Jun. 25, 2019

José Luis Ábalos


José Luis Ábalos

Minister of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, Spain

“It is necessary to increase investments in security and maintenance, as well as actions to reduce pollution.”


The Minister of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, José Luis Ábalos, has gone through practically all the steps of the administration since his political career began. His first public responsibility was as cabinet director of the Government Delegate in the Valencian Community in the first democratic Government. Years later, he was chief of staff of the Department of Labor and general director of international cooperation of the Generalitat Valenciana. He worked in municipal politics as an advisor to the Socialist Group in the City of Valencia before becoming councilor and provincial deputy. In 2009 he became a deputy in Congress, a position he held until his appointment as Minister of Transport, Mobility. Since 2017 he also holds the position of Secretary of Organization of the PSOE.

What would you highlight as the main achievements of your mandate during the last 10 months?

My objective has been to develop infrastructure, transport, and housing policy in which the right to mobility, access to decent housing, and safety are a priority. With regard to management, I have prioritized the rationalization and reorientation of resources where they are most needed. I am convinced that we have made progress in this area by promoting measures, investments, and projects aimed to improve quality of life. Among our main achievements I would highlight the package of housing measures included in the Royal Decree, a law on urgent measures regarding housing and rent, validated by the Congress of Deputies on April 3, 2019. Some of the measures limit the rise in rental prices by establishing a maximum increase in the CPI for the duration of the lease and the extension of three to five years of the mandatory extension of these contracts, measures aimed at improve information and market transparency and specific procedures to deal with situations in which eviction affects vulnerable people or homes. In our commitment to mobility as a right, we have ensured the necessary investment in maintaining a system through high quality standards and guaranteeing user reliability, frequency, and punctuality. Among the main measures adopted, we have formalized the OSP contract with Renfe to guarantee an integrated, intermodal rail service offer adapted to the demand until December 2027. Its approval has allowed us to address an ambitious EUR3 billion plan in the first half of 2019 for the acquisition and renewal of rolling stock. We have also solved the problem of the motorways whose concession period ends in this legislature. For the first time, a government has liberalized a stretch of highway after the end of its concession period. On November 30, the stretch of the AP-I Burgos-Armiñón became toll free. In terms of toll roads, we have also unblocked the status of motorway concession contracts whose companies were in the liquidation phase, resolving the contracts, allowing Seitt to collect tolls and their management and introducing a general reduction in tariffs by 30%. In relation to railway infrastructure, we have made great progress in the main Atlantic and Mediterranean corridors and promoted improvements in the conventional network, where we have increased the tender by more than 324%. In the international arena, we have managed to get the EU to finally approve the reform of the Atlantic and Mediterranean corridors. This means that European funds with be available for investment in Spanish infrastructure. Focusing on safety as another of our strategic lines, we must always attempt to improve it. To this end, we have prepared a comprehensive report which covers the safety of transport, infrastructure maintenance, and the impact of climate change, among other relevant areas. It is a report that includes an action plan with more than 60 initiatives. For the improvement of sustainability and habitability in the field of urban development, we presented the Urban Agenda for Spain in the Council of Ministers on February 22. The first strategic document prepared in the ministry was aligned with the Action Plan of the 2030 Agenda. And, finally, in terms of investment, we seek to reverse the deficit of recent years, and advance investments and projects that allow us to continue advancing in future years. Proof of this is the bidding data for these 11 months of government. We have bid 156% more, and 74% more than in the same period of the previous year.

The Mediterranean Corridor is under development as a future freight corridor. How did they reach the final proposal and how did they deal with the requests of each of the affected lobbyists?

The investment in railways in general and the Mediterranean Corridor in particular fulfill an important social function for the territory, and must be considered critical state policy. This project will contribute to strengthening the Spanish economy in sectors including tourism, industry, agriculture, and logistics, among others. For this reason, we are concentrating efforts on offering a competitive service of passenger and freight transport by rail, focused on the needs and demands of customers, in terms of mobility and logistics. The territories through which the corridor passes must take advantage of the opportunity. We must not see infrastructure as an end in themselves, but as a tool to guarantee a service, improve quality of life, connect territories, create business opportunities, and boost the economic growth of a country. This is the vision toward which we are working.

The toll motorways and the radials stopped being profitable at the hands of private companies. How does the government intend to make them profitable again, and will the state remain in the long term?

We have solved this situation by resolving the respective contracts and modifying the Highway Law to allow the State Company State Transport Infrastructure Company (Seitt) to collect tolls and manage these highways. We have encouraged the use of these roads. An increase in traffic will increase our revenues, improve mobility, and road safety, and make better use of this infrastructure. For this, we have approved a generalized reduction of around 30%. We have already received the first satisfactory results with a 12% increase in average traffic since January.

What do you think the effect of the different Brexit scenarios will be on the transport sector in Spain?

From the government's point of view, we are following the unfolding of Brexit carefully and considering all possible scenarios, analyzing their impact on areas under our control and adopting measures to alleviate them. In relation to air transport, probably the most affected mode, the departure of the UK from the EU brings with it a series of risks such as a possible impact on Spanish airlines and connectivity between Spain and the UK. In this area, from the EU, work is being done on the promulgation of "contingency measures" that would apply in the event of a hard Brexit. In this regard, we have been working intensively to ensure that these measures offer the most favorable response possible to the interests of Spain and its citizens, taking into account that decision-making cannot be bilateral, but rather must be done at the EU level. The Commission is also working on two European contingency regulations to ensure the interests of our citizens and companies. The first priority is for the transport of goods and the other for the transport of passengers. In maritime transport, we find ourselves in the most globalized and internationalized sector, and in this case, the Commission is also dealing with contingency regulations in which we work to adequately capture the interests of Spain. In terms of ports, Brexit will result in an increase in controls and inspections of goods. In order to carry out these controls and inspections, the provision of the Border Goods Control Facilities are necessary.

What are the ministry's priorities for the coming months?

For the ministry, one of the main priorities is to guarantee the right to housing, promoting the use of social rental housing, mobilizing public land that is available through the transfer of surface rights and favoring the use of public-private mechanisms. Another fundamental priority is to carry out a new concept of mobility and inclusive transport, oriented to the user, and offering adapted mobility solutions for all; including integrated transport, where all the means are synchronized, and sustainable in economic, environmental and social terms. We must adopt a more advanced vision in the infrastructure policy, thinking more about the mobility it offers to the citizen, than in the construction of new infrastructures. In this sense, we are already working on the Safe, Sustainable and Connected Mobility Strategy. We will also work on the Sustainable Mobility Law to guarantee the right to mobility of all citizens, taking into account the challenge of climate change and the possibilities offered by digitalization. To this end, we will increase public investment in security and maintenance of infrastructure, favoring the gradual preparation for sustainable mobility. That includes the needs derived from electrification and digitalization, with the aim of increasing the number of passengers in this means of transport by 30% for 2025. In addition, we want to promote a state pact on infrastructure, which, among other things, would guarantee compliance with the high-speed railway plans currently under execution, as well as investment in commuter trains and other relevant actions, such as the Mediterranean Corridor, or the Atlantic Corridor. Finally, it is necessary to increase investment in security and maintenance, as well as actions to reduce pollution and the environmental impact of roads, railways, port, and airport infrastructure.