Without a conductor

Instruments for decarbonising public transport

The transport system, although increasingly modern, is still high-carbon in its profile. This is in spite of the concern for a low-emission transport system repeatedly declared and included in strategic documents, states the report ‘Without a Conductor. Instruments for decarbonising public transport’ by PhD Krzysztof Krawiec and Piotr Chrzanowski, analysts at WiseEuropa.

It should be borne in mind that the decarbonisation of Polish transport takes place in the context of European Union policy – above all, it is worth to mention climate policy here, expressed in packages such as the European Green Deal or Fit for 55, in which sustainable and climate-neutral mobility is key. It is also impossible to talk about the decarbonisation of transport without changes to energy policy at the EU and national levels.

Three speeds of development

Poland’s transport system is inconsistent. It shows three speeds of development. Large cities and metropolises, which strive for climate neutrality, are in the best situation. The nature of the challenges they face is not significantly different from those faced by cities in western and northern Europe. The role of rail transport is important in them, the role of cycling and other forms of active mobility is increasing (although not without any problems). The first clean transport zones are also being created. These positive trends, however, are confronted with the problem of low quality spatial planning, which is particularly severe in newly built suburbs.  These areas are characterised by car-centricity – and it may not be possible to change this in the short term. People’s habits of travelling by car as their primary means of transport should not be forgotten, either.

The situation is slightly worse in smaller towns. From the residents’ perspective, the situation has improved thanks to newly built roads and the purchase of new bus fleets. However, from the point of view of changes in transport behaviour, we are “standing still” and even increasing dependence on individual car ownership as the inhabitants of these areas may be better-off.  The authors of this study expect an improvement in air quality there, but this is currently not even approaching climate neutrality.

How to make changes?

Changes in the long-standing and complex processes that have led to the phenomenon of forced own car use in the provinces and smaller urban centres and the resulting high emissions from transport will not happen overnight. However, this does not mean that we should accept the current situation as it leads to a worsening of the problem of transport-related exclusion and transport poverty. In the report presented here, we identify tools to reduce oil consumption and signal the possibility of using the NRP funds and tax instruments to accelerate the transformation of the transport sector.