The digitalisation of Europe’s transport sector

The digitalisation of Europe’s transport sector
We need the trust of citizens as users in order to ensure that we adequately communicate the benefits to society.

Despina Spanou, director of the DG Connect’s Digital Society, Trust and Cybersecurity Directorate, discusses about the digitalisation of the transport sector and some of the challenges involved therein.

The mission of the European Commission’s Digital Society, Trust and Cybersecurity Directorate within DG Connect is to ‘improve the life of citizens, the opportunities for companies and the quality of public administrations in major areas of society and economy.’ This is achieved via a strategic approach to the societal dimension of the digital single market, focusing on applications that combine digital policy, digital Research and Innovation, and deployment and provide for leadership in cyber security and digital privacy and digital trust policy, legislation and innovation.

Specific attention is paid to the interplay of EU digital policy and digital technologies with EU policy in application areas such as the transport sector, energy, climate, environment, health, ageing, employment, public sector, security and data protection.

Here, following the Transport Research Arena 2018 (TRA 2018) event, the directorate’s director, Despina Spanou, speaks to SciTech Europa about the digitalisation of the transport sector and some of the challenges involved therein, including ensuring a skilled workforce moving forwards, data privacy and security, the regulatory environment, and the importance of co-operation and collaboration with industry.

What would you say are the biggest challenges emerging as a result of the digitisation of the transport sector (or perhaps digitisation in a general sense)?

The most important challenges are trust, knowledge, and collaboration. Trust is necessary for operators to engage in the digitisation of the transport sector, to invest appropriate resources, and to ensure that the right level of security is integrated into the systems. Moreover, we need the trust of citizens as users in order to ensure that we adequately communicate the benefits to society.

Knowledge is a challenge in terms of the skills of the workforce that must be involved in the digital transformation of the transport sector. Starting from school/university education, we will need to invest in order to build the appropriate skills and also to provide the appropriate training in the job market for the current workforce.

Last but not least, we will need to work together: the digitisation of transport is a collaborative effort between industry, governments, and the society; moreover, collaboration must extend beyond national borders.

More specifically, where do you feel the biggest challenges and opportunities lie when it comes to access to and the sharing of transport data?

Data is key for the digital society. We need to treat data in a way that respects privacy rules and with security as a priority in order to pave the way towards smart mobility. The greatest challenges lies in achieving fair conditions for stakeholders’ co-operation, while at the same time respecting consumers’ privacy rights. The requirements for transparency, fairness, and ethics do not only apply to data access and sharing, but also to processing and reusing them.

Therefore, the real challenge is to develop a joint understanding of the important elements before taking the necessary decisions and steps to materialise profitable agreements amongst stakeholders. Creating new, profitable, and promising business models will bring benefits to citizens’ quality of life and boost the European Digital Single Market.

What role do you feel the EU will need to play in this area moving forwards? How would you like to see the regulatory environment evolve?

The European Union is already playing an important role by facilitating the discussions between stakeholders, providing guidance, and ensuring the protection of personal data. The EU aims to reinforce Europe’s industry and ensure that it maintains its competitive edge.

Today, the European digital data value chain is still in a good position and constitutes a pillar on which to build. However, we need to scale up quickly and to adapt ourselves continually to modern technologies.

The European Commission is using several policy measures to support the transition towards automated transport modes, namely:

  • The set-up up of European 5G cross-border corridors for testing and deployment;
  • The promotion research into relevant technologies and its underlying components and platforms; and
  • The revision of the required legal framework.

The regulatory actions will evolve within the framework of ‘Building a European Data Economy’ and with respect to Digital Single Market principles, while the third mobility package will develop so as to present a European Union vision.

How important is it for the EU, and indeed member states, to work closely with industry in an attempt to anticipate future and emerging trends?

It is very important to work closely with member states and industry for the deployment of new technologies, and the European Commission has been very active in this field.

Regarding the transport sector and the advent of connected and automated driving, efforts were made in different fora such as the Roundtable on Connected and Automated Driving, the High Level Group GEAR 2030, and Cooperative Intelligent Transport System (C-ITS) platform. The first of these has led to the creation of the European Automotive Telecom Alliance (EATA), a co-operation forum of digital and telecommunication industry with vehicles manufacturers and their suppliers.

In addition, the European Commission helps to set up cross-border corridors for the testing and deployment of connected, automated driving. Last year, 27 EU member states as well as Norway and Switzerland signed a letter in support of this initiative: they acknowledged, amongst other things, the need to better assess the potential synergies amongst various automation functionalities and connectivity technologies, and in this respect the need for tests, experiments, and demonstrations.

Further progress has also been made recently: Spain and Portugal signed a Letter of Intent to have two joint ‘corridors’ between Vigo and Porto and between Evora and Mérida. Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia declared that they are working together on the corridor Thessaloniki – Sophia – Belgrade. In addition, Italy and the three presidents of Europaregion Tirol-Südtirol-Trentino have confirmed their intention to work, in

co-operation with other interested member states, on the development of the 5G Corridor on the Brenner pass motorway which has traffic of over 60 million vehicles per year.

Other Member States are also co-operating to agree on other 5G cross-border testing corridors.

In September 2017 the second High Level Structural Dialogue of member states resulted in an ‘Action plan for automated and connected driving’ addressing key issues like cross-border co-operation on testing, public awareness, social impact and ethical issues, data access and use, as well as international standardisation. In June 2018, progress will be reported in the third High Level meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Would you agree that the legislative frameworks are lagging behind the technology, especially when it comes to automated transport systems etc.? How do you think this can be rectified?

The European Commission is working on creating the required legislative environment for research, development, and deployment of emerging technologies. The mobility package initiative ‘Europe on the Move’ was adopted on 31 May 2017 and, on 8 November 2017, the Commission revealed a series of measures designed to help accelerate the transition to low- and zero-emission vehicles.

It is important to note that the initiative also contributes to fulfilling the EU’s commitments under the Paris CLIMATE AGREEMENT.

The third and final part of this mobility package will come on the 17 May 2018, and a dedicated Communication on Connected and Automated Mobility will be part of it. The communication sets out a European strategy to make Europe a world leader for autonomous and safe mobility systems. Other parts of the package include a new road safety policy, CO2 standards for trucks, a strategic action plan for batteries, legislative initiatives which establish a digital environment for information exchange in transport, and a legislative initiative to streamline permitting procedures for projects on the core trans-European transport network (TEN-T).

The European Commission is also working on a recommendation focusing on a pioneer spectrum for 5G, cybersecurity and a data governance framework that will be adopted by the end of 2018. In addition, in April 2018 two major policy initiatives came out: the 2018 Data Package, as a follow up of the ‘Building a European Data Economy’ Communication and the Artificial Intelligence Communication. In the next Commission, more legislative measures are expected to follow.

Looking to FP9, how would you like to see this building on the successes of H2020 and what lessons do you think need to be learned?

FP7 delivered the first connected vehicles and co-operative systems to the transport sector, which are now ready for deployment. Horizon 2020 focuses on the automation aspects of smart mobility, and we see the first vehicles with level three automation (i.e. conditional automation: the system performs dynamic driving tasks in defined situations without human intervention, but the driver is still needed as a fall-back if the system requests an intervention) in large scale tests.

In FP9 we will have to focus on the integration of connectivity and automation as well as higher levels of automated driving (i.e. level four (high automation) and level five (full automation = autonomous driving).

Research activities and innovation have to go hand-in-hand to accelerate the deployment of promising technologies addressing users’ needs and societal challenges at large, resulting in the availability of ‘mobility as a service’ to citizens and businesses alike.


Despina Spanou


Digital Society, Trust and Cybersecurity directorate

DG Connect

European Commission

Tweet @DSMeu

This article will appear in SciTech Europa Quarterly issue 27, which will be published in June, 2018.

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