Sustainable Multimodal Transport Projects Appraisal and European Mobility Decision Making Process

The development of a sustainable multimodal mobility is one of the key challenges for European cities and functional urban areas. Therefore, to acquire European funds for the sustainable mobility system a Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) is explicitly required, among other elements. The CBA is required as a basis for decision making on the co-financing of major projects included in operational programmes (OPs) of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund.

Even if there is a general agreement of use of CBA at the EU level (which requires each factor to be valued in a monetary sense for public transport project appraisals), there are varying opinions on the inclusion of dominant values, such as travel time-saving across EU Member States; and high level of consensus on the necessity of the direct impacts as part of CBA in transport appraisal.

The EU legislation does not pay enough attention to policies on inclusiveness that put citizens at the centre of mobility planning at the national level and the EU level.

This requires a more comprehensive understanding of how human nature, in terms of values, sentiments, beliefs, influences, individual preferences and decisions across genders and generations should be taken up to reinvent CBA as a nudge as proposed by Cass R. Sunstein (2019, The Cost-Benefit Revolution. the MIT Press). These values bring important insights for conventional transport planning and assessment tools that are currently based on a more simplified set of variables such as travel costs, absolute time savings, and reducing traffic congestion.

The values listed above can also be reflected in the public interest. In the REBALANCE project, the concept of public interest was also analysed to determine how this affects EU policies and legislation in the context of mobility and transport. For instance, while a policy change may be in the public interest (e.g., strengthening the rail or inland waterway transport networks through, among others, the TEN-T policy), its execution and success depend on external factors which transcend the interest itself (e.g., competition – or lack thereof – prices, consumer demand, popularity).

It appears that the values, sentiments, beliefs, influences, individual preferences and decisions, which can be reflected in public interest, need to be taken into account in mobility planning, innovation, appraisal guidelines, and legislation.

REBALANCE analysis also revealed that the concept of public interest is abstract and difficult to describe objectively. Public interest is a concept that needs validation by the legislating authority/body/parliament and becomes determined when juxtaposed with a legal rule. The concept of public interest is not defined as such in EU legislation or jurisprudence. However, public interest is at the core of certain pieces of legislation or the base of reforms (and policy objectives).

With the fast pace of digitalization and rolling out of emerging mobility systems in European cities, it is essential to update the current appraisal methodology used for transport planning. Incorporating people’s wellbeing perspectives and cohorts that share some cluster of specific attributes/values (e.g. welfare attributes, sharing value, environmental values) in current urban mobility planning cycles (ex ante and ex-post) can also support the identification of gaps and requirements for future transport models.

In addition, this identification of gaps and requirements can contribute to the development of the decision support tools which could help with the identification of main sources of commuters’ satisfaction regarding travel pattern change and promoting multimodal travel behaviour. Short and long-term outcomes of such analysis could also enormously capitalise benefits of human values integration in the mobility value chain for private and public transport sectors in the future mobility.

The consequent elaboration of social justice and human well-being measures could also enhance the policy discussion and mobilise decision-makers and authorities towards selecting the most cost-effective strategies to support inclusive transport policies which can lead to balancing the economy and human values. These values, such as ethics, rationality, sensitivity, morality and prudence, should be coupled with investments to increase the perceived quality of individual travel experience to overcome transport planning and infrastructure design challenges such as customising mobility services for all citizens. Furthermore, it is also necessary to set out reforms in the current transport appraisal system to align such system with the EU Green Deal objectives, in particular the EU commitment for a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 2050, and the Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (the PEP) “to attract and support investment in environment and health friendly transport”.

The shift from an economic to a welfare approach to transport project appraisal has the potential to contribute to the development of information societies with a human nature, as stated by Jana Carp (2014, The Importance of “Slow” for Liveable Cities. Fondazione Feltrinelli.) Who explains this concept well by introducing the Slow City movement, which is a vision for sustainable cities combining pleasure and productivity:
Correlated with digital and transportation technologies, high speed can be an advantage in discrete situations, but it has significant secondary effects that reduce overall quality of life, inhibit personal and public relationship, and exacerbate injury to people and ecosystems. At a time when we face the unprecedented question of human sustainability, and cities increasingly invest in digital innovations to improve the efficiency of urban systems (the Smart City), certain aspects of speed hinder capacity‐building for social and ecological resilience. […] Good quality of life, and better business results, depend in large part on strategic employment of fast and slow (Davis and Atkinson 2010). It is not about pace in itself but what pace affords. When fast people slow down, they experience other people, the incidental pleasures of life, the character of the land, the weather, sounds, smells, and tastes. This embodied awareness of place and people is part of what signifies the quality of life promoted by the Slow movement. It is no envisioned as a period of leisure outside work life, but as characteristic of the social and ecological environments in which people live their whole lives.

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