The European Court of Auditors says two thirds of EU-funded urban transport projects are underutilised.
A report published in April by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) reveals that two thirds of urban transport projects co-financed by EU structural funds are underutilised. The report assessed the implementation and the effectiveness of public urban transport projects co-financed by EU structural funds, and whether they meet user needs and they achieve their objectives in terms of utilisation. Weaknesses in project design and inadequate mobility policy were two of the main contributory factors identified.
The audit covered a sample of 26 projects co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund or the Cohesion Fund during the 2000-2006 and 2007-2013 programming periods. The selected projects were located in 11 cities in five Member States - Spain, France, Italy, Poland, and Portugal. The EU funding allocated to urban transport in these five countries (€ 5.3 billion) represents 50 % of the total EU funding (€ 10.7 billion). The sample included projects that consisted of creating, extending or modernising railways (three), metros (eight), light metros (four), trams (six) and one bus project. They ranged from a single line or a simple section to a whole network. The sample also included four smaller IT projects relating to operating, information or ticketing systems
The EU auditors concluded that, in general, infrastructure and vehicles for most projects were implemented in accordance with project specifications. Significant delays affected four urban transport projects and three projects had significant cost overruns. Once completed, almost all the projects audited met users’ needs. However, a comparison between planned use at specific dates and actual use shows that two thirds of the projects were underutilised. This implies underperformance in terms of economic and social benefits (reductions in pollution and congestion etc.) which is generally not followed up by the promoters or the national authorities. It may also imply financial imbalances for the public authorities that have to ensure the sustainability of the urban transport concerned. The underutilisation of public transport is mainly due to weaknesses in project design and mobility policy. Several could have been addressed at the project planning stage.
The EU contribution, for urban transport projects, typically represents up to 85 % of the related eligible expenditure. The EU funding allocated to urban transport for the 2000-2006 and 2007-2013 periods was € 10.7 billion, i.e. € 2.9 billion and € 7.8 billion, respectively. These projects help cities to implement urban transport such as metros, trams and buses.