Sustainable and inclusive urban mobility can improve people's quality of life, says EESC

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At its May plenary session, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted an opinion on a new urban mobility framework. The main takeaway was that in light of increasingly ambitious environmental, health and societal objectives, the EU should change approach: from ensuring seamless traffic flows to moving people and goods in a more sustainable and inclusive way.

The need for environmental action and the COVID-19 pandemic are changing the way people think about mobility, urban life and work. On the one hand, it is essential to protect the environment, but on the other hand it is also important to make sure that urban mobility is inclusive and efforts to reduce emissions do not lead to reduced mobility and transport exclusion. Now more than ever, it is necessary to strike the right balance.

With this key message, the EESC threw its support behind the Commission's communication on "The New EU Urban Mobility Framework" by adopting the opinion drafted by Mateusz Szymański at its May plenary session.

Improving mobility is above all about increasing quality of life in cities, said Mr Szymański. Mobility must respond to the needs of cities and the surrounding areas, be well-planned and sustainable so that environmental needs coincide with social ones, and also take into account new trends and foster the optimisation of residents' choices with regard to how they want to get around.

Promoting sustainability, inclusiveness and equality through mobility

The EESC highlights that the EU needs to take more decisive action and shift from the current approach based on ensuring seamless traffic flows to an approach focused on moving people and goods more sustainably.

Sustainability must be matched by inclusiveness. According to the Committee, the right to mobility should be recognised as a fundamental human right which is also included in the European Pillar of Social Rights. Mobility can promote equality, especially equal opportunities and, as the current urban mobility infrastructure is not equally accessible to all, the EU should make urban transport as inclusive as possible.

To improve mobility in cities and the surrounding areas, public administrations need to work together at different levels and involve civil society organisations and citizens. They could plan their future by putting together sustainable urban mobility plans (SUMPs) and sustainable urban logistics plans (SULPs), in particular in relation to businesses.

Cities cannot live in isolation from their surrounding areas. This is why it is important that transport links exist between urban and peri-urban areas that are convenient for their inhabitants. In the EESC's view, TEN-T urban nodes have to be strengthened for passengers and freight as part of the revision of the TEN-T Regulation. These hubs should be one-stop shops providing a comprehensive transport service, with information for passengers and services and products related to transport, including freight transport. In this respect, railway stops could play a fundamental future role.

A participatory approach and awareness-raising in the new urban framework

Involving all transport stakeholders in urban areas is yet another key aspect and the EESC calls for such a participatory approach to the planning process of the new urban framework, underlining that only by doing this can a change in the desired direction become reality.

More specifically, the Committee supports the proposal to change the composition of the European Commission's Expert Group on Urban Mobility and open it up to people outside the public administration, broadening its membership to include representatives of different social groups and backgrounds, especially young people. The EESC believes that diversifying its composition is vital, and expresses an interest in participating in the Group's work. This approach could be beneficial to cities which still do not have SUMPs and SULPs and push them to adopt these instruments.

Finally, the EESC stresses that it is crucial to raise passenger and business awareness of urban mobility and logistics options, particularly the optimisation of car usage, showing the benefits of leaving private vehicles behind in favour of other methods of travel. Along the same lines, the Committee proposes promoting urban tourism that takes account of sustainable modes of mobility.

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