Investing in EU Transport

Investing efficiently and effectively in transport research and innovation is vital if Europe is to maintain a competitive and affordable transport system.

This is why the Commission recently identified a number of critical strategic issues - such as addressing Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels – in its Strategic Transport Technology Plan (STTP).

This plan, published in the form of a Commission Communication, evaluates the current situation and then sets out how the EU can increase and better align public and private research and innovation funds within different transport industries.

The ultimate objective is to establish a true European Research and Innovation Area for transport.

State of play 

The Communication follows the publication of an initial evaluation into research and innovation in the EU transport sector. The Communication therefore presents an opportunity to establish the state of play, and to review the achievements and shortcomings, of such investments in the transport sector.

It addresses the innovation potential of the European transport sector, outlines a vision for future European transport and mobility and identifies initiatives to strengthen and improve the European transport sector’s research and innovation capacity.

It also outlines the opportunities and challenges for the way ahead.

Key objectives

The STTP takes into account the anticipated evolution of the European transport-manufacturing industry, and aims to strengthen the innovative character of the sector. It also aims to encourage the development of greener products and to strengthen the value of the European label.

This vision includes promoting user-oriented integrated transport and sustainable long-distance, intercity and urban transport.

User-oriented integrated transport

The Communication outlines the future integration and modality of seamless transport. Modern infrastructure architecture needs to incorporate new smart components (such as ICT and intelligent systems), be environmentally friendly (new materials) and be intermodal (automated terminals, hubs and equipment).

Sustainable intercity and urban transport

Current modes of transportation need to be replaced by a new generation of green, safe and quiet road vehicles, aircraft, vessels and trains. The Communication also outlines future mobility in urban centres by means of alternative propulsion as well as more developed public-transport services.

Strengthening Europe’s research and innovation system

New solutions to implement the STTP vision are needed. The Commission believes that strategic actions are required in four fields:
• Research and innovation should be more firmly anchored in transport policy
• The efforts of individual sectors should be better aligned
• Need to overcome technology lock-in and institutional ‘silo’ thinking
• High market-entry requirements (assets, investments and barriers) should be alleviated
Making transport research and innovation more focused

The Communication acts as a starting point to the process of common strategic programming in order to strengthen the innovation system. It states that three comprehensive research and innovation areas need to be tackled in the next twenty years:
• Development of clean, smart, safe and quiet rail and road vehicles, aircrafts and vessels with a more effective interface with infrastructure
• Progress on smart, green, low-maintenance and climate-resilient infrastructure, including alternative fuels, modal traffic management and information systems
• Seamless and efficient services for passenger and freight transport to allow stronger integration of all transport modes

To achieve the set-out goals, the Commission proposes action in ten fields under these three innovation areas that offer significant potential for contributing to the White Paper’s objective.

These fields represent a part of a road-mapping action, which has the aim of focusing European R&D activities and funding on deployable technologies as well as identifying shortcomings in innovation chain. This action will be done through public consultation as based on the Communication and accompanying staff working document. The final roadmaps will constitute the core of the European STTP and as a basis for future action.

Better aligning efforts

The proposal aims to strengthen public-private partnerships and improve governance in the area of innovation. The Communication proposes to establish a Transport Research and Innovation Monitoring and Information System (TRIMIS) to map technology trends, and research and innovation capacities.

The Commission also proposes to establish strong global partnerships in order to achieve effective and sustainable mobility.

Breaking through the technology lock-in

To break through potential innovative lock-in, the STTP also aims to:
• Exploit convergences between distinct fields that can generate added-value for the mobility
• Design a set of innovative operating principles and instruments to stimulate entrepreneurships
• Stimulate dynamic innovation in transport to attract new talents, innovators and entrepreneurs
Efficient deployment of innovative solutions

According to the Commission, public intervention may be required to ensure efficient deployment and implementation. This is most notably required at the EU level to mitigate market distortions and generate revenues.

The opportunities and challenges ahead

The Commission estimates that it will cost around €1 trillion between 2010 and 2030 to put in place all the objectives outlined in the Communication.  This is roughly the annual transport expenditure of every EU household. The Commission also states that consumer behaviour will have to change, in order to meet the new transport challenges ahead.

Future steps

The Communication has been sent to both the Council and the Parliament, which will now discuss whether to endorse the actions outlined.