The German Govermant mulls free public transport to avert Eu lawsuit and diesel drivng bans

14 February 2018

The EU Commission has urged Germany to finally ensure compliance with its nitrogen oxide (NOx) limits after years of excessive air pollution in various German cities. If these limits are not met, the Commission threatens a lawsuit in the European Court of Justice and the Government could have no choice but to introduce diesel driving bans. In order to reduce the air pollution caused by cars and avoid these eventualities, the German government wants to significantly strengthen its measures for clean air in German cities and is even considering the introduction of free local public transport.

This is reported by the German Press Agency, citing a letter from Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, Transport Minister Christian Schmidt and Chancellor Peter Altmaier to EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella. The ministers propose to test the effectiveness of free public transport in reducing the number of private cars in five cities, with Bonn, Essen, Herrenberg (in Baden-WÜrttemberg), Reutlingen and Mannheim being mentioned. Intriguingly, Reutlingen is the only one of ten cities recently named as looking to ban diesel vehicles within their limits in order to achieve air quality targets. In addition, cities should be supported to put in place effective traffic rules ′on demand’ to reduce air pollution caused by cars and there should also be ′low emission zones’ for heavy goods traffic.

According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), there is currently no free public transport in Germany and the proposal means that the Government would need to provide financial support to any states and municipalities seeking to introduce it. The VDV states that about half of the transport companies finances come from ticket sales and so, ′the taxpayer would ultimately have to finance it.’ Moreover, the VDV points out that additional funding would be required for new buses, trains and staff as ′we would have tremendous passenger growth with free transport.’

The mayor of Bonn Ashok Sridharan told the German press agency that there are problems with testing free public transport. The number of buses and trams would have to increase significantly and the buses would have to be buses with a clean powertrain. ′But I’m not aware of a manufacturer who can deliver electric buses in the short term in the quantities we need,’ he said.

The German Government has previously conceded that numerous cities will probably not be able to meet the EU limit values ″‹″‹for NOx by 2020. In their new coalition agreement, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have agreed to increase efforts with countries and local authorities to improve air quality. The key policy implications of the coalition treaty for the automotive sector are increased incentives for electric taxis and light commercial vehicles, expansion of the charging network and reduced taxation for electric company cars.

As for driving bans, this subject will again be discussed on February 22 at the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. The court could make a landmark ruling on whether driving bans are lawful.