On 9 December 2020, the European Commission announced its Sustainable and Smart Mobility strategy, with steps to transform the transport system in line with the targets and goals set under the European Green Deal and the European Union’s (EU’s) digital strategy. The strategy intends to achieve a ‘90 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 by delivering a smart, competitive, safe, accessible and affordable transport system’. The plan sets two milestones for emission reduction –at least 55 per cent reduction by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050. The overall vision of the strategy is to shift the existing paradigm of incremental change to fundamental transformation.

The strategy sets out a clear long-term target for all transport sections. Figure 1 represents the milestones set under the Sustainable and Smart Mobility strategy.

Figure 1: Goals of Sustainable and Smart Mobility strategy

The three approaches adopted to achieve these goals are: (1) to make all transport modes more sustainable; (2) to make sustainable alternatives widely available; and (3) to adopt the right incentives to drive the transition. The policy identified 82 initiatives under 10 flagship areas for action. Each of the flagship areas focuses on significantly reducing the dependence on fossil fuels by replacing the existing fleet with a low-carbon fleet, pursuing a strong shift towards sustainable modes for freight and transport, and internalising the cost of transport by implementing ‘user pays’ and ‘polluter pays’ principles through carbon pricing and infrastructure pricing. Fiveout of the 10 flagship areas will influence and affect the development and growth of, and investment in, the mass transit sector in Europe for the next 20 years.

Flagship areas

  1. Boosting the uptake of zero-emission vehicles, renewable and low-carbon fuels, and related infrastructure
  2. Creating zero-emission ports and airports
  3. Making inter-urban and urban mobility more sustainable and healthier
  4. Greening freight transport
  5. Pricing carbon and providing better incentives for users
  6. Making connected and automated multimodal mobility a reality
  7. Adopting innovation, data, and artificial intelligence for smarter mobility
  8. Reinforcing the single market
  9. Making mobility fair and just for all
  10. Enhancing transport safety and security

Flagship areas and key actions impacting mass transit

Boosting the uptake of zero-emission vehicles, renewable and low-carbon fuels, and related infrastructure

The existing vehicle fleet has a small proportion of low- and zero-emission vehicles. To boost the uptake of such vehicles, the commission will propose a revised CO2 standard for cars and vans by June 2021. Secondly, the commission will adopt regulations to ensure that the batteries available in the European market are sustainable and safe for their entire life cycle. Concerning rail transport, the commission has takensteps to further electrify the system and to use hydrogen fuel technology wherever viable. The recharging and refuelling infrastructure will need to support the expected increase in a sustainable-fuel fleet. Hence, under the EU flagship programme of Recovery and Resilient Facility, by 2025, the commission aims to build 500 out of 1,000 hydrogen fuel stations and one million out of three million public recharging stations. Considering the need for interoperability of the recharging facility, the commission is considering options for more binding targets on the roll-out of infrastructure as well as further measures to ensure full interoperability of infrastructure and infrastructure-use services for all alternatively fuelled vehicles. Overall, the flagship area focuses on increasing the use of electric and hydrogen fuel technology in all transport fleets.

Making inter-urban and urban mobility more sustainable and healthier

The commission intends to focus on building a network of high-speed rail for short-haul-distance trips. By 2030, the aim is to offer carbon-neutral choices to passengers for scheduled collective travel of less than 500km within the EU. The commission will decide on the relevant actions during the revision of the relevant EU legislation in 2021–22. As part of the Year of Rail 2021, the commission will further increase market opportunity and boost competition between private players. In 2021, the commission will also propose an action plan to increase long-distance cross-border travel by rail. The action plan will include propositions for coordinated timetables, infrastructural upgrades, and pooled resources of rolling stock. By 2030, the commission is targeting to boost 15 such pilots. There is also an emphasis on technology innovations and thedeployment of interoperable ticketing to make cross-border tickets easy to buy and use. The commission is expected to propose a regulatory framework in 2021 to enable the implementation of flexible ticketing mechanisms. New mobility concepts such as Mobility as a Service (MaaS), ridesharing, e-bikes, and bike-sharing are expected to gain further support from the commission in enabling inter-urban and multimodal sustainable transport choices. Lastly, to encourage cities to improve urban mobility, the commission will provide support to modernise the mobility policy for micro mobility, to procure zero-emission vehicles, and to build associated infrastructure.

Reinforcing the single market

The transformational changes intended under the strategy will require substantial investment in the mobility sector. The commission envisions that large-scale investment is essential to reinforce the single market. In addition to the previous assessment, the commission has envisioned an additional investment of EUR130 billion every year from 2021 to 2030. Furthermore, the commission will grant EUR100 billion every year under its ‘green and digital transformation investment gap’. The investment will be prioritised based on multiple parameters and shall be funded through existing EU funding programmes. Along with the investment in infrastructure, the strategy also outlines investment towards the modernisation of fleets for all modes.


The strategy looks at integrating the existing EU initiatives and commitments to accelerate the decarbonisation of the transport sector. The flagships and initiatives outlined in the strategy are comprehensive and target all sectors of transport. The strategy has set milestones for 2030 and 2050. However, the strategy has long-term targets and does not breakdown the targets for the achievement of annual or bi-annual goals. The absence of short-term goals makes it difficult to monitor the progress made under each flagship area. There is no definite priority order in terms of the implementation of actions to tackle different sectors. Different European nations have varying stages or levels of infrastructure. Policies, especially those pushing for a shift to sustainable modes and alternative fuels, will need to consider the difference in the maturity level of cities in implementing such strategies. In terms of mass transit, there is a dominant focus on rail-based transport systems. For bus-based systems, the policy predominantly emphasises electrification. There is limited consideration of technology innovation in the bus-based system to make transport more attractive.

The way forward

The European Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility strategy strengthens the region’s commitment towards shifting to more sustainable modes of transport and to adopting digitisation. Regarding flagships and actions in the context of mass transit, there is a strong emphasis on the use of electric and hydrogen fuel vehicles. The strategy intends to support the uptake of the two technologies at all levels –legislative, regulatory, market uptake, and investment. The strategy focuses on making all modes of transport more sustainable and tweaks user mode choice for short-haul and long-haul trips based on carbon efficiency. Based on the strategy, the European mass transit sector can expect opportunities in fleet modernisation, electrification, technology innovation in sustainable fuel, deployment of charging facilities, uptake of hydrogen fuel technology, smart ticketing, uptake of Maas, and new infrastructure projects, especially high-speed rail corridors.

The article has been sourced from Global Mass Transit and can be accessed by clicking here