In tough times when finance ministers across Europe are pulling the strings of the public purse ever tighter, public services are coming under increasing pressure.
In this context, reflection about how public funding can and should be allocated means that essential services such as pensions, healthcare and education are often prioritised.
So where does this leave public transport? Let’s not forget that in Europe, public transport operators provide 1.2 million direct jobs and the sector as a whole represents between 1 and 1.2% of EU GDP. It’s also worth noting that every euro of value created from public transport is linked to a further value creation of €4 in the total economy. So, it’s a sector that provides and will continue to provide, economic value as well as local green jobs that cannot be delocalised.
Public transport is both a major contributor to national and local economies. It may still come as a surprise though that in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels and Dublin, public transport operators are the largest city employers.
Whilst there’s no hiding from the fact that large-scale public transport projects - to create extra capacity or increase quality - are costly, the cost of enhancing urban mobility is actually significantly lower than the direct cost of congestion. If the external costs and social impacts of congestion are factored in, it becomes even clearer that investing in public transport represents good value for money.
It was with this in mind that UITP gathered six of Europe’s largest capital city public transport operators in Rome in December 2012, to issue a collective declaration. In the first such meeting of its kind, the CEOs of Transport for London, BVG (Berlin), RATP (Paris), Metro Madrid, ATAC (Rome) and Moscow Metro together sent out the message to policy makers at all relevant levels that public transport can help deliver a sustainable recovery solution to Europe’s anaemic economy.
Efficient urban mobility provides the foundation for economic growth and creates social integration. Rapid urbanisation means that there is an urgent need to invest in Europe’s cities and support expansion, which in turn spurs growth and encourages job creation. It should be no secret then that the cities with the most modern and efficient public transport systems are also the ones attracting the brightest minds and the most innovative businesses, linking people to jobs, education and health services.
Investment in public transport should not mean of course that pensions, education and healthcare bills go unpaid, it is instead a question of recognising that the sector is a valuable motor for growth and job creation and should therefore, despite limited public resources, be allocated the stable and reliable financing that it deserves. Full integration into urban planning, to ensure that sustainable modes are considered from the outset, is also a prerequisite to help liberate our urban environments from congestion.
Policy makers should also look towards providing a supportive and stable legal, regulatory and funding environment for the sector, allowing long-term planning as well as increased investment opportunities from the private sector, institutional players and external sources. This would allow public transport undertakings to modernise and extend their networks in the most cost effective manner.
In tight financial times, the public transport sector has a certain responsibility therefore to justify its worth and to demonstrate it can deliver higher capacity and better quality services. Ever-rising fuel prices and increasing urban (and sub-urban congestion) will draw more people towards collective transport modes. Customer-orientation is essential therefore to ensure that the sector delivers the level of quality and convenience that people are coming to expect.
Customers expect mobility solutions that are fast, safe, clean, comfortable and affordable, coupled with understandable and useful information. This means that the public transport sector will have to become a true mobility provider, which in certain cities will require a fundamental shift in mentality, in order to provide services to meet changing lifestyle patterns and increasing demand. Intermodal strategic partnerships and alliances with taxis, bikes, car sharing, parking facilities and information providers are needed as well as integrated information, tariffs and fare products.
This is not a challenge to be taken lightly. The arguments in favour of public transport are clear but the sector needs to do more to ensure that it receives the financial and political support that will enable it to flourish.