Germany plans to let everyone use public transport for free in a bid to tackle air pollution
It’s common knowledge that, in London, we don’t have the cleanest air. In fact, we’ve got some of the most dangerous air in Europe. While mayor Sadiq Khan looks to implement a £21.50 daily toll charge on toxic vehicles in London to tackle air pollution, Germany is about to take a much more radical approach that will see public transportation fares completely eradicated.
Writing in a proposal seen by national news outlets, the German environment minister, Barbara Hendricks; agriculture minister, Christian Schmidt; and chancellery chief, Peter Altmaier outlined how they would introduce free public transportation to encourage people to leave their cars at home.
It follows pressure from the European Union, which warns that it will levy fines on member states that fail to keep air quality within EU air pollution limits. Germany’s radical plans are made in a bid to reduce nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter from the country’s air.
Rolling out in Bonn, Essen, Reutlingen, Mannheim and Herrenberg by the end of the year, the letter also states that as well as free public transportation, Germany will introduce low-emission zones for large transporter vehicles, make bigger incentives for the adoption of electric vehicles and increase the number of electric taxis on its roads.
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While every Londoner would love to see the mayor take a green leaf out of Germany’s book, the sceptic in me says that free public transportation in our city is a pipe dream. But if we want a greener city, other solutions need to be proposed. So far none of these proposals have included things to do with public transportation at all, and encouraging people to take the train instead of the car can never be a bad thing.
The cost of public transportation in the whole of Germany is already significantly more affordable than in London. The average German spends 60 to 90 euros (£50 to £80) a month on public transportation. In London, people spend £135 a month, and that price always seems to be in flux. A Deutsche Bank report even found that the monthly travel cost for people in London is the most expensive in the world. Despite this, TFL’s finances are in extremely shaky shape, as this Twitter thread from the Financial Times’ Jim Pickard demonstrates.
We won’t see how the trial fares until at least the end of the year, but if successful – and it’s interesting to speculate how much additional capacity the cities will need to add for it to be a success – hopefully we’ll see other countries follow suit too. If not for our wallets, then at least for the environment and our health.