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EU looks to data and technology to reduce transport emissions

Out-Law News | 21 Dec 2021 | 12:42 pm | 5 min. read

EU policymakers have proposed new legislation that looks to harness the power of data and technology to curb transport emissions, make journeys safer and travel planning more efficient.

The proposals, outlined by the European Commission, seek to strengthen existing rules on ‘intelligent transport systems’ (ITS), by encouraging – and in certain cases mandating – the development of services through which data relevant to travel can be relayed and received.

The ecosystem envisaged would be based on a series of standards and seeks to enable connectivity and data exchange between vehicles, transport providers and infrastructure operators. At the heart of the plans are measures designed to ensure ITS services are interoperable, and that data can be easily processed by digital systems.

Wouter Seinen

Wouter Seinen

Partner, Head of Amsterdam Office

Removing technical and legal obstacles for using data generated by other players in the ecosystem will potentially drive innovation in the mobility sector

Amsterdam-based data and technology law expert Wouter Seinen of Pinsent Masons said: “The pace of the adoption of technical specifications and standards was identified as one of the key areas of improvement in the ex-post evaluation of the existing legal framework that was put in place in 2010. The Commission is now pushing companies harder to use standards and there will be better tools to enforce interoperability. Removing technical and legal obstacles for using data generated by other players in the ecosystem will potentially drive innovation in the mobility sector.

Ultimately, the web of services that the proposals seek to enable would inform route planning and bookings across multiple modes of transport; promote efficient travel – including via new mobility services; help road users comply with speed limits, navigate congestion and avoid accidents; and help infrastructure operators to manage traffic over their networks.

The Commission hopes the new proposals will support large-scale automated mobility, and the availability of digital tickets for multi-mode transport, by 2030, and also reduce emissions from transport in Europe to “close to zero” by 2050. It said that the improved efficiency that can be derived from its plans can also support the decarbonisation of transport and improved productivity

The Commission’s proposals are contained in a draft revised Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) Directive. The existing ITS Directive was established in 2010, but a 2019 report by the Commission highlighted problems with its implementation, including around access to data and interoperability of systems, as well as a need to bring the rules up-to-date. The Commission said the revised ITS directive it is proposing is designed to address such issues.

“Most actions under [the ITS Directive 2010] … have focused on ensuring the interoperability and accessibility of data that is already available in digital machine-readable format and on the deployment of ITS services, but prescribed no obligations to relevant stakeholders for making that data available or for deploying specific services,” the Commission said.

“The use of a number of essential ITS services has become widespread: for instance incident detection enabling road safety-related traffic information services, or crucial data, for instance traffic regulations, that support important services such as speed limits to support vehicles equipped with intelligent speed assistance… The mandatory provision of such essential ITS services and crucial data is considered necessary to ensure both continued availability of such data and continued delivery of such services across the Union,” it said.

Appt Stephan

Dr. Stephan Appt, LL.M.

Rechtsanwalt, Partner, Head of German TMT

It will be quite a task for those that have the data to determine which data must be protected and not be shared as opposed to which data falls under a mandatory sharing requirement

Data law and automotive sector expert Stephan Appt of Pinsent Masons in Munich said: “It will be very interesting to see how the final version of the proposed Directive will look like and how member states will transpose it into national law. With a view to data sharing obligations, this proposal is one more piece to the legislative puzzle that makes up for one of the hottest topics for years now in the mobility space: will the silos, the data treasure chests of manufacturers and mobility service providers need to be opened and under which conditions?”

“Whilst car manufacturers have shown a certain degree of willingness to share certain data through certain extended neutral vehicle servers some argue that this is not enough and data needs to be shared ‘live’, i.e. directly from the car. This raises security and liability concerns on the carmakers side,” he said.

“The interplay with the GDPR when personal data is concerned or with upcoming e-Privacy Regulation will also require further thought in terms of how legal instruments making sharing of data mandatory can be ameliorated with legislation that aims to protect personal data and is designed to keeping sharing to a minimum. The proposed Directive tries to help this dilemma by ‘encouraging anonymisation’ but that comes with its own challenges given the fact that the definition of what constitutes personal data under the GDPR is so broad and given the fact that some argue true anonymisation can often not be achieved due to the risk of re-identification in the context of ‘big data’,” Appt said.

“Ultimately it will be quite a task for those that have the data to determine which data must be protected and not be shared as opposed to which data falls under a mandatory sharing requirement – a question that will continue keeping legal minds busy,” Appt said.   

The measures within the draft revised ITS Directive also underpin plans that were outlined in the sustainable and smart mobility strategy published by the Commission in December 2020.

The Commission said: “The strategy is clear: in order to make transport truly more sustainable we need to deliver effective and seamless multimodality, using the most efficient mode for each leg of the journey. In addition, each mode needs to become more efficient; for road this means that shared solutions increasingly provide a viable alternative for private vehicle ownership. This also fosters the uptake of zero-emission vehicles as users of shared mobility services will have a whole fleet at their disposal. Anxiety about range or purchase cost is then mitigated, especially when that fleet can go recharge itself automatically. In other words, emerging ITS services can accelerate the uptake of zero-emission vehicles and also help use them more efficiently.”

The ITS proposals form part of a wider package of measures announced by the Commission that are designed to support its aims of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 55% by 2030 and 90% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. According to the Commission, approximately a quarter of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions stem from transport.

The package includes plans to make travel across Europe more sustainable, by further developing and enhancing the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) that interlinks rail networks with inland waterways, short-sea shipping routes, and roads, and connects cities across the continent. Those proposals rely, in part, on delivering a functioning cross-border high-speed rail network. The Commission said it wants to triple high-speed rail traffic over the network by 2050. In a new action plan, the Commission said it is considering “an EU-wide VAT exemption for train tickets” as a way of encouraging more rail travel.

Local authorities in all 424 major cities along the TEN-T network will also be required to develop “sustainable urban mobility plans” as a means of promoting zero-emissions travel and improving public transport links and cycling and walking routes. The Commission has published a new urban mobility framework which it said provides a guide for cities on how to cut emissions and improve mobility.