Could Free Public Transportation Improve Air Quality in German Cities?

The pilot is planned to roll out by the end of the year in five cities in western Germany.  
     Getty Images

The pilot is planned to roll out by the end of the year in five cities in western Germany. Getty Images

Hoping to pilot the trial by the end of the year, the ministers continued: "Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany". The campaign will take place in several cities, including Bonn, Essen, Reutlingen, Mannheim, and the town of Herrenberg. The free public transport plans would be complemented by other measures, such as car-sharing schemes or expanded low-emissions zones within cities.

All of these tactics will hopefully help the nation achieve the environmental goals set by the Paris Agreement.

As some background here for those unfamiliar with the situation, a number of cities in Germany are persistently home to levels of air pollution that exceed legality within the European Union.

The German government is considering plans to make public transport free in cities suffering from poor air quality. To make matters worse, the Commission reports that some 400,000 Europeans die prematurely due to air pollution, costing the worldwide union €20bn euros ($24.7bn) on healthcare.

The plan is as urgent as ever, as Germany and eight other European Union countries including France, Spain, and Italy failed to meet a January 30 deadline limiting nitrogen dioxide and fine particles.

Countries that fail to keep to EU limits could face legal action at the European court of justice, the EU's highest tribunal, which can levy fines on member states.

In light of all this, it is even more commendable that the German government wants to prioritize its citizen's health over industry interests.

The auto firms have also intensified plans to start producing more electric cars, with battery-powered or hybrid models planned in the next decade. In Berlin, a single ticket on public transportation costs about $3.50, while a similar one-way trip costs $6.80 in London.

In Germany, public transport is very popular and the number of journeys has increased regularly in the past 20 years, reaching 10.3 billion in 2017.

"The municipalities would have to come us with the proposal of free local public transport, and then we would see if it's feasible". But it could also overburden public transport networks in major cities such as Berlin, Hamburg or Munich that are already bustling during rush hours.

Those plans would be costly, as many German transport companies now finance about 50 percent or more of their earnings through ticket sales.

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