From an economic perspective, it is easier to justify the development of transport infrastructure and services in heavily populated areas, than it is in low density and depopulating areas. The latter also tend to be more remote from the major centres of economic activity and employment, while they are often characterised by challenges resulting from their geography, e.g. as islands or mountainous areas. Hence, transport in these areas needs support from the public sector, including relevant EU funds, to ensure that it supports local social and economic development. TEPR worked with VVA on a report that explored this issue and made recommendations on actions that might be undertaken at the EU level.

The importance of providing transport infrastructure and services 

The provision of transport infrastructure and services is vital for the economy and for society more generally. The development of infrastructure between major centres of population enables individual mobility and supports the provision of transport services. However, low density and depopulating areas are often overlooked and so are left behind from an economic and social perspective. On the other hand, these regions are often popular with tourists, who are attracted by their remoteness and the beautiful countryside that often characterises such areas.

EU transport policy for low density and depopulating regions

The European Commission’s 2011 Transport White Paper, which set the framework for the development of EU transport policy over the last decade, made few references to the needs of such areas. On the other hand, EU transport infrastructure policy (in the form of the TEN-T) and regional policy recognise the importance of ensuring the connectivity and accessibility of all of the EU’s regions. However, many low density and depopulating regions still lag behind economically and face challenges with the provision of transport infrastructure and services.

Addressing the transport needs of low density and depopulating regions

There is a need for policy around transport to support the social and economic vitality of such areas, while at the same time ensuring that they are not spoilt for the purpose of tourism and the environmental benefits that they bring more generally. In the context of the low carbon transition and constrained public finances, new ways of providing transport in such areas will need to be identified. The increasing digitalisation of the economy provides opportunities in this respect. The increasing number of services that are available online can reduce the need to travel. In addition, increased digitalisation will support the development of, and access to, on-demand and shared transport services, which, integrated with ‘traditional’ public transport services, can improve the accessibility and connectivity of remote regions.

Amending the EU policy framework to support transport in low density and depopulating areas

The European Parliament’s Transport Committee commissioned VVA, supported by TEPR, to produce a report to analyse how transport infrastructure and services in low density and depopulating areas could be improved. The report recommends that there should be more explicit references and consideration of the needs of such regions in EU policy, including in funding opportunities, that the importance of revitalising transport infrastructure within these regions should not be overlooked, and that “equity” should be integrated as a principle in transport policies to ensure that no region is left behind.

For more information

TEPR is an independent research consultancy that works on projects to improve the environmental performance of transport. For more information on the project, or TEPR’s work more generally, please contact Ian Skinner at TEPR (, call +44 (0)7521 063324 or see TEPR’s website, where you can also find the project’s final report.

The European Parliament has published its own summary of the report, along with a recording of the project team’s presentation of the report to the Parliament’s Transport Committee.

Picture credit: iStock

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