Belarus and EU: Sharing Knowledge. Bridge to European Standards and Complex Mobility

Tatsiana Manionak for the ODB (Translated from Russian)

It is very important for Belarus to learn from the European experience while implementing the National Transport Strategy. This would allow not only to increase the effectiveness of the Belarusian transport system but also raise social standards for the population. Recently, the EU has set a new target in the transportation area: to increase the level of complex mobility for citizens and simultaneously decrease  harmful emissions by 60 %.

Since 2008, the ODB has been implementing the expertises exchange programme aimed at integration of the county into the European space through improving professional skills of Belarusian experts in different fields.

This objective is equally relevant for Belarus. Until now the national policy has been oriented to the movement of a vehicle and not of a passenger. State policy in the area of complex mobility is not yet shaped properly in Belarus and the legislation that regulates the area reminds more of a 'patchwork' woven from regulatory provisions included into different legislative acts. Moreover, such notions as mobility of the population, accessibility of transport, public transport, route network, and other have received no official interpretation and are not part of the national legislation.

The Belarusian Union of Transport Workers (BUTW)  has made the first step to create a modern legislation in this area in Belarus. In the framework of the Project "EU and Belarus: Sharing Knowledge" during 2012-2013 the BUTW experts have been elaborating the Concept on developing complex mobility of the  population based on approximation of Belarusian legislation with the EU standards.
This work grew from the  successful cooperation of the BUTW with the Brussels-based Office for a Democratic Belarus (ODB).

Since 2008, the ODB has been implementing the expertises exchange programme aimed at integration of the county into the European space through improving professional skills of Belarusian experts in different fields. The goal of this programme is to bring the European standards and best practices, as well as the experience of their implementation in other states of Eastern Partnership to Belarus.  

During the first study visit to Brussels oraganised by ODB. September 2009During the second study vsisit of Belarusian experts to Brussels in May 2010 oragnised by ODB

In 2009, under this programme BUTW visited Brussels on a study tour "EU Policy in the area of Transport and Transit" organised by the ODB. The programme introduced them into the basics of the EU policy towards Belarus and gave a chance to establish contacts with the relevant Directorates of the European Commission. This trip was a start for active cooperation between Belarusian experts and their colleagues form the EU.  Following the event a round-table on unification of  transportation policy in the EU and Belarus was organised in Minsk bringing together government affiliated and independent experts, as well as international specialists in the area of transportation.

"The approximation of the Belarusian legislation with the EU standards is crucial for Belarus", says the BUTW chairman, the former Minister of Transport and Communication Uladzimir Sasnousky. "This harmosation of standards has two aims: firstly -  to maximally prepare the country for joining the WTO; secondly -  to  create  mechanisms of the "competent protectionism" that would  protect domestic market of transportation services and promote national carriers on the international market," Sasnousky stresses.

The next step will be practical. Based on the European experience, the Belarusian experts prepared a Concept on harmonisation of transportation with the emphasis on complex mobility of the population. The new approach suggested in the concept is now being testing in the Belarusian town of Navapolatsk.

Belarusian journalist Tatsiana Manionak asks questions about the basics of the Concept to Valiantsina Liaonchyk, the first deputy chairman of the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers.  

Valiantsina Liaonchyk: "We suggested a pilot project on elaborating a Concept on Complex Mobility"

Valiantsina Liaonchyk, the first deputy chairman of the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers.

- Activities in the transport area are regulated by different international conventions. If a country joins a treaty international norms become prevail over the national legislation.  So, at first place we started to study conventions regulating the work of the transport area in Belarus and in the EU, and how or if they compete. It was also important to learn how Europe was able to unify its transport policy.
EU transport policy is based on the WTO principles and UNECE Agreements. We have examined all relevant treaties in this area including INTERBUS that covers international transportation of passengers by automobile transport. This Agreement was initiated by the European Conference of Transport Ministers that has 44 members and Belarus is among them. The organisation's mission is to build a bridge between the EU and other countries of the continent in the area of transport. Moldova was the first country among the post-Soviet states to join the INTERBUS and among the first ones to introduce the star classification system for buses (depending on their comfort). Today this norms are incorporated into the national legislation of Moldova. The Moldovan experience could be also applicable in Belarus. (ODB: members the Belarusian Union of transport workers visited Moldova on a study tour under the EU and Belarus: sharing Knowledge project). Studying Moldovan experience proved that for Belarus it would be more reasonable to join such agreements having a set of documents prepared. Which means we should not only have a programme of how to change legislation following the signature of the INTREBUS, but also a plan how to upgrade the bus fleet since Belarusian carriers have no chance to replace all their buses with their own money overnight. What I mean is that it is not enough to say that Belarus is ready to comply with the agreement but also crucial to have programme that would allow this implementation and would be supported by the government. 

Tatsiana Manionak: Is Belarus lagged too much behind the standards of this Agreement?

Valianstina Liaonchyk
: When it comes to legislation we look pretty good. If we speak of the road transport, the Belarusian legislation is advanced. While developing the legislation we focused on the international principles and rules that unfortunately  do not work in Belarus.
Let's have a look at the following example. In Belarus road carriage customer inside the cities or districts is represented by local authorities while the Ministry of Transport and Communications is the customer of road carriages for the transportation between the cities and the regions. But in reality, the Ministry of Transport has never been a real customer. For instance, Moldova and Lithuania have independent commissions that regulate transport market, while Russia has recently established the Agency for Automobile Transport dealing with the Register, analysis and control issues. All that resulted in a clear separation between the government regulation, registration and control. Belarus does not have this mechanism and the Ministry of Transport simply cannot do this job.

Signing a memorandum of cooperation between BUTW and Union of Road Workers of Moldova during the study trip to Moldova organised by ODB. April 2012

Moreover,  if in Lithuania Transport Inspection mainly deals with the market (licensing, technical inspection, route network,  technical control, staff requirements, counselling, and etc.) the only task of the Belarusian Transport Inspection is to catch the offenders.

The Belarusian standards meet with the UNECE standards and the EU norms. However they are not obligatory but voluntary. The same approach is applied to the training of staff. In the EU one can speak of  such notion as reputation of a manager, of a driver since all this  information is available through the data base. While in Belarus we have a notion but this notion does not have legal validity. 
Why it is so important for Belarus to meet the European standards?

-- While working on the Concept on privatisation of public automobile transport a few years ago we found out that Belarus has three time lower work efficiency in the area than the EU. The inefficiency of our transport system is caused by presence of extra staff, extra space and unproductive management system.
Meanwhile in the EU the standards of transport service for population are set by the so-called White Book and Green Book with the stress to complex mobility meaning different high quality services when a passenger can arrive to any destination on time, receive a quality service with his/her rights being protected.

One can also say that Europe has overcome negative effects of mass automobilisation and realised the damage it can cause to human health and environment. That is why all recently adopted in the EU transport strategies aim at making more effective the work of public transport.  

Belarus can be compared to an average European country in terms of automobilisation. About 20 % of cars however did not pass technical inspection and their owners do not drive them. Average Belarusian family uses a car only 10 % of time. In this situation, wouldn't  it be more reasonable to go for  public transport? We should motivate people to move more, to walk, or start using bicycle which in its turn demands creating more areas for pedestrians and cycling. By the way, in the neighbouring Ukraine cycling policy has already been developed, and one can even observe some Ukrainian officials riding a bike that would sounds fantastic for Belarus.

In general, EU transport policy is oriented on complex mobility. Mobility centres have been established in all Member States and passengers have the chance to make claims against bad services 24/7.  At the same time, road carriers in Europe "count their money". For instance, if there are only four passengers in a village no one will send a bus there but a car. Taxi also can be used for "social transportation" and are subsidised in this case.

In Belarus, we only start to realise the need for establishing a structure that would regulate demand and supply on transport market.

In Belarus, we only start to realise the need for establishing a structure that would regulate demand and supply on transport market. In the regions of Belarus this function is assigned to transport enterprises that once were under control of the Ministry of Transport and Communications.  Currently they are subordinated to local authorities and it is local authorities in most states who successfully ensure the access to public transport for the population.

The source of many of our problems is in the management of the transport industry. It is abnormal when the carrier itself regulates transportation market. The situation can be compared to the one when we have two boxers on the ring and one of them plays a referee at the same time. This is not right.
Only an independent body can regulate the market to ensure passengers' rights.

I would also like to attract your attention to the fact that international transportation is poorly developed in Belarus. As a rule, tourist business attracts international carriers for these purposes. Our own, Belarusian ones will not appear unless necessary conditions are established for the national automobile market. To go internationally Belarusian companies should create a financial pillar and accumulate relevant experience. That is why we study experience of the European and EaP countries and compare it to our own to decide what could be best applicable in Belarus.

There are representatives of private sector among members of the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers, some of them have been working in the area for 15 years but unfortunately none of these businesses is developing due to unfavourable conditions. Businessmen in Belarus understand that they should cooperate among themselves to develop and the BUTW tried to implement the following project.

10 private companies united to create a technical centre that would provide different services. Unfortunately, we failed since it was problematic to receive a plot of land for construction. As you see, no investor would risk to work in the project without a territory being secured. For about a year we appealed to different bodies and administrations to solve this issue however in vain. 
Belarus has no strategy for development of transportation business. A programme for  development of passenger transportation by automobile transport has been elaborated and approved together with the Directive 4 on business development, however private sector is not event mentioned there.

Tatsiana Manionak:  What can we do to make Belarus more open for European experience?

It is high time to  review state social standards of transportation services for population, they are archaic and no longer serve the needs of passengers and carriers.

- Currently, the EU is working on the Agreement that will regulate international transportation of passengers by automobile transport. Regrettably, Belarus does not participate even in negotiation process. That is why we see our mission in raising awareness about it among representatives of local authorities and carriers.
The next step for Belarus will be to decide on its vision of mobility. Shall we count passengers according to different kinds of transport they use and report on the quantity of passengers and vehicles; or accept the European concept of mobility.

It is high time to  review state social standards of transportation services for population, they are archaic and no longer serve the needs of passengers and carriers.
Belarus has adopted the National Strategy of Sustainable Development. Local strategies of sustainable development have also been adopted in the regions. However mobility is not included in any of these documents except for  its minor aspects despite transport has greatest influence on people's health and the environment. 
By the way, International experts found out that life quality is 1/3 dependent on transportation services. One Belarusian ruble invested in public transport will bring 4 rubles.

- What are the key proposals by BUTW?

- European experience shows us how important it is to solve local problems. Effective policy and good management on the local level should well correlate with each other.

We have many institutional problems in transport area in Belarus. The reason for that is outdated transport management. State agencies should stop dealing with economic and operational issues. Their task is to shape transport policy.

It is extremely important for Belarus to determine state policy on mobility. Since regulation of  transport area is being transferred to local authorities, they need to learn how to professionally engage with the organisation of work of public transport. This will require improvement of legislation and approximation with the European standards.
The most important task that the Ministry of Transport Could do - was to prepare a draft project on transport services for population that would take into account the European approach in the area of contracting services in public transport and mechanisms of budgetary subsides.

Since Belarus has no legal concept to regulate mobility of population, transport legislation on passengers transportation has sectoral focus and is not aimed at solving the issue of complex mobility.  But if you do not move on from a passive implementation of plans towards integrated management of transport mobility, our cities will never be comfortable for living. 
Taking into account the fact that  approaches towards mobility in Belarus have not been worked out, we decided to go regionally. Currently, our union is preparing a concept of mobility for Navapolatsk. We have proposed a pilot project to develop guidelines for the development of the concept of mobility to other regions of the country on its basis.

We hope our concept to become the first brick in laying the foundation for complex mobility of the population in Belarus and will become a start for a constructive dialogue with the authorities on how to develop the national strategy of sustainable mobility and create legislative mechanisms for its implementation.