Transport RD&I in the EU: daring to go beyond what is known

Transport RD&I in the EU: daring to go beyond what is known
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At April’s TRA 2018 conference, held in Vienna, Austria, SciTech Europa heard the Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, present her keynote speech on how to deliver the future of transport.

Under the overarching theme of ‘A digital era for transport’, the 7th edition of the Transport Research Arena (TRA) conference was held in Vienna, Austria, on the 16-19 April, 2018. Working to explore, discuss and demonstrate the digital shift, TRA 2018 focused on several key areas, including: transport; mobility; logistics; and industrial production. Working in collaboration with the European Commission, the European Technology Platforms on Transport and Mobility, the Austrian Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology, the Austrian Institute of Technology and AustriaTech, TRA featured keynote speeches from the Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, as well as Director-General of DG MOVE, Henrik Hololei.

Speaking on the importance of research, development and innovation, as well as an equal workforce for transport, SciTech Europa heard the Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, present her keynote speech on how to deliver the future of transport.

An economy leader

“We create one out of 20 European jobs – around 11.4m jobs in the EU. Not only that, we create 5% of European GDP, but even more encouraging is that currently, transport products altogether…represent 40% of all EU transport in EU export, and 18% of all exported services come from transport,” Bulc said. However, the outcomes generated through the transport industry are not only positive, she outlined, but are also responsible for producing negative externalities, as a result of rapid growth and large-scale development. “I would like to invite you to get motivated and help us not only to create wealth, success and growth, but to ensure that we address these negative externalities as well,” she told her audience.

Acknowledging Europe’s road safety issue

Each year, 25,000 citizens are fatally injured on Europe’s roads, whilst 137,000 are seriously injured, and 400,000 citizens die prematurely as a result of noise and air pollution. Bulc added: “Knowing that transport contributes 24% of that pollution, and it is the second largest polluter in Europe, I hope that motivates you, and that you will help us to remove this unnecessary pain, sorrow and devastation from European families.”

New opportunities for transport

“We are in a great place to engage in a positive agenda,” Bulc went on. The congestion on Europe’s roads is an area which the Commissioner outlined as a source of loss – loss of efficiency, time, patience and personal energy – and one which shows potential in being addressed through progressive technologies.

The Commissioner then outlined how the clear priorities of the EU will serve as a means to guide transport towards efficiency and connectivity, whilst decreasing the number of negative externalities, utilising techniques such as:

  • Decarbonisation;
  • Digitalisation;
  • People-focused services;
  • Investment; and
  • Innovation.

A decarbonised future for the maritime industry

At the 72nd meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s environmental committee, an adoption of an initial strategy to reduce green house gas emissions from ships was agreed on a global scale; this will see the decarbonise of maritime ships increase by 50% by 2050.

“After aviation, maritime is on board now for the COP21 agreement as well, and [the] EU led the way. I’m proud of all member states because we acted as one and we were able to join forces with other partners around the globe that believe we have to be responsible and pay attention to what we do to our environment and what kind of planet we leave behind for future generations,” Bulc said.

Outlining the importance of boldness in leading innovation, she then used the example of solar powered aircraft, and how this initially proved a source of ridicule. “That moment started to spark so many innovations, research and developments,” she added. Now, general aviation is pioneering the use of electric, hydrogen, and other sustainable aircraft, as a result, assisting in providing low to zero emission aviation.

Innovating for an improved world

The Commissioner said: “Be able to think and dream beyond what is known, never be afraid to challenge us legislators and planners, and show us the way forward – that we can also be part of this bold understanding of the future – keep it on the side of humanity, and make sure that digitalisation [can] happen.”

Innovation is formed from the combination of two different aspects, world, technologies, or models, Bulc outlined. “But innovation itself, need to be well fed with research and invention before it hits the market.” Currently, the EU are working to support at this level throughout several key phases, including:

  • Research;
  • Innovation;
  • Prototyping;
  • Innovation; and
  • Taking a product to market.

A long-term view for the future of transport

“As you know, the Commission is currently working on its proposal for the next long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Budget discussions are always difficult, but this time around, there is additional spice on the table because of Brexit – the regulations will be harder,” the Commissioner said. As a result, the call for enhanced synergy between different portfolios is being demanded in order to deliver a strengthened position both in market and social frameworks.

“There will be a need for streamlining of all the available financial means, because it will be extremely important that whatever we invest in, we can deliver”, whether this be the short- or long-term. She added: “But President Juncker was very clear – he will not compromise research, development, innovation, or the youth programmes, and we are all standing behind that. But it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be an easy ride – it doesn’t mean that every project will be approved,” she added.

Providing answers to persistent R&D issues

Bulc invited the audience to discuss and collaborate in order to answer key questions in the R&D process:

  • How can successful research results are translated into useful deliverables, on either a market or social framework?
  • How can siloes be broken down in order to foster better alignment of research projects, as well as ensuring that overlaps are avoided?
  • How can these projects build on each other?
  • Future generations of the transport workforce

“Young people bring excitement, innocence and boldness, because they dare to dream a world that we have not seen or lived,” Bulc said. She continued by insisting that the younger generations keep dreaming in order to create a desirable place to live, contemporary to their generation. “Don’t be afraid and try to pull us behind you. Excite us, lead us, and I promise to join those ideas that will sparkle and deliver.”

TRA 2018 hosted two competitions as part of its conference, TRA Visions 2018: Young Researcher and TRA Visions 2018: Senior Researcher. The Commissioner added: “I am very much looking forward to meeting the young winners of the TRA Visions award. Thank you for providing an environment, an ecosystem, which means that young people can engage and deliver.”

Financed under the Erasmus+ programme, Move2Learn, Learn2Move benefits those Europeans between the ages of 16 and 19. The programme supports young people to travel, experience connectivity across the EU, to experience different modes of transport, whilst learning and exchanging good practices and making connections.

5,000 young people from across all EU member states were granted access to vouchers which they can use for travelling. However, 2,000 additional tickets have been allocated. Bulc said: “I hope they will be well spent and that the feedback will be very tangible, that we can build on them and improve the connectivity and youth programmes of the future.”

A platform for change and equality

“Only 22% of the workforce in transport are women; I can assure you that everywhere I have worked – as an analyst, a manager, a director, a politician – when we have balanced teams we were, by far, more sustainable, more inclusive and more innovative.” The Commissioner further commented on how innovation is spurred on by difference, and not replication, extending an invitation for key figures and decision makers to join the EU Transport Platform for Change, launched in November 2017.

The platform is a place where good practice can be exchanged and people can learn about how to campaign and promote women as an integral component of the transport workforce, and the digital sphere is one crucial lynchpin of that.

Daring to innovate for transport users

“In conclusion, no matter what you do, please never think about cars, never think about trains, never think about roads, or ports; always think about people – users, those that will use what you’re going to create because then the true inspiration will come – dare to go beyond what is known today. That is the spirit of the commission, of member states, of the parliamentarians, and the council.”

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

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