ERTICO – ITS Europe: What are the most important steps for implementing ITS in the context of the EU’s ITS Action Plan?

Tom Antonissen: Let us take as a starting point the publication of the ITS Action Plan (and accompanying framework directive). At the time after pointing to the continuing economic social and environmental losses to society of (road) congestion accidents and CO2 emissions the Commission suggested the potential of ITS would improve the aforementioned losses by anywhere between 5 and 20%.

The Commission continued by deploring that this potential had thus far not materialised resulting in a patchwork of national regional and local solutions – hence an EU-coordinated approach was more than needed!

Some EC officials also referred to the “failure of a voluntary approach” reminding me of the recent debates regarding CO2 emissions from new (passenger) cars. This eventually resulted in binding EU Regulations adopted at an impressive speed – so we could try to compare why this speed seems lacking when it comes to “making ITS obligatory” (for national regional and local authorities).

In this regard the Commission also identified as “problem drivers” the lack of interoperability the lack of effective cooperation (presumably aimed at all levels of authorities and less towards the private sector) and the need to clarify issues of privacy and liability.

Currently 1.5 years after the publication of the Action Plan and Directive the EU legislative procedure is still ongoing. Hopefully the directive will be adopted in the coming months but this means it will still be several years before the directive reaches the national laws of the Member States and possibly even longer before it produces results “on the ground”.

During the negotiations other “problem drivers” surfaced: lack of agreement on the Commission’s proposed delineation of competences and priorities within the 6 different “Action Areas” (containing a total of 24 Actions); concerns on the procedure of implementing measures (Comitology); the impact on already existing initiatives (backward compatibility); the proposed timeline and the financial and administrative implications. Unfortunately all the above can be referred to as the usual part of EU decision-making and no doubt continues to fuel the gap between the EU and its citizens (through no fault of the Commission itself)!

Taking the Action Plan back in the picture (which is wider than the directive as one can expect more legislative proposals to follow) the most important steps towards a swift implementation of the Commission’s noble goals within the ITS Action Plan would in my personal opinion pertain to the following: clear establishment of “ownership” at the different levels of authority (who is responsible for what) and a binding commitment as to the timing for measures to be undertaken (not a binding target for results per se but at least a “commitment of means” – I will explain further).

ERTICO – ITS Europe: What would be your advice to the European Commission in the context of realising the ITS Action Plan?

Tom Antonissen: In order to overcome the inherent barriers which still exist when it comes to EU-level policy-making the Commission first needs to reassess its role as the “proposer of initiatives” knowing very well that this only marks the starting point of a long (and usually painful) legislative process. With this I mean that recently the Commission has been too much anticipating the sensitivities of both the European Parliament (usually related to ideological and political issues) and the Council (usually their reflex to maintain national competencies) and therefore has adopted the “conciliatory practice” of proposing initiatives that already contain a “downgraded EU approach” in the hopes of passing it more quickly through the other institutions.

However this is clearly not speeding up the decision-making process so one has to wonder if that is the best approach after all? And in any event – and speaking here as a Public Affairs professional – the Commission could do better in communicating its initiatives to the wider audience (linked to an honest appraisal on whether their current powers would allow for any ambitious measures to actually become realised).

Don’t get me wrong the present openness and even predictability of the Commission’s law-proposing (see the Commission Work Programme 2010) is commendable and by far “best in class” when comparing to similar (national) institutions around the world. What I feel missing though is a “naming and shaming” aspect in such communication efforts where I would like to see the Commission transferring the blame it usually receives when initiatives are delayed or downgraded to the actual causes (meaning usually the negotiations between the European Parliament and the Member States).

Not that this will change any time soon so I would advise the Commission to always ensure an “Action Plan B”. Looking at the ITS Action Plan (and also the Urban Mobility Action Plan the two being somewhat overlapping as I see it) some of the “Target Dates” –vague as they are – already seem to be approaching rather quickly and so far we are not being informed about what has been achieved.

Coming back to the above one huge step forward would indeed be that all the actors involved would jointly agree on their roles and responsibilities (thus being given “ownership” of the aspects related to ITS implementation that are undoubtedly linked to their level of operations) and here the Commission should play a leading (and vocal) role while not fearing the use of the principle of “subsidiarity”. This principle will actually manifest itself in practice if all levels of authorities agree to stick to their core competences while welcoming a (strong) coordination role by the Commission!

Furthermore since targets are indeed necessary but need to be properly proposed (and enforced!) one can question the current practice by the Commission of enumerating their “Target Dates” in years; one year being a long time (especially in politics) it would be recommended to change this approach by focusing on setting targets for the adoption of a “commitment of means” by all actors involved. This would be similar to the practice within the Covenant of Mayors  where cities that voluntarily sign up to the initiative pledge to reduce their CO2 emissions beyond the EU objectives by being bound to propose their own Sustainable Energy Action Plans within a year and then held liable to them (by the European Commission). A similar practice seems up for adoption within the Urban Mobility Action Plan which also promotes the take-up of Local Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (launch date 2009 incidentally).

Another idea would be to install “EU ITS ambassadors” within all major cities and regions whether they be fully-fledged EU officials or other respected (ITS) personalities that will then receive the full support by the Commission.

ERTICO – ITS Europe: How can we solve the issue of funding the infrastructure measures necessary for deploying ITS?

Tom Antonissen: Naturally (as mentioned above) one of the big “bottlenecks” said to hold up an EU-wide deployment of ITS is the fear (shared by all levels of authorities) of the extra costs this would bring – both to their current networks and their planned infrastructure investments.

One much-talked about financing instrument is the use of PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships) for infrastructure developments building on the experience some Member States have when it comes to their (tolled) motorway network. While generally in favour of further developing such instruments I would like to point to the current issues with such existing motorway networks and their private operators: as they have heavily invested when building the network and remain committed to providing a quality service to their customers – the road users – they are also understandably hesitant to install additional ITS applications out of their own pocket.

Another much-talked about principle is “the user pays” and/or “the polluter pays” which is generally driving the (political) consensus that any time soon a system of Road User Charging (RUC) should be installed across the EU preferably in an interoperable way (and not only for professional drivers!). I am personally very much in favour of RUC though with some non-negotiable conditions: firstly a clear “transparency-exercise” should take place emanating from all levels of government where they will commit to informing their citizens unashamedly as to how current road infrastructure (and public transport) is being financed. This means that it should be made clear to all citizens how much their personal taxes related to their motor vehicle-ownership as well as the fuel duties and VAT related to (road) transport is actually invested back into road infrastructure (and what is done with the rest of the road users’ taxes).

As usually such a “revelation” will bring to the surface some unexpected results (and some rude awakenings for the citizens politicians and interest groups) only then should the concept of RUC be introduced to the concerned audience while clearly explaining where it will complement existing taxes (linked to their investment in road infrastructure) and where the authorities will make efforts to move from an “ownership-based” taxation to a “pay-as-you-drive” (PAYD) system. If this introduction is made through a transparent communication campaign that explains the benefits of raising extra investments to introduce ITS across the road network while allowing each single citizen to make informed choices on whether or not they will use their motor vehicle for a certain trip (knowing it will cost them a certain price) I am quite hopeful this will introduce a “mobility mentality shift” and bring about the sustainable integrated transport networks we are all dreaming about!

There is a “chicken and egg” dimension to consider here as well since ITS-deployment will be needed to introduce RUC across national road networks (the extra revenue of which should be invested in further ITS deployment) and luckily other financing instrument are available in this regard since the Commission is pushing for ITS-deployment to be funded through their TEN-T financing as well as through the Structural and Cohesion Funds. And very recently also the European Investment Bank showed its willingness to fund ITS-deployment in an effort to be seen as adhering to the EU’s sustainability concerns.

ERTICO – ITS Europe: If you had one wish to the European Commission concerning its work on ITS what would it be?

Tom Antonissen: I would wish for the Commission to first align its main actors (meaning officials from the different Directorates-General involved in ITS – the most obvious “competition” taking place between their Transport- and Environment-related services) so that they come out speaking with one strong voice as to what the vision of the Commission actually is. I believe the Barroso II Commission is strong enough to do just that while it should openly acknowledge it only has limited competences (for example in the area of taxation and looking at subsidiarity) to achieve its mission to promote further EU integration.

Having completed this “self-reflection” the Commission should be able to determine its exact place in driving the ITS Action Plan which would be to use its resources to act as the “one stop shop” for all levels of authorities and businesses seeking information on “the EU way” of implementing ITS. In this regard I widely applaud Action Area 6 “European ITS cooperation and coordination” which contains (next to the ITS Framework Directive) initiatives on developing a decision-support toolkit for authorities guidelines for the public funding from both EU and national sources and the setting up of an ITS collaboration platform between Member States and regional/local governments.

On a personal note I would also like to see more attention given to the current ITS technologies being deployed in the parking industry (both on- and off-street) as this sector seems strangely forgotten in the current political debates on ITS and Urban Mobility. And this while 99% of the cities use parking regulations as some sort of (arcane) demand management system though nobody seems to notice the potential link between introducing RUC through the widely accepted notion that (most) parking in a city will cost money. Considering also the fact that motor vehicles spend the largest part of their time being parked more attention should be paid to how current political and technological developments will affect parking for both professional and private drivers. One could even make this “problem” part of the solution!

And I am not saying that just because I currently work closely with the European Parking Association (EPA)…


About Tom Antonissen


Tom Antonissen joined LOGOS Public Affairs as Senior Consultant in January 2008 where he currently holds the title of Manager of the Transport Practice. Apart from his responsibilities for overall business development he mostly supports with his team of consultants European Associations active in the Transport Automotive and Energy sectors.

He has previously worked  as Secretary General of three Belgian and two European trade federations – active in the Transport and Machinery Distribution Sector – after which he became Director of Policy & Institutional Affairs at the European Union Road Federation (ERF) where he was responsible amongst others for all road-related European (and International) Transport Policy matters.

As a true “Public Affairs aficionado” he is a member of several formal and informal networks of Public Affairs practitioners and has been closely involved in a number of successful lobby campaigns both on Belgian and European level.

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Original Publication Date: Sat 24 Jul 2010