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Cities reject free transport proposals

Essen would have been one of the cities where ‘free’ public transport could be tested. LRV 5222 (formerly DLR P89 13) is seen in street-running mode. Image credit: S. Smiler

Suggestions by German Government ministers that cities could offer free public transport to combat local emissions have been rejected by places intended to lead a pilot.

The government had said Bonn, Essen, Herrenburg, Reutlingen and Mannheim could be the ‘lead cities’ in an initiative intended to reduce air pollution. However, local politicians have said the idea is a non-starter without funding.

German cities have been under pressure from the European Union over air quality; and the country’s Environment Minister, Transport Minister and Head of Chancellery wrote a joint letter to EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella, proposing low-emission zones, free public transport, additional incentives for electric cars and technical retrofitting of vehicles to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulates.

Operators’ association VDV says that before free public transport is considered, there must be an expansion of capacity and efficiency with the help of public funding. It estimates an additional EUR12bn/year in subsidy would be needed as well as significant investment in infrastructure. For instance, Köln (Cologne) carried a record 280.6m passengers in 2017 and peak-hour services are overloaded, while the infrastructure through Neumarkt in the city centre cannot carry any more services at peaks.

However, in a development that could have far-reaching consequences, Germany’s Bundesvweraltungsgericht court ruled on 27 February that under certain circumstances cities would have the right to ban diesel vehicles. This decision brings the possibility of vehicles not built to the latest ‘Euro 6’ standards not being allowed in certain areas – the expectation is that any restrictions will be brought in gradually.

The court ruling came about due to concerns about air pollution in Düsseldorf and Stuttgart, in the states of Nordhrein Westfalen and Baden-Württemberg respectively.