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Public transport after COVID – we need innovative and safe solutions for the current and potential future crises  

​​​​In this interview, Adam Struzik (PL/EPP) , President of Mazovia Region, answers six questions on improving public transport in cities and metropolitan regions.

The opinion Challenges for public transport in cities and metropolitan regions , for which Adam Struzik (PL/EPP) is rapporteur, is expected to be adopted at the CoR plenary session in December 2020.

The opinion points out the challenges posed by increasing car traffic in cities and metropolitan areas and calls for sustainable and smart solutions in mobility.

1. What are the main challenges for public transport in metropolitan areas?

The main challenge is, above all, safe and modern transport, which is to say well designed, organised, integrated and that works well.

High quality transport will translate to a high quality of life for residents if it can ensure easy access to goods and services and a good quality environment. This should be understood in terms of accessibility as regards distance to public service points, as well as financial accessibility and the optimal balance between work and private life.

High quality public transport is inextricably linked to competitiveness with individual transport, i.e. ensuring a balance between the costs for users and for local governments as well as access to alternative means of transport (walking, cycling, etc.).

Therefore, the job of local and regional authorities will be to offer means of transport that are safe for travellers and the environment.

2. How can users' choices and commuters' behaviour be changed in favour of more sustainable modes of transport? What incentives can local and regional authorities provide?

The first step is to ensure integrated modes of transport while systematically raising awareness among residents. At the same time, it should be ensured – through optimal infrastructure planning – that public transport offers more advantages than individual transport.

Tools for using transport in the form of easy e-services should be given priority, but it is also necessary to consider access to transport for all stakeholders, including social groups with digital limitations.

It's good to lead by example, so it is extremely important and urgent to implement innovative solutions in the management and organisation of transport and to have good spatial planning, making it easier to integrate public and individual transport, which cannot be completely eliminated, only reduced as much as possible. These solutions should be optimised on the basis of analyses and diagnoses drawing on updated data from mobility flow monitoring systems reflected in the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP).

In order to achieve decarbonisation objectives, cities and metropolitan areas will need policy decisions and adequate financial resources to achieve them, including external resources from cohesion policy funds and other funding instruments.

3. Has the concept of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP) been successful for overcoming administrative and geographical boundaries in order to design an urban mobility system?

In Poland, the concept of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans has received a very good response and interest from dozens of cities and several of them have been selected for direct cooperation with JASPERS.

It should be emphasised that effective urban mobility planning must be tailored to the number of residents, be based on experience in mobility and be adapted to the specificities of areas and transport systems, namely it should take into account connections to the regional capital, plan measures towards improving the transport habits of residents of cities or metropolitan areas and maintain close links and integration with neighbouring cities.

Local and regional authorities are committed to making public transport efficient and integrated in terms of space, organisation and fares. This is particularly important in metropolitan areas, regions with capital cities and larger urban agglomerations where commuting involves cross-linking many modes of urban, suburban and local transport with national transport. It is important to emphasise guaranteeing access to cities for rural areas which, for example, in Poland often still lack relevant transport links.

The development of a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan makes it possible to plan the best possible model for a mobility system integrating a common pricing system with clear synergies between many public transport operators working in the same metropolitan area. Furthermore, it helps make access to public transport stops easier, through a satellite Park and Ride system, for example.

4. Has the European Union been sufficiently ambitious in its transport policy in the past? In which areas could it be more ambitious?

The current White Paper from 2011 has become obsolete and work is already under way at the European Commission level on a strategy for sustainable and smart mobility – this is a very good step. Support from the European Commission for local and regional authorities concerning additional sources of funding is necessary. In addition to supporting new transport investments, funds from the cohesion policy and EU financial mechanisms will support the modernisation of existing transport systems by increasing the share of alternative and sustainable solutions for individual car transport.

Furthermore, urban mobility and public transport policy as a whole must be anchored in broader social policies. It is necessary to take care of residents who are most affected by excessive costs of using transport both in terms of money but also external costs resulting from excessive noise, polluted air and soil and expropriations for the purpose of modernising infrastructure.

5. What kind of support will local and regional authorities need at European level in terms of a common transport policy?

The above-mentioned new transport strategy setting out a modern vision of urban and metropolitan transport will certainly be a strong source of support and a catalyst towards a new way of looking at this thematic area, where public transport is viewed as the linchpin of a city.

Urban and metropolitan ecosystems in the EU must be provided with external financial support in order to achieve a level playing field in the provision of transport services. The catalogue of programmes, funds and instruments is broad and should be easily accessible, as the simplest solutions often prove to be the most effective. This is the only way to create well-functioning integrated public transport systems. It is therefore important to direct the resources of the EU budget directly to the regional authorities, which are responsible for these tasks and implement them through the operational programmes for the upcoming 2021-2027 period.

The specific role of the Just Transition Fund as part of the European Green Deal policy package should be emphasised. Its aim is to support regions facing major socio-economic challenges to achieving climate neutrality, and thus cities and metropolitan areas in the transition to carbon-free public transport.

6. The COVID pandemic has had a devastating impact on the use of public transport. How can we rebuild trust and compensate for lost revenues to guarantee a high level of service in future too?

Unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a clear undesired tendency to cut down on everyday mobility needs. This is mainly due to the expansion of remote working, certain Member States implementing limits on how people can use public spaces and a decreased sense of safety on public transport. One response to these trends could be to pursue the "15 minute city" approach.

This requires local and regional authorities to bear additional costs for the implementation of hygiene measures in public transport vehicles in order to make up the lost revenue from more limited mobility use. A form of support here would be an effective information campaign promoting the reduction of car use and, in many cases, single-person commuting.

The new integrated public transport strategy needs to include Europe-wide standards for prevention and detection of specific threats, including pandemics, and practices to ensure the safe movement of people should they occur.


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