European Commission Sustainability Strategy Points to Major Corp. Travel Changes

Easier planning and booking of air and train journeys, legally standardized emissions measurements, improved cross-border rail ticketing, financial protection for passengers against supplier failure and more taxation of aviation. All these developments could lie ahead for European business travelers following the Dec. 9 publication of the European Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, an action plan of 82 regulatory and other initiatives to guide its transport policy for the next four years. 

The plan aims to keep European citizens moving while taking steps needed “to achieve a 90 percent reduction in transport-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” the Commission said. “Today, transport accounts for a quarter of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions and emissions have increased over recent years.”

Ideas outlined in the strategy include providing an EU-wide recharging and refueling structure to encourage uptake of low- and zero-emission road vehicles. 

Proposals of key interest to corporate travel can be broken down into five key areas.

Joining Air and Rail for Multi-Modal Travel

The Commission will look to revise in 2021 and 2022 all relevant legislation to reflect a target of 2030 for transport operators to offer “carbon-neutral choices for scheduled collective travel below 500km within the EU.” In practical terms, this means airlines should be connecting to and selling high-speed rail in preference to or alongside their own flights up to that distance.

The hurdle, said the Commission, is that “planning multimodal journeys and purchasing the necessary tickets is often cumbersome, as a framework for EU-wide, integrated, multimodal travel information, ticketing and payment services is currently lacking.

“To make this a reality, we need to overcome issues related to the availability and accessibility of data, sub-optimal cooperation between suppliers and vendors and an overall lack of interoperability, for example.

“We will therefore examine whether data-sharing and selling arrangements are fit for purpose … Starting in 2021, the Commission will propose regulatory measures to enable innovative and flexible tickets that combine various transport modes and give passengers true options for door-to-door travel.”

According to EU Travel Tech, an association representing the major global distribution systems plus some travel management companies and online travel agencies, current arrangements are decidedly not fit for purpose. Secretary general Emmanuel Mounier told BTN that the indirect distribution channel, as represented by his membership, could play a key role in combining and selling different modes of travel for a single trip, but only if data sharing between transport suppliers is improved. 

Yet, Mounier claimed, airlines have been moving in the opposite direction by diverting more content exclusively through their direct sales channels. “We hope the Commission will take steps to regulate data sharing,” Mounier said. “The big problem is lack of access to transactable information. Without regulation, nothing will happen.”

The Commission will reflect its commitment to multi-modal travel in its proposals for revising the CRS Code of Conduct, which regulates how GDSs operate, expected in the fourth quarter of 2021. More generally, the Commission added it will consider “the rights and obligations of online intermediaries and multimodal digital service providers selling ticketing and/or mobility services.” It will also promote electronic ticketing for rail to improve interoperability with air e-tickets.

Standardization and Mandatory Listing of Emissions Data

The Commission wants travelers to receive mandatory information about the carbon footprint of all travel options presented to them during planning. “This is why the Commission plans to establish a European framework for the harmonised measurement of transport and logistics greenhouse gas emissions,” it said, adding that “the most sustainable choice should be clearly indicated. Information on the carbon footprint of a specific journey could become a new passenger right and … should apply to all transport modes.”

Mounier welcomed the target of standardizing greenhouse gas emissions measurement, noting that airlines use different criteria today, making it hard for intermediaries to display accurate comparisons.

Potential Passenger Rights Protection Against Airline Failure 

During the next two years the Commission will consider whether to propose a “financial protection scheme to protect passengers against the risk of a liquidity crisis or an insolvency regarding the reimbursement of tickets and if needed their repatriation.” This issue has been much discussed during 2020, when airlines including Flybe have gone bust, leaving passengers out of pocket.

Another Push for Cross-Border Rail Ticketing

The Commission aims to double high-speed rail traffic by 2030. In addition to encouraging new services and boosting multi-modal journeys, it wants to make rail more attractive by simplifying the use and purchase of cross-border tickets, a notoriously difficult undertaking because of numerous inconsistencies among different rail operators’ systems. An action plan will be unveiled in 2021.

Aviation Taxes Loom until Emissions Decline

The Commission wants to get tougher on users of fossil fuels, most notably aviation and shipping. It is therefore contemplating measures which could push up the cost of air travel. 

In 2021, it will present a proposal to reduce free Emissions Trading Scheme allowances for airlines. On a principle that “fossil-fuel subsidies should end”, the Commission also said it is “looking closely at current tax exemptions, including for aviation and maritime fuels, and will make a proposal on how best to close any loopholes in 2021.” A review of value-added tax exemptions for international passenger transport will follow in 2022.

At the same time, the strategy outlines plans to help aviation shift to lower-emission, and eventually zero-emission, aircraft.

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