to promote air transport and not replace it. This has long been demonstrated in Germany for some intercity connections such as the one from Cologne to Berlin (where air transport is increasing significantly and use of the ICE train has stagnated).

  1. Market credibility: concentration on competition and privatisation

The 2011 EU white paper on transport states the “objective of the EU Commission” is “for the next decade create a genuine Single European Transport Area by eliminating all residual barriers between modes and national systems (…) and facilitate the emergence of multinational and multimodal operators.” An extensive “market opening” should be obtained for the rail sector in particular. This affirms the initiative to “Open the domestic rail passengers market to competition, including mandatory award of public service contracts under competitive tendering (…) Ensure effective and non-discriminatory access to rail infrastructure, including rail-related services, in particular through structural separation between infrastructure management and service provision.”

The demand to separate network from operation is nothing new for the EU Commission, but in this white paper it is presented in an extremely harsh manner. The background for this is pure ideology or absolute support for privatisation within the rail operation and stripping the uniform rail companies the way they still prevail in the whole of Europe today. The objective of this is definitely not improvement of the rail operation.

This is demonstrated by the two poles within the European rail service – Switzerland and the UK. Nobody denies that the best rail worldwide is the one in Switzerland; it is also a rail service which costs the tax payer considerably less per each unit than any other European rail service.9 It is also an integrated rail service – the infrastructure and operation are both governed by one company, the Swiss rail operator (SBB).

The opposite pole is represented by the rail service in the UK; this was recently assessed by the conservative-liberal government who published an extensive report – the McNulty Report. The findings of this report on privatisation of British Rail are as follows: following the privatisation, ticket prices soared tremendously; the British rail services now have the highest rail tariffs within the EU. Government subsidies for the rail system have increased three-fold and the efficiency of the rail systems are one third lower than those comparable ones in Europe. The rail systems in the UK are known as a perfect example of the stringent separation of rail networks and operation, whereby the infrastructure was also privatised between 1996 and 2001 (with catastrophic consequences); since 2002 the rail network has been under government control again.

The conclusion made by the British government for this disastrous report is in line with the basic approach of this government: jobs shall continue to be cut and train stations closed.

The demands for “competition“, privatisation and the separation of network from operation are unrealistic; on no account do they serve the purpose of reaching the objective of an improved rail system. Even in Japan, a country with a relatively successful privatised rail sector, there are different rail companies which all act as integrated companies and on the basis of regional monopolies (whereby the monopoly often relates to an entire island). Moreover, in the 180 year history of rail transport there was not one which experienced success when the infrastructure and operation were separated. If the EU and the new EU white paper make this aspect a central requirement it has nothing to do with the objective of improving rail transport. Rather, it at least condones or tolerates the extensive damage to rail transport by additional stripping and segmenting as well as a tremendous increase in the required government subsidies for the rail sector (from which the competitive transport operators benefit indirectly).

  1. Public service mobility

With respect to the sixth “web error” in the EU white paper on transport it is stated that:

“Mobility is vital for the internal market and for the quality of life (…) Transport enables economic growth and job creation (…) Curbing mobility is not an option.”

The white paper at this point confuses mobility with kilometre efficiency. People do not become mobile when they have travelled as many kilometres as possible; mobility is qualitative – in accordance with the optimal satisfaction of mobility objectives. This also means that the time spent for the mobility service is more regarded as a loss. A policy on transport which reduces the time spent in traffic/transport is more a gain in the quality of life. The continuous expansion of transport networks, in particular roads, was until now always connected with an increase in the time spent in traffic/transport – for example because car cities are linked with urban sprawl and further distances to travel and because road transport is always linked with traffic jams and a lot of road traffic with even more traffic jam time. I will get back to this later but I wish to ascertain that the term mobility used in the EU white paper is questionable.

The claim that “mobility“ is linked with the “creation of jobs“ is extremely brief; it actually means that the ruling structure of the transport sector is linked with the increase in private vehicle and truck traffic and the tremendously increasing air traffic as well as the creation of jobs. Actually, the number of jobs in the overall European automobile industry has been predominantly stable for the past 25 years; within the classical automobile manufacturing countries such as Spain, the UK, France and Italy it has even decreased considerably. In Germany it was just possible to keep the job number level (800,000). Only in Middle and Eastern Europe the number of jobs increased significantly after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

However, in the same time frame there was a reduction of around one million employees in the rail sector and rail industry within the EU-27 region. It is noticeable how unilaterally the issue of “jobs” is addressed and how the term “creation of jobs” is only addressed when reference is made to specific jobs. Jobs in the public sector, for example in rail services, in public urban passenger transport, in public utilities or in training and education and the health sector – it is often said – were able to be “cut”.

The general finding in the EU white paper according to which “curbing mobility is not an option” is questionable. Politics are always linked with curbing; the environment, nature and the laws of physics are linked with curbing. When the volcano Eyafjallayökull spit volcanic ash this also resulted in curbing of mobility (while at the same time hundreds of thousands of people in the areas surrounding major airports breathed a sigh of relief and for the first time in decades were able to enjoy their surroundings and sleep without aircraft noise). Each congestion charge zone is linked with curbing of a specific kind of mobility (while at the same time pedestrians, bike riders, children, and handicapped persons this mobility is increased).

The legitimacy of climate change makes it self-evident that there is an urgent requirement for the reduction of motorised transport services – which in the end could be a prerequisite for the later generation being able to enjoy a life worth living with mobility as well.

  1. Which targets should the unions and environmental agencies set within the transport sector – how could a white paper with the title “solidarity mobility” be structured?

Taking into special account the responsibility of the unions and environmental politics, this report or document does not allow for an extensive description of an alternative transport model. However the following seven elements could outline the structure for a type of alternative.

  1. Realism and responsibility

There is a necessity for a realistic and responsible estimation of the role played by the transport sector and its significance for human mobility on the one hand and on the environment and climate change on the other. “Peak oil” – the endlessness of oil and an economic and transport model based on oil and its derivates has to play a central role in this. “Peak soil” should be taken into account as well – i.e. the finiteness of the earth and thus the inner link between a mass usage of “agro fuels” and the increase in the cost of food or the increase in world poverty.

  1. The necessary restructuring of the transport sector – the redefinition (or correct definition) of “mobility”

The top priority for the correct definition of “mobility” is that motorised transport should also be prevented. In goods transport the objective should be the required mass reduction in transport services (by avoiding unnecessary transport). The internalisation of external costs (see below) plays a role, just like specific political decisions and restrictions (e.g. wide-reaching night flights at airports; goods transport should, where possible, be conveyed by rail transport above a certain distance).

  1. Responsible market regulations

The current worldwide, EU and national transport market regulations favour those motorised types of transport which are particularly damaging to the environment, the change in climate and human health.

Kerosene should be taxed just like other fuels and there should be a step-by-step integration of external costs, in particular for road and air transport, in parallel to the creation of alternatives. Speed limits, regulations for congestion charge zones, strict parking regulations; abolition of tax privileges for company vehicles.

  1. New infrastructure policy

The infrastructure policy should be completely reorganised. This could – as an alternative to the “National Transport Infrastructure Plan” – be integrated into an “alternative national transport infrastructure plan”. One of the elements required for this is the reconversion of the space which was dedicated to road transport until then in favour of non-motorised transport, and of areas which will now serve their purpose for recreation, culture and leisure activities. There is a new “structure policy of shorter routes“. Generally speaking, no new roads, and no new airports and runways should be built, while at the same time public transport should be systematically promoted and the rail network expanded.

  1. Network railway

When expanding the rail network, focus should be placed on the entire network and the unit of urban, regional and long-distance transport, not on high-speed. The link to this is an integral grid timetable with the aid of which time can be gained in rail transport mainly through the shortened and optimised connections. In succinct terms, a “speed limit” for rail vehicles (e.g. 200 or 220 km/h) for a network of this kind would make sense – especially from the point of view of other aspects such as power consumption, noise emission and safety.

  1. Integrated rails in public ownership

As previously discussed, a separation of infrastructure and operation in rail systems is particularly counterproductive. The objective of an alternative transport programme should be maintaining or restoring the unit of operation and infrastructure, whereby the prevailing operator should be the infrastructure operator if there are several operators.

Excluding the principle of maximising profit appears to be particularly important for rail systems and thus a corporate form in public ownership would make sense. However, criticism of the existing rail systems in public ownership such as DB AG (Germany), SNCF, FS (Italy), RENFE (Spain), PKP (Poland), and ÖBB (Austria) is largely justified – and there are some good arguments which speak against a “return to the national rail of the old kind” the way it was before the 90s.

What is necessary is a kind of organisation with which public ownership is coupled with a certain autonomy and the tasks for the rail company are clearly outlined in a statute (e.g. this also has to include increase in the market segment for the rails as one of the objectives), decentralised forms of public ownership may interface with centralised ones (circular rail, regional rail, national rail). The German political group „Die Linke“ recommended to the German government that the German national rail system (Deutsche Bahn AG) be changed to an independent public-law institution.10

  1. Good work

The unions in Germany developed the term “good work” some time ago. This makes sense because it enables us to get away from the abstract glorification according to which “work as such” – even horrible work, destructive work, inhuman drudgery – was a meaningful goal. This refers to the creative contents of work and the sense and nonsense of human work.

There are many areas in which “good” and “meaningful work” is performed in this context. It is often work which is hardly perceived by the media in a world dominated by men – in the household, education, in schools and universities, in the public health sector, etc. Of course, this also applies to the sector for environmental technologies and alternative energy, etc. where many hundreds of thousands of new and socially useful jobs have been created over the past 15 years.

Or let us take a look at a field which is hardly discussed at all – that of work for bikes and anything to do with bikes. The German government calculated that, in Germany, around 65,000 people work in the production of bikes and the bike trade (commerce, repairs, etc.). I add that there are more than those who work for the entire German arms industry. It is often argued, unfortunately also by the unions, that jobs in the arms industry have to be defended – although this is destructive work, “transport work”, in as far as people are thus transported from life to death. Jobs concerning bikes were recently never an issue which drew the attention of the unions – although it is “good work” for useful transport policies (and, by the way, works which makes a positive contribution to health).

Above all, work in the fields of the rail industry and rail networks (rail transport) in this context is “good work” – work in a future-proof sector with the objective of a sustainable policy on transport.

In this field three aspects can be combined excellently:

  • The establishment of a comprehensive plan for an alternative policy on transport which concerns the transfer of motorised transport to the rail system. This type of plan has to be linked with specific parameters – e.g. twice the number of rail networks in the transport sector within a decade and an extension of the European rail network by 35,000 km which would take this back to the status it was in 1950.
  • Creation of over a million new jobs in the fields of the European rail industry and the rail systems within Europe.
  • Presentation of this plan with “good work” as part of a necessary new economy programme in order to avert the crisis which is presenting itself for 2012 and provide a reply for the unions. This plan, however, should not be in connection with any new debt because enormous external costs which would ensue in other transport sectors and which would become visible in other accounts (e.g. health insurance companies) would be reduced.11

Details on the author:

Winfried Wolf has a Ph.D. and is the chief editor of Lunapark 21 – a magazine for criticism of the global economy. He is actively involved with the rail expert group ‘Rail for citizens instead of rail for the stock exchange’ (Bürgerbahn statt Börsenbahn). He has written the books “Eisenbahn und Autowahn” (Railway and car madness) (1985, 1986 and 1992), “Verkehr. Umwelt. Klima – Die Globalisierung des Tempowahns” (Traffic. environment. climate change – globalisation of speed madness) (2007 and 2009) and “Sieben Krisen – ein Crash (Seven crises – a crash) (Vienna 2009).

He was a member of parliament for the PDS from 1994 to 2002 and the speaker on transport policies for this party in German parliament. He works as a research fellow in the office of the member of parliament Sabine Leidig, the speaker on transport policies for the political party ‘die Linke’ in German parliament.

1 The text is based on two speeches held by the author on the topic of the EU White Paper 2011 on 9 November 2011 in Bautzen for the Branch Committee for the Rail Industry of the Unions (IG Metall) and on 30 November 2011 in Brussels for the European Metal Worker’s Federation (EMF) – 1st workshop of the EMF train project. The quotations from the White Paper follow the German text; in the case of the White Paper on Traffic 2011 this is the EU document “COM(2011) 144 final“ (Brussels, 29 March 2011).

2 The green papers were published under the auspices of the respective commission for environment. With a view to environmental politics they were usually more advanced than the EU white papers on transport. The white papers on transport were prepared under the auspices of the respective EU commission for transport.

3 Please see Winfried Wolf, The European Union Traffic Policy, 2004. The – unpublished – study was prepared during a research assignment for the Berlin Social Science Research Center (WZB) and the Hans Böckler Foundation of the German Trade Union Association (DGB).

4 The study “External costs of transport“ was prepared by the institutes INFRAS in Bern and IWW in Karlsruhe; it was first prepared in 1994 and updated in 2000 and 2004. Authors: Christoph Schreyer (INFRAS), Christian Schneider (INFRAS), Werner Rothengatter IWW), Claus Doll /IWW) and David Schmedding (IWW). The exact geographic basis was in reference to a structure named “EUR-17“; this was the former EU with 15 member states and the non-EU countries Switzerland and Norway at that time. Due to international transportation the “islands” Switzerland and Norway were included in the study.

5 TEN = Trans European Networks; major transport projects within the EU. These include the Scanlink connections from Denmark to Sweden, the Fehmarnbelt connection between Germany and Denmark; the Brenner basis tunnel, the high-speed network from Turin to Lyon (Val di Susa), Stuttgart 21 and the new railway network from Wendlingen to Ulm; high-speed networks on normal gauge tracks on the Iberian peninsula such as Madrid to Barcelona, Madrid to Seville, Madrid to Lisbon.

6 Congestion costs are costs which usually only occur in road transport because this type of transport causes huge traffic jams due to its anarchic organisation (“everyone travels on his/her own“), while air and rail transport is organised according to schedule and the capacities available. Consequently, recording so-called congestion costs as “external costs“ as stated in several EU green and white papers on transport has to give a distorted image. It is a well-known fact that roads produce road traffic and traffic jams and that Los Angeles, as the one region with the densest motorway network in the world, has the greatest number of traffic jams.

7 In France and Germany expansion of a high-speed network took place in parallel to the reduction of the overall network. Often high-speed networks simply replace existing networks for conventional train transport. The phrase “completion of a high-speed network” suggests that something additional will be built to complement the classical network. This only applies to a small portion of the new high-speed networks.

8 Amount of traffic = number of all journeys made; traffic efficiency = number of journeys made multiplied by the kilometres driven (= “passenger kilometres”).

9 According to PRIMON reports prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton “the average annual government subsidies in EURO cents per unit of kilometre for rail systems (Ptkm) during the time frame 1995 to 2003” were: Switzerland 2.4 cents, Sweden 4.0, UK 5.3, France 6.2, Austria 6.6, Germany 7.0, Denmark 6.7, The Netherlands 9.2 and Italy 9.4 cents. This means that the somewhat miserable range of rail transport in Austria or Germany costs the taxpayer per unit of service almost three times as much as it costs the Swiss taxpayer for the almost luxurious range of rail transport available in his/her country. These reports (PRIMON = Privatisation with and without networks“) were prepared by persons who are focussed on privatising the German railway system (Deutsche Bahn AG). Some options for privatising the German rail system – with and without networks, Booz Allen Hamilton, January 2006, p. 77 (the version for members of the German parliament). The unit Ptkm is a – meaningful – artificial size which totals the passenger kilometres (Ptkm) and the tonne-kilometres (tkm) and thus forms one uniform unit of service which relates to the state subsidies. When translated this means: in order to enable services for a passenger kilometre and a tonne-kilometre, Swiss taxpayers have to pay 2.4 cents, etc.

10 In Switzerland the SBB (Swiss national rail) has the corporate structure of a private limited company (plc) (with 100 percent state holding), but it is a so-called autonomous plc which, by law, is mainly subject to the objectives of the policies on transport.

11 This kind of programme was created as early as May 2009 and presented together with the British transport union RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport), the Association of Rail for Everyone, the Green Party in North Rhine-Westphalia (dem Bündnis Bahn für Alle, den Grünen in NRW) and Johannes Hauber as chairman of the works committee at Bombardier Transportation. See “Reverse European transport policy NOW! – Fight the Crisis – Program Railway Europe 2025 – Europäische Verkehrswende JETZT – Der Krise begegnen – Programm Schiene Europa2025“, in: Lunapark21 Extra01, July 2009. In this “Programme Railway Europe 2025“, which is available in English and German, comparable parameters are set up as stated above and quantified with Euro amounts. The entire programme for 2010 to 2025 is quantified as costing 500 Euros bn. – which, however, faces up against a higher savings on the external costs. At the beginning of 2009 this programme was prepared in the midst of the new crisis at that time. In 2012 there may be a situation which will prove to be comparable …