As the unemployment rates across the world spiked, entire industries were put on hold overnight and governments were faced with declined tax revenues and increased expenditure, the pandemic of 2020 threw most countries into recession. In an effort to help with the recovery, the Next Generation EU fund has been working towards supporting the European Union member countries. With €69.5 billion being allocated to Spain alone, many industries will receive an infusion of funds that will modernize them, will accelerate their digitalization and will promote more sustainable practices. For instance, the “Resilient Infrastructures and Ecosystems” department has already received 15% in fundings, delegating 9,6% to the “Sustainable, Safe and Connected Mobility” sector.
However, the recovery program has also brought new challenges to the mobility industry. As many industries embrace sustainability, it is important that the transportation sector, which is an important polluter, commits to developing new systems that cope with the current environmental situation. The goal is to update current processes that might be delaying the shift towards more eco-friendly alternatives, in order to provide long-lasting solutions that help the industry survive. So, how can the Next Generation EU funds be used in favor of sustainable mobility and transportation infrastructure? How can the industry become more environmentally friendly without sacrificing revenues?
The current situation of the transport industry: facts and challenges
In Spain, the transportation sector represents 8,5% of the GDP, with an approximate of 1,3 million employees working in it. In fact, Spain’s transportation network is the largest in the EU, and the third in the world. As it is, the mobility sector has great potential for becoming the ultimate strategy to position the country high in the socio-economic ecosystem of the EU. However, almost 50% of the population choses private transportation over public transportation, 95% of goods travel by road and the sector itself is currently generating 86% of NO2 emissions.
As a matter of fact, modernizing the current transport infrastructure is one of the greatest sustainability challenges that the government is facing considering the high costs associated with this industry. The results, however, will not only benefit the country and the environment, but they will also eventually satisfy the vast majority of the public that demands better, simpler and long-lasting means of transportation. Making public transportation a comfortable alternative can reduce the overuse of private cars and this is a trend that is more and more popular in many other countries. International companies which have been providing these private alternatives are now working towards redesigning the shared mobility models in order to create safe and pleasant alternative ways of transportation. The public-private alliance therefore is vital in the effort to efficiently use the EU funds.
Technology’s role for a more sustainable mobility
Data analytics, geolocalization, IoT, or Urban Air Mobility, are some of the disruptive technologies that can be applied to achieve sustainability in the transport sector. In fact, just by incrementing the sales of electric cars over traditional ones, 65% of the carbon emissions generated by private transport vehicles can be reduced, while improving the quality of the air we breathe and reducing the acoustic pollution. Moreover, applying data technologies for improving traffic issues can create more impact than initially thought, as a large majority of car-induced pollution occurs in traffic jams rather than during trips. Intelligent management of traffic data and proper connectivity with the vehicles can provide real-time information to help avoid accidents, facilitate access for emergency services, and improve parking management among crowded streets. However, it is undeniable that the difference in cost between a new electric car and a traditionally-fueled one is substantial and, in some cases, the more environmentally-friendly option can't even be considered by many consumers. The commitment with environmental change and sustainability then must come first from the corporations that currently lead the way towards innovation. The goal of turning the transportation industry into 100% electric can end up being an illusion if the private sector doesn’t get involved. The question that most companies must ask themselves now is: What role are they willing to play among the environmental revolution that is taking place today?
Nevertheless, the private transportation sector isn’t the only responsible fraction of the mobility industry. As previously mentioned, 95% of merchandise travels by road in Spain. Consequently, this generates larger volumes of pollution while inevitably reducing the efficiency of the traffic. Improving the competitiveness in the transportation of goods via the railway system is vital to improving the overall mobility situation. Increasing the sizes of the trains in order to reduce the amount of travel, improving the interoperability between terminals and even reducing their costs of operation, are some of the potential solutions in which specialists believe the EU funds should be focused.
The ultimate goal isn’t just creating better and more efficient interconnections between Europe's countries. In fact, the major concern around the implementation of the EU funds lies in generating innovative, sustainable alternatives in order to provide long-lasting solutions for the environmental damage that affects both the private and public sector equally. Private companies have already realized the crucial importance of thinking long term and pursuing cooperation paths with the public sector to optimize the goals they have in common. The focus of the funds allocated to the mobility sector should then be put on the urgent demand of eco-friendly alternatives, so that departments such as the “Sustainable, Safe and Connected Mobility” can truly start working towards decarbonization and decongestion in countries from all around Europe.