Put the right incentives in place to drive the transition to clean mobility

By Timo Harakka, Finnish Minister of transport and Communications

Well-functioning transport and communication services are a cornerstone of modern society. People need to get to work, to go shopping and to meet friends and relatives.

The main aim of a transport system is to satisfy the mobility needs of every person in an easy, safe and affordable way, both in urban and rural areas.

Nevertheless, as we all know, transport causes a wide range of environmental and health problems. The main impacts are climate change, lower air quality and noise.

Transport also consumes staggering amounts of energy every year. Even nowadays, this energy need is met mainly by burning oil-based fossil fuels such as petrol, diesel, fuel oil and kerosene. Currently, transport is fossil-fed.

I believe we all want to make good and sustainable choices, but often there are obstacles.

I do not want to use a car or own one, but without public transport, I have no choice. I want to buy an electric car, but there is no convenient place to recharge it. I would like to cycle to my destination, but the roads are of poor quality or unsafe. My transport company wants to use alternative fuels, but the scarce distribution network makes it hard. The list goes on and on.

As policy makers, it is our duty to tackle these obstacles because they can prevent individuals and companies from making good choices. We must create, develop and offer incentives.

We must provide lucrative and appealing alternatives. We must provide proper infrastructure. And we must provide a transport system in which all its parts – infrastructure as well as services – are compatible with and complement each other.

In the transport sector, the first steps towards a climate-neutral transport system have been taken through measures such as the electrification of road transport, improvements in railways and other modes of transport, and reductions in the carbon footprint of logistics.

The phasing out of fossil fuels in the transport sector is a prerequisite for achieving ambitious climate goals. Electrification is the number one choice when replacing fossil fuels with renewables, followed by a range of storage options and alternatives to electricity that include hydrogen and other power-to-x production, synthetic fuels, biomass and biogas, as well as biofuel in a conventional internal combustion engine at the tail end of the list.

Alternative fuels, and a distribution infrastructure for them, are needed to enable people and goods to move around. We see the recharging and refuelling infrastructure for alternative fuels as a key enabler of climate-friendly mobility.

Even though electric vehicles do not produce emissions, we cannot sustainably base our transport system on an increase in mostly single-user vehicles. Multimodal mobility chains consisting of public transport, active mobility and first- and last-mile solutions are the backbone of a transport system based on the circular economy.

This is where Mobility as a Service, MaaS, comes into the picture. MaaS is a more comprehensive alternative to our current transport system, which is built on heavy car dependency.

For me, Mobility as a Service is such a powerful vision because it combines sustainable public, shared and on-demand transport with private convenience. MaaS is attractive precisely because it understands and adapts to behavioural preferences of us people on the move.

Decarbonisation actually gives companies competitive edge. Proactive actors can use their imagination to innovate, those who come later, have to meet obligations and rules set by first movers.

I often say decision-makers can act either with foresight or with hindsight. Making decisions before they are absolutely decessary gives you an array of choices. You may make the wrong choice, but it was your choice. Acting when there is no alternatives is not really a decision, but coping to crisis.

At this point of time, we have an array of policy alternatives, incentives and ideas at our disposal. Now is the time to act.