Eastern European transport "unsustainable"

Traffic growth clashes with sustainable transport principles, concludes report

Having signed up to an ambitious set of sustainable transport principles yesterday (ENDS Daily 13 November), central and eastern European (CEE) countries face the sobering task of putting the principles into practice.

A new study carried out for the United Nations Environment Programme, the Austrian environment ministry and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that the task will not be easy. The report, which covers all CEE countries, concludes that "unsustainable development in the transport system" will continue to 2030.

The study projects that the share of passenger transport by cars will rise from 45% to 80% between 1994 and 2030, and freight transport by lorries will increase from 29% to 65% over the same period.

Figures given by CEE transport and environment ministers at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) conference on transport and environment in Vienna paint a similar picture. Czech environment minister Jiri Skalicky told delegates that car ownership in the Czech Republic had increased by almost a third between 1990 and 1996 and that the share of public transport had decreased from 65% to 45% and railway freight from 67% to 41%.

Having agreed in the ministerial declaration to limit transport growth and shift traffic from road to rail, Mr Skalicky said, "we have neither the possibility nor the intention to prevent our people from using their cars". Meanwhile, Slovenian environment minister Pavel Gantar talked of his country's "ambitious programme for the construction of highways".

The head of the UN/ECE's transport division, Carlos Ferrer told ENDS Daily that CEE countries faced a "big dilemma" over whether to invest in road or rail. At present, CEE countries rely far less on cars for private transport and lorries for freight transport than western European countries. However, the study says that with present growth rates, the split between transport modes in CEE countries will be the same as in western Europe within 40 years.

Mr Ferrer also said that some CEE and Mediterranean countries had initially been reluctant to adopt sustainable transport principles and that he was "surprised" that some countries eventually signed the declaration. "There has been a change in perception in CEE countries during the preparatory process for the conference," he observed.

Nevertheless Romania, which objected to a clause in the declaration calling for "policies and measures aimed at less transport-intensive long-term growth" at the last minute, managed to change the text that that it only applied to countries with a high level of infrastructure development.

Follow Up:
UN/ECE, tel: +41 22 917 1111.

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