The Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (MITMA) faces with the General State Budgets for 2021 its first budgets under the new name. This change of name, with respect to the more stale of Public Works and Development (in its different variants), seems to reflect a change of intentions in the state transport policy, an approach to a comprehensive mobility strategy and not only to the creation of infrastructure as an economic driver at the pace set by the main construction companies in the country and an attempt to seriously and sustainably address the problems of cities. Everything sounded good. The “mobility strategy” and the development of a mobility law were presented.
The instruments were being tuned within the orchestra for music that could sound good. Dr. Raquel Gutiérrez Nájera once said that a public policy without a budget is demagoguery. So, finally, we have the opportunity for the budget to tell us how authentic there is in the name change with facts and figures.
There are three objectives of the budget that MITMA itself declares: to promote economic recovery and reorient housing and mobility policy. The fact that the first objective is to promote economic recovery takes us back to the old idea of this Ministry as a promotion tool, the infrastructure policy at the service of greasing the machinery of construction companies and financing that we already saw in the past, with few planning criteria or even null. It is difficult to abstract from these misgivings after decades of bad experiences, but that is the goal, so let’s turn the first page and break down the numbers.
The first thing we see is that the budget has increased considerably, a more worthy matter if possible in the current context. It should be logical, given that competencies have also increased. Indeed, we see that the portfolio of Urban Agenda and the housing policy, which comes and goes to this ministry, explains an important part of this growth and that is that a really important bet is made in this field. With much greater weight in rehabilitation and construction than in promoting social rent, the old “promotion” issues always appear.
In the Urban Agenda section, there is an item of almost 350 million euros related to the implementation of Low Emission Zones (ZBE). More specifically, for measures to promote sustainable mobility in those municipalities that, by law, must restrict the most polluting vehicles from 2023. This is in response to a demand from local entities, which the State had encouraged to run pedestrian and cycling infrastructures for post-COVID mobility but without receiving a single euro of public funding for it.
Even so, it will be necessary to closely monitor what type of measures will benefit from this financing, since there is a risk that they will end up focused on the car (such as new parking lots, electric car chargers or “smart city” devices) leaving a side measures beyond the car that affect a majority of the population. The financing of the LEZs cannot be another box of failed ideas of the municipalities as it already happened, in part, with the Plan-E in 2008.
The fat of the cake is taken by the railroad, essential to attract travelers from the car and the plane. The unlocking in the budgets will allow Cercanías to return to the level of its best years, after a decade of neglect and abandonment, especially in FEVE and in the smaller areas. Although to a lesser extent than in previous years, most of it is dedicated to investment in High Speed, as new construction consumes many more resources than conservation. Some games that will focus on finalizing the lines currently half-completed (such as Galicia or Extremadura), putting in value the investment made to date and completing, broadly, the basic network that the Peninsula needs. In any case, both Renfe and Adif face huge holes in their balance sheets after the fall in demand during COVID, whose recovery is still unknown for the future.
Regarding investment in roads, the Ministry emphasizes that investment in conservation takes precedence over new construction. A much needed change of approach, moving away from the brick years where more and more kilometers were built while the conservation of the existing network was abandoned. But although we are already the country in Europe with the most kilometers of motorways and highways per inhabitant, we continue to dedicate almost half of the investment to new infrastructures in order to “increase the road supply at the pace required by the traffic demand of the existing highways and highways, by increasing the number of lanes “, as stated in the financial economic report of the Budgets.
Therefore, many more new highways will not be built, but there will be no hesitation in expanding the current network under criteria from the 70s that we already know do not work. No sign of the change in the mobility model that had been announced to us: Spain will continue to expand highways as indicated by demand projections, inducing more traffic and aggravating the problems of pollution and social inequality generated by the car.
In the meantime, what about public transportation? As a positive novelty, a new item of 410 million euros appears for the renewal of the fleets, we will see if, like the MOVES plan of the neighboring Ministry of Ecological Transition, it does not remain in another direct aid to the automotive industry that assigns a residual role to the fleets of public transport operators. In the end, How many more times can the decaying automobile industry be rescued without learning?
We see that the state subsidy for public transport has passed from the Ministry of Finance to MITMA with little change. Valencia and the Canary Islands will see their contribution greatly improved (Valencia by 400% and the Canary Islands by 200%), while Madrid, Barcelona and, above all, the rest of the municipalities in Spain, which are distributed among all a meager 50 million, have their contribution frozen . There is no trace of the funds necessary for this mobility law, nor to think that the new strategy goes through public transport, not even to rescue urban public transport from its current bankruptcy after the scourge of COVID. In short, € 375 M for public transport, 3% for the person responsible for 85% of trips, an unfair and unequal distribution that testifies that now the Ministry is also responsible for mobility, but only a little and only for industry .