The only certainty we have is that everything is uncertain. Of course, that applies to the EU transport sector as well. In times of confusion and lack of trust, it is important to plan ahead and try to minimise any risks. With dieselgate not being that far behind, manufacturers are trying to regain the trust of millions of EU citizens who are now sceptical towards other promises. Additionally, the industry is attempting to grasp the general direction in which we are headed – it is clear for everyone that our aim is to reduce GHG emissions and comply with the Paris Agreement targets, what is unclear however is the method that will be used to achieve the desired results. Electric and autonomous vehicles, enhanced public means of transportation, and incentives to innovate are just some of the areas of interest in the EU and this has been reaffirmed during the first Citizens’ Event organised by the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism last week. There, citizens had the opportunity to actively engage in discussions with MEPs, both directly and via social media. While twitter was the most used social media channel, a great number of questions have been directly asked by the participants as well, questions related to the main concerns facing our European society.
The differences between Eastern and Western Europe made themselves noticed once again. On one hand, Western citizens’ concerns are related to technology and whether the rapid technological developments are surpassing the slow legislation that accompanies those. In this case, the major concern is related to privacy issues, to ways of restricting apps from accessing all of our private details, while also being able to use those apps to make our lives easier. Additionally, the potential change to autonomous vehicles could prove to be problematic in terms of responsibilities – who is liable in case of any accidents? Whose life will the vehicle prioritise between the driver’s and the pedestrian’s? How soon will EU legislation be prepared to tackle these measures?
On the other hand, Easterners are concerned about employment in the road haulage sector. As many Central and Eastern European countries are dependent on road transport, their issues revolve around work conditions and quality of life in this field. What an MEP called ‘modern slavery’ is what companies call ‘working on minimum wage’. At the same time, the impacts of road haulage on the environment are concerning everyone and switching freight from road to rail could potentially be a solution, as pointed out by some citizens, but not the only one possible according to others.
Lastly, public transport is among the major concerns. Citizens want it more developed and potentially free, so that everyone could let go of their cars and switch to more environmentally-friendly means of transportation. In an ideal scenario, at least students would have free access to public transportation, as they cannot financially support themselves just yet. Additionally, women are speaking up about their fears as well, which are directly related to sexual harassment in public transportation and car sharing. Unfortunately, this is not an area where the European Parliament can implement any impactful measures, but Member States ought to be able to better protect their citizens.
As Deputy Secretary-General Jean-Eric Paquet reaffirmed, transport is ‘lived and breathed’ by citizens every day, being at the heart of EU economy. Even though our transport systems are high quality systems that ensure the competitiveness of the economy, the EU must secure not only economic growth, but also growth that can be sustainable socially and environmentally. This is the context in which the policies conducted by the EU should be seen and citizens have also been informed that the aforementioned policies are all about the preservation of climate. MEPs are reassuring Europeans that they are in good hands. The aforementioned Citizens’ Initiative has proven to be a great way of enhancing communication and leaving the EU jargon aside for two hours, in order to narrow the gap between the EU and its citizens. We shall see what comes next.