Germany is planning on making public transport free in some cities as an experiment to fight pollution. The plan is supposed to solve the lingering problem of air pollution in German cities. Germany will pilot the free public transport initiative in the cities of Bonn, Essen, Herrenberg, Reutlingen, and Mannheim.
The German government sent a letter to European Union officials outlining the plan. The letter stated, “We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars. Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany.” The letter indicates that the experiment may eventually be expanded nationally.
The high levels of pollution in the nation recently prompted the threat of major E.U. fines. Germany has already missed a January 30 deadline to meet E.U. limits on nitrogen dioxide and fine particles. The EU Commission gave Germany extra time to present further pollution-busting measures or face legal action.
The government ministers wrote that the free public transport plans would be complemented by other measures, such as car-sharing incentives or the expansion of low-emissions zones within cities. The move might persuade many vehicle owners to take public transportation instead. The ministers said the proposal will be enacted by “the end of this year at the latest.”
Public transport is hugely popular in Germany, with 10.3 billion journeys being made in 2017. Municipalities own the majority of local public transportation. Many German transport companies currently finance about 50 percent or more of their earnings through ticket sales. The government would be expected to help shoulder the burden. It has been estimated that it would cost around 12 billion euros ($15 billion) to run the free program, without including investments in infrastructure.
Germany is far from being Europe’s most polluted nation. It is estimated that more than 130 cities in Europe are affected by “life-threatening” air pollution, killing around 400,000 across the E.U. annually.
Experiments with free public transport have occurred in other cities in Europe in recent years. Paris tried the idea when the city was plagued by thick smog in 2014, but the measures lasted only one week. Limited experiments with free public transport have also occurred in Portland and Seattle in the U.S., but those efforts were eventually stopped as well.