Clean air project

Free public transport considered for Bonn

Bus and train could be free of charge - at least temporarily.

Bonn. Could public transport be free of charge soon? The Federation is considering appointing five model cities for a clean air project, among them: Bonn. But Lord Mayor Ashok Sridharan dampens expectations.

Could public transport be free of charge soon? The Federation is considering appointing five model cities for a clean air project, among them: Bonn. But Lord Mayor Ashok Sridharan dampens expectations.

The federal government wants to extend the measures to achieve cleaner air in German cities in the light of a possible law suit by the EU Commission. The Federation, together with the individual states and local communities, is considering introducing free public transport to reduce the amount of private vehicles on the roads. This plan was issued in a letter by Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks (SPD), Transport Minister Christian Schmidt (CDU) and Secretary of the Chancellor’s Office, Peter Altmaier (CDU) addressed to EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

The effectiveness of the measures for better air are supposed to be tested in five „model cities“ - in Bonn, Essen, Herrenberg (Baden-Württemberg), Reutlingen and Mannheim, according to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa). 

The Stadtwerke Bonn (SWB) referred to the City Council whose subsidiary they are. Lord Mayor Ashok Sridharan, who is chairman of the SWB concurrently, showed delight that Bonn was among the chosen cities. „I am grateful we are in the race. We know of the current problem of air cleaning and are happy about every support“, he said. As is known, two areas in the city, Reuterstraße and Bornheimer Straße, did not stay within the permitted emission levels when tested. Sridharan said he is looking forward to talks with the federal government, assuming they will be picked up soon. 

The hope that bus and train rides will be free of charge soon was dampened by the municipal leader though: Changes in the tariff structure can only be implemented with the full agreement of the partners in the transport association, but will be discussed happily. Also, additional trams and electronic buses would be needed as well as an extension for commuters in the regional train sector. 

Other plans are easier to put into effect, said the Lord Mayor, such as the conversion of diesel cars and the creation of incentives to change to electronic cars. And last but not least the power grids need to be dependable too. Sridharan: „We are talking about a wide variety of measures.“

Model city Bonn?

According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV) there has never been a free public transport in Germany. The suggestion of the Public Transport Association (ÖPNV) might mean that the Federation supports the states and cities financially if they want to introduce free public transport. In many German cities the emission levels are being exceeded. 

„We are seeing this quite critically too“, said the VDV spokesperson in an interview with the dpa. With approximately 12 billion Euro per year, the transport companies are financing themselves by about 50% through tickets sales. „The taxpayer would have to foot that bill.“ Additional billions would need to be spent on new buses, trains and staff costs because: „We would have an enormous rise in passenger numbers if we would offer free public transport.“

The ministries involved have yet to comment. The Federation is also proposing other measures to the EU Commission, pointing to  the fact that Germany is already investing billions in programs to have cleaner air in the cities. Also, the communities should be supported in implementing effective traffic rules, „if necessary“, to reduce the pollution caused by cars. Heavy duty traffic should be regulated by “low emission zones“.

Fight against air pollution has highest priority

The fight against air pollution has „highest priority“ in Germany, it says in the letter. A new government will bring new measurements on the way immediately. 

In their coalition contract, the CDU and the SPD agreed to combine efforts to help states and communities in improving the air quality considerably, especially in cities which are struggling to lower the emission levels. Vehicle fleets should get supports to introduce low emission technology.

According to the coalition contract the shift to more commuter traffic on rails should be encouraged. Also, states and communities should be allowed to issue rules and emission regulations for commercial public transport, buses and taxis. 

Driving ban discussed in court 

The EU Commission considers the measures in Germany so far as inadequate to stay within the limits of nitrogen oxides, and demanded more work to be done. The commission is bringing the extensive air pollution up in the European Court, filing a suit against Germany and eight other countries, said a spokesperson. If Germany loses that court case, high penalties are looming.

Next week, on February 22, the matter of a possible driving ban will be discussed at the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. The court might rule in a ground-breaking decision that driving bans are legally allowed. 

The federal government had declared that 20 German cities will not manage until 2020 to stay within the nitrogen oxide levels, despite all efforts. One major cause for nitrogen oxides in cities is car traffic - especially diesel cars are being criticised. 

(Original text: dpa, Rüdiger Franz / Translation: Mareike Graepel)