Green transport systems are urgently needed as pollution causes 10 times more deaths than car crashes
EU transition to green urban transport starts with citizens
All Europeans should be aware that urban mobility still relies overwhelmingly on the use of conventionally powered cars. As a consequence, transport in the EU is dependent on oil products for more than 96 per cent of its energy needs and the dependence on fossil fuels is the cause of some 23 per cent of total CO2 emissions in urban areas. In terms of health damages, in 2011 atmospheric pollution caused some 450,000 premature deaths, a figure 10 times higher than that of car crashes for the same year, and noise pollution caused some 9000 premature deaths. In 2010 alone, this cost between €330bn and €940bn - between three and nine per cent of the EU's GDP.
Applying world health organisation guidelines, which are stricter than the EU's, would increase citizens' average life expectancy by roughly 22 months, and would result in savings of €31bn per year.
These statistics have made me acutely aware of the need to make our urban mobility more sustainable, and of the importance of lowering our dependence on vehicles that run on traditional fossil fuels.
How can we foster the transition to sustainable urban mobility? It's extremely difficult to answer the question, as mobility is a very complex phenomenon that involves many different actors.
The main actors are citizens - us. And how can we promote different behaviour among citizens? Any change in people's behaviour is stimulated by a variety of factors, determined by positive results and benefits. Is this answer too simplistic? Not at all. By providing good, easy mobility solutions, we can effectively trigger behavioural change.
This could be done, for example, by improving public transport and ensuring it covers the 'last mile' of the user's journey. Urban public transport fares could be reduced, or transport could even be made free of charge to residents, as is already the case in many cities all over the world.
Developing widespread electric vehicle charging facilities, through innovative systems such as those that use public lighting infrastructures, and installing recharging facilities in private parking areas - in shopping centres, for example - would make it easier to shift to electric vehicles for public and private transport.
Participation is also important. Citizens need to be involved and actively contribute to urban mobility planning activities, in order to express their needs and propose solutions.
But of course, citizens can't solve the problem on their own. In order to address the dramatic figures mentioned above on air and noise pollution the EU, member states and local authorities should make concrete efforts to stimulate the transition in the urban mobility sector.
Measures should be implemented to look at financial incentives to promote the use of sustainable solutions and discourage old and conventional schemes.
For example, member states should eliminate direct and indirect subsidies to vehicles running on traditional fossil fuels, introduce tax incentives for electric vehicles - such as reduced VAT or exemption from road tax - support economic incentives for businesses that grant fringe benefits to promote sustainable mobility among employees, and for SMEs that produce goods or services for sustainable urban mobility.
And, last but not least, local authorities should improve local public transport before investing in the construction of new roads and highways, responding effectively and sustainably to commuting needs and fully include sustainability criteria when granting public procurement for transport and logistics.