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High-level exchanges in Geneva underscore role of intermodality for enhancing efficiency, safety and sustainability of inland transport

How can the creation of more interconnected transport systems support progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals? How can we enable the seamless combination of different modes of transport for passengers and freight - be it bus to train or truck to boat – fostering transport that is safer, more efficient, and often faster and less costly? 

These questions were at the heart of discussions held in Geneva this week in the context of the 80th annual meeting of the UNECE Inland Transport Committee (ITC), which gathered Transport Ministers and Deputy Ministers from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East as well as high-level participants from more than 60 countries and heads of key transport organizations. 

The ITC is a unique high-level international government forum, which over the past 70 years has developed tools and legal frameworks with global impact.   These tools and legal framework overseen by the ITC and its subsidiary bodies are considered indispensable for developing efficient, harmonized and integrated, safe and sustainable inland transport systems.   

This year the ITC’s opening a policy segment focused on “Intermodality: The key to sustainable transport and mobility”.  Inland transport – covering the movement of people and goods by road, rail and inland waterways - is an important factor in the development of any society.  It affects people’s ability to access anything from work to healthcare, as well as on the ability to move goods and trade outside immediate regions. In addition, inland transport can have significant environmental impacts.  These factors mean that the more efficient the transport system, then the more opportunities for work, social access and trade as well as lower environmental impact. 

Mr. Jean Todt, United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Road Safety, focused on the connections between intermodality on road safety.  “As the demand for mobility and transport continue to rise, intermodality must become an essence of transport if we are to build more sustainable transport system.” Mr Todt went on to say, “when we consider the expansion of public transport, the impact could be tremendous” citing estimates that when public transport increases from 10 to 20 per cent traffic fatalities drop by 15 per cent. 

“We must drive sustainable mobility through [Intermodality] because multi-modality is the only rational way to find real alternative to the sole use of the car, to the plane to the truck,” said Mr. Umberto De Pretto, Secretary General, International Road Transport Union – IRU.  “Multi-modality isn’t important in itself,” he added, “it’s important because it can be used to find the best, the most efficient, and cheapest option for shipping, expanding our logistic chains and using our stretched infrastructure to best possible effect.”

The policy segment was broken into three sessions focusing on specific aspects of Intermodality.  During the first session on the theme of “Intermodality leads to sustainability”, Mr. Peter Gašperšič, Minister of Infrastructure of Slovenia, discussed the country’s development of a transport strategy and government resolution that embraces Intermodality. The resolution is based on the extensive study of traffic flow, and involving 108 new measures including significant recurring infrastructure development funding. 

“By implementing the programme we will provide better mobility that is more sustainable at a better cost, and with a wider area of coverage,” said Mr. Gašperšič.  “The programme will also have a positive effect on the economy through new construction and gross domestic growth through access to new opportunities.”

In the second session entitled “Intermodal freight transport and connectivity”, Mr. Abdalla Mohamed Obaid Balhaif Alnuaimi, Minister of Infrastructure Development of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), explored how the country, in agreement with its neighbours, has diversified its transport methods with significant new rail development. With 264 kilometres of new rail, UAE has removed about 1,000 trucks from their roads, making transport in the country safer and more environmentally friendly.  However, he stressed that it would be a mistake to only look at old modes of transport when considering Intermodality, as new means of transport are constantly on the horizon.

“We must look into the future in an intellectual way rather than only looking into the past and old methods of transport,” said Mr. Alnuaimi.  He went on to stress the development of drones, and while they are not carrying heavy cargo now, the technology is developing fast.  “Right now, we are very much ahead of it, but what happens if we fail to create legislation for it before it becomes a fact?”

The third session on the theme of “Intermodal passenger mobility” featured contributions from speakers including Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, Minister of Transport of Thailand and Kwaku Ofori Asiamah, Minister of Transport of Ghana, who both discussed plans and challenges for significant infrastructure development within their own countries. 

Mr. Termpittayapaisith stressed that “we should not consider the shipping of goods and the transport of people differently because they will all ultimately use the same infrastructure.  So you cannot develop their plans separately.” 

Mr Asiamah emphasized that “for many countries especially those in the African continent, land based transport are the main vehicle for growth, industrial revolution and economic activities.” In this context, Ghana has begun a review aimed stimulate growth in rail and inland water transport in order to create a smarter more balanced and environmentally friendly transport system. 

The discussions were moderated by Mr. Young Tae Kim, Secretary General of the International Transport Forum (ITF), which in May 2018 will host a Summit of transport ministers in Leipzig, Germany, on the theme of “Transport Safety and Security.” UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova will participate as a speaker, sharing UNECE perspectives and priorities on these key themes.