In order to improve the environmental performance of transport, it is necessary to take a range of actions. The performance of vehicles and fuels needs to be improved, while the most appropriate mode of transport should be used for every journey. This means that more journeys should be undertaken with public transport and by walking and cycling. In short, policies need to promote modal shift.

The EU policy framework – the 2011 White Paper

The European Commission’s White Paper set out a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 60% by 2050. It recognised the importance of improved vehicle efficiency and low carbon transport fuels, and also of modal shift. The White Paper set objectives for modal shift, including a 30% shift of EU road freight over 300 km to more sustainable transport, such as rail and waterborne modes, by 2030, which should  increase to more than 50% by 2050. The White Paper also proposed that by 2050, the majority of medium‐distance passenger transport should be by rail, and that by the same year a European high-speed rail network should have been completed.

What is modal shift?

‘Modal shift’ effectively entails enabling and incentivising people to use the most sustainable mode of transport for each part of each journey. It means encouraging people to use public transport, to cycle and to walk in urban areas, where journeys are typically shorter, and to use trains, including high-speed rail, for longer journeys between cities. The use of the car (and aircraft) would be reserved for journeys that are not possible by other modes. As well as delivering improvements to the environment, modal shift also helps to ensure that expensive transport infrastructure is used as efficiently as possible.

Improving infrastructure

However, to achieve modal shift, better infrastructure is required for these other modes of transport and this infrastructure needs to be well integrated to support the use of different modes of transport, including cars, on the same journey. Public transport services also need to be of a high quality and their ticketing, timetables and payment systems need to be integrated. Investment will be needed, along with policies to ensure that taxes reflect the environmental impacts of different transport modes.

Advantages of modal shift policies

  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • More efficient use of limited road space, particularly in urban areas
  • Improved air quality
  • Reduction in noise, congestion and accidents
  • Fuel cost savings
  • Reduction on the negative impacts on environmentally-sensitive areas

Local, national and European policies are needed

Many of the necessary policies to enable and incentivise modal shift need to be implemented either on a local or at the national level. However, there also needs to be the right policy framework at the EU level. TEPR has been working on a report for the European Parliament to identify a way forward for EU modal shift policy.

For More Information

The report can be found on TEPR’s website, along with other reports on sustainable transport. Please contact TEPR for more information on this report and for other work that TEPR has carried out in this area.

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