European Mobility Week – ‘Strengthen urban public transport!’       

22 Sep 2020

As European Mobility Week draws to a close, the ETF emphasises the urgent need to strengthen urban public transport.

This year’s theme “Zero-emission mobility for all” reflects the ambitious targets of a carbon-neutral Europe by 2050, as laid out by the European Commission in the European Green Deal. The aim is to highlight the importance of accessibility to zero-emission transport and promote an inclusive framework involving everyone.

On this last note, the ETF would like to highlight that when it comes to urban mobility, in order to truly involve everyone, collective public transport must be at the heart of the goals and objectives of the European Union.

Lately, urban public transport, already suffering from lack of funding and steadfast commitment has taken a huge hit due to COVID-19. Once packed with commuters, the public now shies away from hopping on a bus, tram or metro and instead, prefers to take the car. The EU and the Member States must mobilise funds and invest in helping the public and workers regain trust in urban public transport if they are earnest about zero-emission mobility for all.

Even more importantly though, Member States must step up and take concrete action to protect their public transport workers. Acts of aggression and the disrespect of passengers towards staff, already very present in the past, are increasing tenfold due to COVID-19 and the request to wear masks on public transport. These workers are putting their lives at risk by being made to enforce COVID-19 health and safety measures, and they’re paying this price for something that should never have been their responsibility to begin with.

The ETF has been warning the EU for years, that the demographic problem in urban public transport will hinder any plans they have to solve the climate crisis. When job security, fair pay for key workers, the heroes of COVID-19, and attractive working conditions cannot be ensured then it cannot come as a shock that there is a lack of staff which in turn threatens the capacity to provide passengers with quality services.  We are already seeing examples of bus services being cancelled due to lack of staff.

Which brings us to the issue of financing. It is becoming an increasing issue in Member States where funds towards strengthening urban public transport systems are lacking. Whereas, if we really want to achieve climate goals, the first place to start should be increasing funding in infrastructure, and PSOs (Public Service Obligations) to make sure public transport is accessible to everyone, including in rural areas. Due to the increasing financial issues, the ETF would also like to underline that recovery funds must also apply to collective public transport.

Electrifying cars will not miraculously solve our traffic problems in cities and make them more functional. Instead, it will continue to increase congestion, with a lack of space for more vulnerable participants, and fail to remedy the problem of accidents. Thus, the issue of an unsustainable and unsafe climate will remain unresolved.

In a nutshell: if EU policymakers and EU Member States refuse to address lack of attractive and safe working conditions, proper funding for collective public transport and sustainable infrastructure, then zero-emission mobility for all will remain nothing more than an ideal.

It’s time to act now, and the voices of transport workers, unions, must be heard!