Transport experts gloomy about the road to sustainable development

OECD Observer

OECD Forum, 14th May, 2001: SD Roundtable: Transport – Are we travelling to Sustainable Development? Moderator Johanne Gélinas 

The transport world is clearly not on the road to sustainable development, officials told a round table discussion at the OECD’s Forum 2001 on Monday, May 14. Participants generally agreed that there was a wide gap between the desire for improved air quality, congestion and safety and the ability or willingness of government, business and the public to deliver.

“The challenges are huge and most of the developments in the transport side are going in the wrong direction,” said Tage Draebye, of DRAEBYE Consulting and Management, Denmark. “We are not travelling towards sustainable development. The challenges are accepted … but are extremely difficult to convert into action.”

Michel Franck, President of the Paris Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that while cleaner fuel, alternative energy, swapping old cars for new and other solutions promised a lot in terms of sustainable development, he expressed little confidence in the new economy’s ability to deliver sustainable solutions.

He referred to one popular misconception that home deliveries by ordering products on the Internet would help reduce car journeys, which in France amount to 64% of all journeys. But preliminary studies have shown that increased Internet shopping does not necessarily reduce the number of car journeys, while increasing freight trips.

Jean-Claude Bailly, president of the Paris public transportation system RATP, said there was greater need to integrate public transportation into urban planning. “New technologies are opening up new opportunities to improve services and infrastructure like automatic ticketing, signalling, driverless trains and the prospect of solving services to outlying areas where demand is weaker than in urban area,” Mr Bailly said. But he stressed the new economy would not take over from the old.

Anne-Marie Idrac, a member of the National Assembly for the Yvelines district outside Paris, said pricing, which is a popular mechanism to control transportation habits, was not necessarily a deterrent. The closure of the Mont Blanc tunnel through the Alps has not increased use of the railways, even though going by road is now longer and more expensive, chiefly because of the level of service, she said. “There is a big gap between what people say they want and the reality of what they do,” she said.

Lucien Royer, a senior policy advisor from the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), used his intervention from the floor to underline the need for more partnerships between employers and unions to facilitate sustainable transport.

And responding to another question from the floor, Ms. Idrac said it was essential children be educated more about the problems of sustainability in transportation because they often don’t understand the need for change in consumption behaviours.

©OECD Observer May 2001

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