By: Natalia Pérez Mas, Account Executive and Social Media Manager
The early call for general elections on 23rd July, precipitated the expiration of many legislative initiatives that were being debated in the Spanish Parliament. The Sustainable Mobility Law was one of them. Specifically, the approval of this regulation by the end of 2023, was a promise that the Spanish Government, led by the Socialist Party, made to Brussels in exchange for receiving the European ‘Next Generation’ funds. However, the current political situation of a caretaker government and an upcoming expected failed investiture of the candidate of the conservative ‘Partido Popular’, will delay adoption of the law until 2024.
In the middle of European Mobility Week (EMW), several groups have asked the next government, regardless of which one it is, to pass the law as soon as possible. In addition, they have insisted on taking advantage of this political scenario to modify the text, as requested by the workers’ union UGT.
Main objectives of the Sustainable Mobility Law
The Spanish Sustainable Mobility Law has several objectives that aim to transform Spanish cities from being “cities of cars” to “cities of people”. Overall, the law aims to promote sustainable mobility by encouraging the use of public transport, promoting intermodal mobility, and creating shared mobility services, among other measures. The main objectives are:
- Recognizing mobility as a right. For the first time, the regulation recognizes that mobility is a right of all citizens and that it must be accessible and inclusive. The Mobility Law also aims to guarantee equality among people and territories, both in cities and rural areas.
- Creating sustainable transport plans for companies. The law includes the obligation for companies with over 500 workers to have a sustainable transport plan. These plans will have to encourage the use of public transport and promote sustainable mobility of workers.
- Decarbonizing transport and creation of integrated public transport systems. The rule proposes the creation of integrated public transport systems to make public transport more functional and attractive.
- Promoting private collaborative mobility networks and shared mobility services.
- Amending existing legislation. The law proposes the amendment of existing legislation regulating collective interurban transportation of passengers (buses) to facilitate new entrants to the sector.
- Calculating greenhouse gas emissions: The law requires public and private transport operators to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions of their transport services, and travelers must be informed of the carbon footprint of their journey.
- Establishing fees to disincentivize the use of private vehicles: The rule offers the possibility to regional authorities of establishing a fee to disincentivize the private vehicles use.
Liberalization of bus services
One of the major controversies between the political groups, over the provisions of the Sustainable Mobility Law, was the proposal of a new organizational model for road passenger transport (point 50 of the law). Specifically, it proposed to open up the market for long-distance routes so that transport services can be offered by several companies.
Defenders of bus liberalization regularly refer to the liberalization of the Spanish railway market in 2021, with new competitors appearing on the market such as Avlo and Iryo, as an example of what should happen on the bus market. Two years later, the impact of market liberalization have been highly positive: increased demand, lower prices and a wider range of services and routes, among others. Thanks to this liberalization Spain has established itself as a European leader and role model in this process of opening up the national rail network to competition.
Could this happen with road passenger transport? According to the Spanish Competition Authority, the current scenario is perfect for considering a liberalization of the market, as indicated by the European trend, which is why it proposes the liberalization of national routes longer than 100 kilometers. Now, road transport services in Spain are carried out under a monopoly regime through public administration concessions to private companies, most of which have expired. The employers’ association Confebús, which groups companies such as Avanza or Alsa, which offer these routes, want to continue with the current model and have asked the Minister of Transport, Ms. Raquel Sánchez, to renew existing concessions, rather than liberalize routes. However, another employer’s association, Anetra, which includes other operators such as Flixbus, advocates opening up this market as has been done in the railway sector.
This will be one of the most interesting talking points in the final approval of the Sustainable Mobility Law. However, it is possible that the example of the railway market will serve as a guide to liberalize bus services in Spain.
What happen with the Low Emission Zones?
Low Emission Zones (LEZs) were first regulated in the Climate Change Law passed in 2021. However, it was not until December 2022 when a new Royal Decree established the necessary mechanisms to make them a reality. Despite being fully in force, according to the Ministry of Transport, only 17 cities out of the 151 that are obliged to implement them, have complied with the regulations.
The low implementation of LEZs is due to logistical and technical problems in tracing the areas included within these restricted zones, not to the delays in the approval of the Sustainable Mobility Law. However, the Sustainable Mobility Law includes the possibility for cities to introduce a fee for driving in these zones.
In recent months, these areas have become another problem for the current caretaker government, as some major cities such as Badalona (Cataluña), Palma de Mallorca (Balearic Islands) or Málaga (Andalucía) have requested extensions of up to three years to be able to establish LEZs. The cities, which have almost all changed government due to the regional elections of 28th May, claim lack of means to request the extensions. In response to these, the Ministry of Transport has indicated by letter to 200 City Councils that, in addition to official charges brought against these cities by the national government, they could lose access to the European funding earmarked for the establishment of these zones. In total, the Ministry has granted 1.5 billion euros of European funds to finance more than 1,000 sustainable mobility actions such as the promotion of the LEZs.
Measures affecting air transport
The Sustainable Mobility Law includes all means of transport that can be improved to make them more committed to climate change. The air sector is one of them and the law contemplates a Strategic Plan for the Sustainability of this means of transport. The plan will take a comprehensive view of the sector and will be drawn up by the Ministry of Transport: it will analyze its climate impact, greenhouse gas emissions and noise, among others.
The Law also explores the possibility that the State may agree with the regions on obligations (that are not developed in the law) to be imposed on routes within the country. In addition, the law also instructs on the use of alternative energy sources at airports. The government and the regions will facilitate projects aimed at improving the energy efficiency of airports.
In the case of automated vehicles such as drones, one of the chapters of the law refers to their incorporation into the transportation system. Today, the use of these vehicles is governed by sectorial regulations or even European ones, since their evolution is so fast that the law does not intend to regulate their operation. However, the law seeks to implement their development and lay the foundations for regulating the operation of automated vehicles for passengers and goods on public roads. It also provides for the creation of a test environment for the development of this type of vehicles. In fact, in some Spanish regions such as Madrid, there are already environments testing new automated vehicles.
Parliamentary situation of the Sustainable Mobility Law – What’s next?
Both bus liberalization and the rest of the measures to modernize transport in Spain towards a more sustainable model depend on the formation of the next government. The Sustainable Mobility Law was registered in the Parliament in December 2022, and up to nine experts participated during its short six months of processing, which were interrupted by the general elections last 23rd July.
According to the acting Minister of Transport, Ms. Raquel Sánchez, of the Socialist Party, the Government is committed to this draft law and, if they govern again, they will approve it in the next legislature in order to do not affect the commitments acquired with Brussels through the Recovery Plan. Therefore, according to other socialist sources, if the current government remains in power, even with minimal changes, the Mobility Law approval could take place during 2024.
However, if the conservative bloc of right-wing parties is the one that finally manages to govern, there would be several possible scenarios. The first, and most unlikely, is that the law will go ahead with the proposed text of the Socialist Party, but with substantial changes. The other and more favorable scenario is that the conservative Partido Popular, as leader of a hypothetical new right-wing government, would draw up new legislation and start the legislative adoption process from the beginning, with prior consultations with the sector. This second option, according to Partido Popular’s sources, could be what would end up happening, although it would delay the approval of the law, probably, until 2025.
Furthermore, the government that finally gets the necessary support to start this new legislature will have to talk to Brussels to renegotiate the deadlines since it could affect the next disbursement of EU Recovery Funds in 2024.