Role for transport research in fighting social exclusion
The EU-funded ECLIPSE project is working to ensure that all citizens have equal opportunities to benefit from community life. At a meeting in Perugia on 19 May 2006, partners discussed the role of transport in tackling poverty and other issues related to public and social access.
“Transport and social inclusion are, indeed, closely linked,” said Marcello Penettoni of the Perugian Mobility Association. “Today, most of our populations live in urban centres, large cities where many social and cultural activities take place and where economic activities are concentrated. The question is how to make sure that our public transport networks serve all areas, including poorer neighbourhoods and rural zones, and that it provides equal access to people with reduced mobility.”
For Philip Barham of the UK’s Transport & Travel Research Ltd., social exclusion is multifaceted and complex. “We are talking about poverty and social equity, unemployment, education, mental health, the elderly and the disabled. All of these elements must be taken into account when we design and develop our transport networks.”
Integrating role for research
Barham and other ECLIPSE partners have been involved in previous EU-funded projects, including MATISSE and UNIACCESS, spanning different EU Directorates-General (DGs). “Having worked with DG Employment, DG Transport and DG Environment, I can tell you that all of these groups have done excellent work in the area of transport and social exclusion. However, as we made clear in our MATISSE project conclusions, much of this work is still carried out in relative isolation, and there is real need for greater integration of EU energies and resources across departments. I personally believe that DG Research can play an important part in bringing all these strands together,” stated Barham.
Paola Sorbi of Italy’s Agency for the Promotion of European Research (APRE), host of several National Contact Points, delivered a major presentation of transport research under the EU’s upcoming Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7). “With a significantly increased budget and specific funds for transport, urban mobility and SME participation, FP7 will be an important source of support for research and development towards better social inclusion,” she said.
ECLIPSE addresses the important impacts of transport on social exclusion, as highlighted by the MATISSE project. “Increasing the efficiency of public transport is a starting point for fighting social exclusion,” said Massimo Marciani of FIT Consulting. “Our main goal is to increase awareness of this problem among the transport sector and across Europe.”
To do so, ECLIPSE is disseminating a wealth of information to critical transport stakeholders, including a menu of best practice measures, benchmark solutions and evaluation tools to assist transport players. It is also engaging stakeholders in other sectors to form sustainable, strategic working partnerships in cities across Europe.
“The Commission has put a premium on measures to increase social inclusion,” said Ivo Cré of Polis, a Brussels-based network of European cities and regions. “The Lisbon Council made social cohesion a specific strategic target, part of its larger goal of developing Europe’s knowledge-based economy. Again, the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration is clear. Transport is about social policy, employment and integration, and the importance of initiatives like ECLIPSE is in bringing people together from all of these areas, including the research sector.”
An ancient Etruscan stronghold, Perugia now serves as the capital of the province of Perugia and of the Region of Umbria. It is also home to thousands of students of the renowned University of Perugia, founded in 1200. With its vibrant historic centre situated on a hilltop, the city’s narrow and steeply inclined streets can pose a real problem to individuals with limited mobility. However, a well-developed system of public transport, including innovative solutions such as escalators linking lower and upper towns, provide efficient and easy access to social, cultural and economic hot spots, making Perugia a model of successful transport-based social inclusion.