Why devote a topical collection of articles to the future of transport in Europe? Is this such a relevant topic, one able to inform us beyond its own core? Moreover, with which tools and approaches can we securitize the futures of such a field up until 2050? As guest editors, we try to address here some of these overarching questions.
Let’s start by claiming that transport has been a central issue of European political and social debate post Second World War. Freedom of movement for Europe’s citizens has been a source of political struggle, in which the potentiality of a border-free continent should have initiated an era of peace, prosperity and development. The lack of restrictions on movement for EU citizens (and goods) is indeed a pillar of European Union existence, a fundamental issue for its political legitimation and self-representation . For those blessed with an EU passport, visa requirements are today often trivial, whilst border controls inside of the Schengen area are regarded as no more than a historical instance. The ability of goods to move around is even more extensive, considering how nowadays, roughly only 30 % of any final product contains local inputs . In other words, transport is at the core of our everyday life, whatever we perform it as daily commuters, new hyper-mobile nomads or goods’ consumers. Transport embeds every interstice of our life, even when we don’t move at all.
Transport is also relevant in the definition of European commercial trends and economic sustainability. While many other European industries have suffered from global competition and have declined in the last four decades, such as the textile industry, or have almost disappeared, such as the mining industry, the European transport industry has remained competitive and strong on a global level. This is generally true both for equipment and for services, though with great differences from branch to branch. The European transport industry is thus a main contributor to European wealth. As mentioned, openly, by the European Commission, focusing on the automotive industry, such a branch
is central to Europe’s prosperity. […] It is a huge employer of skilled workforce, directly employing over 2 million people but responsible for some 12 million jobs. It is a key driver of knowledge and innovation, investing more than € 20 billion a year in R&D, making it Europe’s largest private investor in R&D. With an annual turnover of € 780 billion and a value added of over € 140 billion, it makes a major contribution to the EU’s GDP. It exports far more than it imports, with a surplus of over € 60 billion on overall exports of € 125 billion. [7:3]
The impact of the transport realm does not stop at the political, social or economic levels. Besides economic sustainability, transport systems affect the environment (the transport sector is a growing source of CO2 emission), creating pollution , and also harming human health. According to the World Health Organisation’s estimations, in Europe alone, air pollution, in which transport-related emissions are very relevant, is the reason for 800,000 deaths . Amongst others, the Italian health ministry have just published a report, claiming that smog shortens the life of citizens in Italy by 10 months . We could also mention that there is an energy issue here, as the transport sector is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and thus a great contributor to the dependency of Europe on fossil fuel imports . On the other hand, we should mention the need of new infrastructural investments in order to keep our transport systems functioning properly, investments that Europe today finds difficult to provide .
The analysis of the future of transport is therefore central in assessing Europe’s core and long-term political and social issues, including those regarding political trends, social polarization and economic sustainability. If these are the issues, which instruments can we employ to face these challenges?
Different institutions of the European Community developed or funded a number of important transport foresight studies. After the fall of the Iron Curtain and during the 1990s, European transport policy was focusing on facilitating intermodal transport, achieving modal-shift, implementing the Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T), introducing transport pricing and reducing the environmental impacts of transport. This focus is still visible in the EC 2001 White Paper European transport policy for 2010: time to decide . Shortly after publication, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the sharp jump in oil prices brought further priority issues to the agenda of transport policy making. The security of energy supply and – once more – the necessity of a rapid shift from a fossil fuel based transport system to a transport system based on a diversity of energy sources, mainly renewable.
Thus, there are some dozen serious long-term foresight studies on the future of transport at a European level and at different national levels on our bookshelves. Most studies do not only foresight (or forecast, predict, extrapolate) but they aim at developing specific policies to reach a stronger, greener, less CO2-intensive and more user-friendly transport industry. Some of the results presented here are the outcome of research funded by the European Union’s FP7 programme, entitled RACE2050 - Responsible innovation Agenda for Competitive European transport industries up to 2050 (www.race2050.org).
Looking at the future European agenda for transport, three elements are particularly relevant.
The 2011 White Paper on Transport, as published by the European Commission; that is a sort of normative scenario, aiming at a sharp reduction of transport-related CO2 emission for 2050. Such a clear and ambitious focus has driven debate and research paths.
The European Technology Platforms (ETPs), which “are industry-led stakeholder fora that develop short- to long-term research and innovation agendas and roadmaps for action at the EU and national level to be supported by both private and public funding” . The transport sector has five ETPs, which are gaining greater ground in the debate.
The role of “transition” toward new transport regimes and the launch of a new research agenda in the EU H2020 for 2014–2020. The concept of backing research and action towards the transition to new transport regimes was shown in the first call for 2014–2015, but is more evident in draft of the programme for 2016–2017 .
While largely focused (or even obsessed) with technocratic approach,Footnote 1 the debate is actually becoming more aware, also in academia and amongst European policy-makers, of other aspects. The social sciences are stepping into the debate, whilst transport planners and experts are more aware of the soft side of travelling and the weakness of the “predict and provide” model. Some novel social attitudes are re-shaping traditional transport systems, influencing the sector and, rather relevant for future trends, paving the way for paradigmatic shift . And, last but not least, wild cards’ analysis is finally on the stage, an issue discussed on this topical collection in the article by Hauptman, Hoppe and Raban .
We should thus frame technological achievements within a broader picture, in which other factors, including lifestyle trends and social attitudes, influence transport. The need of a larger pool of factors is indeed one of the fil rouge that guides the whole topical collection, and this is even more evident in the article by Tuominen, Wessberg and Leinonen  as well as in the one by Kammerlander, Schanes, Hartwig, Jäger, Omann and O’Keeffe .
For instance, it seems banal to say that transport regimes can change according to new social and economic patterns, working conditions and social organisation. All those elements can stress current transport systems, or catalyse new requests. There is no doubt that transport choices follow mostly economic rationale. But - as with any other human activity - mobility is also embedded with symbolic, political and social values . Transport preferences are not only therefore the mere result of the best resource and time allocation; those preferences are influenced by social relevance and individual taste. Transport therefore has to be understood as a relevant human activity well beyond the simple need to move from A to B, because it leads also to the representation of self and to more symbolic targets . In other words, transport provides answers to prosaic needs for movement, but it is also an emotional and symbolic issue.
It is therefore useful to better understand transport facilities and systems by introducing the concept of “mobility culture”. We can depict “mobility culture” as the “use of transportation and, by definition, of space, the type of vehicle and its equipment, the fun it brings, or the rationality of ownership and the skills that go with it.” . Naturally, mobility culture can be claimed to be both plural and changeable according to personal choices, as well as social, geographical and historical constraints. Due to this, we can say we have different mobility cultures and consequently, mobilities sub-cultures. This fragmentation of attitudes and cultures amongst final-users of transport, however, does not impede the establishment of a (socially and politically constructed) dominant mobility culture. Regarding Europe, with no distinction between east and west or north and south, the motor-vehicle regime has been indisputably claimed as the way of moving . This choice has been challenged daily through fuel costs, congestion, lack of parking facilities, pollution concerns, and cultural criticism . Despite the car’s failure to maintain its promises (easier, individual, faster and more comfortable movements), motor-vehicles are still enjoying their role as the leading mode of transport . Not only have they maintained their prevailing position in mature economies, but they are also growing virally in emerging economies. The relation between the “old” automobile socio-technical system and the “new” autonomous motor vehicles is, for instance, addressed, among other topics, by the articles written by Thomopoulos and Givoni for this topical collection, who stress the persistency of the transport culture. In addition, Fraedrich, Beiker and Lenz  in their contribution urge us to take care of the social acceptance of new culture as a fundamental step for innovation.
On the other hand, deep social shifts, new labour conditions, income polarization and new life-styles associated with growing pressure regarding environmental concerns, are catalysing new mobility concepts, with people paying greater attention to “alternative” systems of mobility. Here we have a contradiction between inertia and change, an issue that will be further developed in the conclusions of this article. It is true that car-culture has undoubtedly lost its appeal, but it is still dominant. However, as the same car industry is carefully detecting, we are witnessing some new social patterns and behaviours, especially in Europe, which can harm, in the long run, such a supremacy .