How Sweden became Europe’s mobility model

The European Union’s fundamental freedoms include the right to live, work, study and do business in another country, and it reflects a basic human instinct to explore. Innovation, infrastructure and open borders all mean that our ability to travel is easier than ever, whatever mode of transport is chosen. Yet, some places in Europe make mobility simpler, swifter and smoother than other places. And according to EU data released on March 19, the best place to make a journey is Sweden.

Sweden is a star pupil in the European Commission’s annual EU Transport Scoreboard, a benchmark report comparing how member states perform in 30 categories covering different aspects of transport. The Scoreboard aims to help national governments identify areas that need priority investment and action. It shows improvements in road safety, the uptake of renewable energy in transport and the punctuality of shipments across the EU.

UK 45h per year in traffic jam

Sweden topped the Scoreboard with high scores in 15 categories, followed by the Netherlands and Austria. While they have different strengths, these countries all share a solid framework for investment, high transport safety levels, and a good record for implementing EU law.

The worst in class, at least when it comes to time spent in traffic, is the UK, where the average person loses 45.73 hours a year in jams – compared to Finland at the other end of the scale, where the average is just 18.13 hours.

When it comes to the share of electric cars across the marker, the EU average is currently 1.44%, although Sweden is the highest with 5.28%. That is linked to the number of charging points: the EU average is 52.10 per 100,000 inhabitants in urban areas, but the top performer, the Netherlands, has an average of 259.91.

Other categories include the proportion of people satisfied with urban transport (Slovenia came top) and most satisfied for rail (Estonia) and air transport (Hungary), as well as the share of women employed in transport.

Sector at crossroads

The Scoreboard also shows the progress of EU efforts towards safer, cleaner and more efficient transport as it promotes the shift towards low-emission mobility. Indeed, transport features in two of Jean-Claude Juncker’s priorities as Commission President: the Europe on the Move proposals and the Clean Planet for All. As he reaches the end of his five-year mandate, a time of dramatic upheaval in the EU, he can at least claim success in pushing change in Europe’s approach towards clean and efficient transport.

At EU level, the completion of Trans-European Network – Transport (TEN-T) core corridors averaged 77% for road infrastructure, 60% for conventional rail, 45% for high-speed rail, and 88% for inland waterways. But as the number of journeys has increased, in Europe and elsewhere, transport has also become a major contributor to climate change. EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc describes the sector at a crossroads. “We now need policies appropriate for the 21stcentury to steer us in the right direction,” she says. “They must address environmental challenges while unlocking transport’s potential to contribute to growth and jobs in the EU.” That means developing policies that foster mobility while at the same time addressing a range of associated economic and environmental challenges.

The EU Transport Scoreboard offers data on how to balance these demands. With its high scores, Sweden has shown that it has some answers. As they plan the next generation of transport plans, policymakers should take a closer look on what the Swedes are doing right.