Five types of projects which shift freight from Europe's congested roads onto rail, short-sea shipping routes and inland waterways, or which avoid road transport, are eligible for Marco Polo grants. The main category concerns direct modal-shift projects (switching to another mode of transport such as rail or sea). The other four include catalyst actions which promote modal shift, motorways of the sea actions between major ports, traffic avoidance actions which reduce transport volumes, and common learning actions.
To qualify for funding, projects must involve international traffic. Passenger transport projects do not qualify. For mixed projects, like ferry services, only the freight segment is eligible. Marco Polo does not cover air transport. Pure infrastructure projects, research or study projects also fall outside its scope.
The Marco Polo budget for grants to new projects in 2010 is €64 million. This is close to the 2009 budget of €66.34 million. Marco Polo usually receives many more applications than it can fund. Only the best qualify for a grant. See the section 'In action' for examples of Marco Polo co-funded projects.
Modal shifts from road to rail and waterborne systems
Most applications are for direct modal-shift projects. You do not have to shift all your traffic off the road to obtain a grant. Inter-modal projects, combining the different transport modes - road, rail and waterborne transport - are eligible.
Catalyst actions which promote modal shift
These must be breakthrough, technology-driven projects, providing supporting services for modal shift like management systems, integrated cargo control via GPS, or common IT platforms for inter-operability between modes.
Motorways of the sea between major ports
Motorways of the sea actions offer an effective way of getting big volumes of freight off the roads and onto ships. They must be innovative and inter-modal, and operate between category A European ports fully equipped to handle this traffic. Category A ports are defined in an official EU decision.
The cleanest journey is the one that does not take place. Marco Polo therefore promotes traffic avoidance by funding projects which introduce new ways of avoiding or reducing road traffic, such as avoiding empty runs or improving supply chain logistics.
Common learning actions
Projects related to enhanced knowledge and cooperation in inter-modal transport and logistics are a regular feature among funded projects. Different award conditions apply for this category.