Inland waterways: untapping their potential

In order to accelerate the shift to sustainable and smart mobility, multimodal transport needs a strong boost. In its recent strategies, including the European Green Deal and the EU’s strategy for sustainable and smart mobility, the Commission acknowledges the potential of inland waterways as enabler of the green transition, especially for last-mile connections in urban supply chains. To untap the potential of inland waterways, the current legislative framework will have to be modernized. Dr2 Consultants’ transport team analyzes the key trends for inland waterways and the impact on the sector.

1. Enhancing the robustness of hinterland connections

The Commission calls for an increase of transport activities via inland waterways by 25% by 2030 and 50% by 2050. However, climate-related problems are hampering these objectives. The sector is facing severe challenges related to drought and changing water levels across the Rhine, Danube and Elbe rivers. Because of these changing conditions, the hinterland corridors are facing capacity constraints as waterways are not deep enough or bridges are not high enough. Ultimately, this results in disrupted supply chains and rising transportation costs.

The Commission is expected to tackle climate-related issues in the inland waterways in its upcoming Climate Adaptation Strategy (late February). The upcoming NAIADES action plan, as well as the revision of the TEN-T Regulation (respectively scheduled for April and September 2021), will address infrastructural bottlenecks, and aim to upgrade the network’s capacity. In addition, the European Parliament will soon start its work on a resolution for futureproof inland waterways.

These legislative and non-legislative initiatives will dominate the policy agenda for the coming months and will shape the future of a robust transport network. Dr2 Consultants advises companies active in the inland waterways sector to engage with EU policymakers and share their views on these initiatives, for example by submitting their input to the TEN-T public consultation.

2. Boosting sustainable inland waterways fleets

As for many modes of transport, the current fleet of inland waterways vessels is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. In order to accelerate the uptake of low-emission fuels in the sector, the Commission will consider binding targets on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure through the revision of the Alternative Infrastructure Fuels Directive this summer, and unlock funding opportunities through the Connecting Europe Facility, the Innovation Fund and EIB loans to stimulate green investments.

As each TEN-T corridor has different market characteristics and subsequent fuel demands, it remains to be seen whether the Commission will differentiate the targets between the corridors. In addition to the infrastructure component, the Commission will revise the current energy taxation rules in June 2021 to offer tax redundancies for sustainable alternatives or apply higher tax rates for polluting fuels. Last but not least, the Commission is expected to re-align the renewable energy framework with the increased climate ambitions by June 2021.

Dr2 Consultants recommends companies active in the inland waterways sector to closely follow these developments. The legislative framework for the uptake of low-emission fuels and subsequent funding opportunities are expected to provide clarity to investors, thereby facilitating investment decisions aimed at greening the sector.

3. Inland waterways as a solution for efficient multimodal city logistics

The Commission is expected to start engaging with major European cities to come up with sustainable urban mobility plans for 2030 in order to green urban supply chains. As urban areas are increasingly faced with challenges related to congestion and air pollution, inland waterways have the potential to create sustainable last-mile connections into cities and boost multimodal logistics. Through new rules on electronic transport documentation and traffic management, smart river management and the exchange of data across the supply chain should facilitate efficient multimodal city logistics.

Dr2 Consultants advises cities’ representatives and companies active in the inland waterways sector to explore the role of inland waterways in the urban mobility plans and integrate initiatives that have the potential to contribute to green urban supply chains.

What can Dr2 Consultants do for you?

Over the last years, Dr2 Consultants has built up a track record in advising a broad range of transport clients in navigating the EU ecosystem. Would you like to know more about how your organization could make the most out of the transformation of inland waterways transport? Feel free to reach out and discuss opportunities over a virtual coffee.

Visit our Transport Sector webpage.

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