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BRUSSELS OFFICE : +32 (0)2 895 5909

© Jean Robert Thibault

ITS expertise


Henriette van Eijl of DG MOVE spoke about the role of intelligent transport systems in delivering technological solutions to the challenges faced by port cities

Held in Strasbourg, France, in June, PEN attended the 12th ITS European Congress, which covered the role of intelligent transport systems (ITS) in creating smarter cities, developing inter-operative systems between countries, and delivering lower carbon emissions throughout the transport industry. At the event, Henriette van Eijl, policy co-ordinator at the directorate for innovative and sustainable mobility at DG-MOVE, discussed how ITS can be used to create cleaner and more environmentally friendly port cities, and gave specific examples of the political support at the European Commission that will be necessary to achieving this goal.

The necessary approach to utilising ITS to address green concerns in ports, she said, is supporting innovation and providing solutions that work across different sectors, particularly as freight typically uses multiple modes of transport on its journey from source to destination: “I think it’s very important to discuss how we can use ITS in a more multimodal way, and this year is a really good opportunity because 2017 is the European Maritime Year, and in 2018 we will be focusing on multimodality, so the timing is excellent.”

There is an urgent need for the EU to begin developing and supporting policies that will facilitate innovation, as the commission has set bold targets for the freight industry in Europe. Van Eijl explained: “If you look at ports, even just the physical use of space, you can see where the opportunities are. As far as European policy, we’d like to shift 30% of road cargo to rail and waterways by 2025, which is a very ambitious target, and many cities have gone further – Amsterdam, for example, wants to reach 0% emissions by 2025.”

One of the areas under discussion at the panel was that of combining passenger and freight transport, which could offer evident environmental and economic benefits. However, van Eijl warned that there have been a number of high profile attempts at this in the past which have failed due to problems with planning regulations, or data sharing. On the other hand, emerging technologies could remove the problems that have created barriers to this in the past, she said: “I am positive that with new technologies, automation and connectivity, we will get there in the end. It’s about optimisation of your infrastructure.”

These prior failures were largely caused by an inability to align the needs of different stakeholders in the sector, van Eijl suggested, and she argued that a lack of mutual understanding and engagement from these stakeholders needs to be addressed: “I think that something we need to focus more on is bringing together city planners and decision makers with port decision makers. There are some successful pilot projects that we are funding that manage to bring together the two different groups.”

Van Eijl suggested that she is fully supportive of the idea of using novel ITS solutions to create a “green wave” for trucks – creating a ripple effect that will cause logistics to become more sustainable across Europe – but warned that public opinion needs to be taken into account. “Many people do not want to have any trucks whatsoever in their streets,” she warned. Her approach to reassuring the people who take such an oppositional stance is greater engagement with their concerns: “Can we find the data to create evidence-based policies in cities and with ports to get stakeholder engagement?”

This approach is not just ideological, it has formed commission policies towards the creation of smarter, more environmentally sound ports, van Eijl continued: “From the commission side, we would like to support the creation of smarter port cities in two ways. One is by de-risking some of the projects via SEF (Sustainable Energy Fund) and Horizon 2020 funding. The second is creating stakeholder platforms where different sectors, industries and levels of policy making are coming together to talk and find joint solutions for this.” This area is of vital importance, and only by ensuring that organisations are working towards shared goals can the European Commission ensure that such work is fruitful, she added: “A lot of our efforts are about supporting organisational innovation. [Organisations] will only share data if they have a common objective.”

© Juozas Šalna

By creating these platforms the commission is directly facilitating the type of communication van Eijl believes is necessary to find holistic solutions, and she offered an example of one such platform that is already enabling positive changes to be made in European cities: “Last year, we set up a new financial instrument called ELENA (European Local Energy Assistance) which gives technical assistance and a €2m grant to cities to invest in sustainable mobility solutions.” The project has so far been a success, with a number of city, public transport and port authorities applying for the grant. “The first grant will be used by Amsterdam, the second grant will be used by Klaipe˙da in Lithuania, and we have Gothenburg and Copenhagen coming. These cities are not only interested in investing into one thing – like clean buses – but are using this funding to bring in expertise and to transform their whole system.”

The commission also has plans to develop further networks in the future to unite the goals of various stakeholders and synchronise their efforts to develop solutions, as van Eijl detailed: “We are going to bring together infrastructure providers and operators, city planners and researchers to see how we can better use our urban nodes for innovations. I think that ITS and alternative fuels are really two of the key opportunities in these hubs.”

This collaboration expands beyond stakeholders in different sectors within the same city to the level of international co-operation in a project called PORTIS, in which the commission has invested. “It’s a €25m CITIVAS project,” van Eijl explained. “It brings together cities like Antwerp, Aberdeen, Constanta, Trieste and Klaipe˙da, and they’re all working together with their port authorities on improving their urban planning and logistics, to grow their ports and cities together.”

As well as encouraging better communication between stakeholders, the commission has launched several efforts to address the ageing of Europe’s port worker population. The port sector has struggled to attract young workers, largely due to outdated perceptions of the nature of the job, but van Eijl sees new opportunities emerging which could draw young people back into the industry: “Transport used to be seen as something very hard and dirty, but if you look around today’s ports they’re clean and smart.”

The commission is supporting attempts to rectify this perception in a number of ways; primary among them is the creation of a KIC (knowledge and innovation community) to highlight the opportunities created by innovation in the port logistics. Van Eijl elaborated on the work that this KIC would undertake: “You can see a lot of the changes in supply chains, in 3D printing and in automation, and I think those are amazing opportunities for the next generation of people working in the ports. Next year we will set up a big entrepreneurship programme called KIC Urban Mobility. The KIC will find and develop new forms of entrepreneurship, education and skills to turn transport from a job into a career.”

The community is industry driven, and will combine experience with education and summer master’s courses to develop what van Eijl described as a “new generation of urban mobility workers”. She welcomed discussion and input from ports into the conversations and networks that the commission is creating, and expressed a hope that through the KIC and the commission’s other interventions, ports across Europe could soon see revolutionary change.

This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Government 22, which will be published in July.

Pan European Networks Ltd