Future-fit city: Much more money needed for buses and trains

Only a systematic phase-out of subsidies will free up enough money to make local public transport attractive

Aerial view of a cityClick to enlarge
Future-fit city: little noise, green and with attractive local public transport
Source: Jürgen Fälchle / Fotolia

Air pollution, noise, traffic jams, too few green spaces – these are the problems that plague many people living in cities. In a new publication the German Environment Agency (UBA) paints a picture of how the future-fit city might look, one where there is little noise, it is green and in which people are mobile through environmentally friendly means of transport. The core element of this "future-fit city" is a well-developed public transport network, in addition to pedestrian and cycle traffic, and electric driverless car sharing. UBA’s President Maria Krautzberger said: "Clean air, quiet and more green spaces in cities are only possible with more buses and trains and fewer cars. The public transport network is the backbone of urban mobility, but it must be strengthened and, in particular, be adequately financed. We will be successful when we finally phase out environmentally harmful subsidies and reallocate those funds to local public transport." And it is entirely possible: environmentally harmful subsidies for the transport sector currently amount to more than 28 billion euros per year, whereas an efficient local public transport network would cost only about eleven billion euros per year (according to the Association of German Transport Companies - VDV).

Other findings of the UBA study also indicate that cities with a population of over 100,000 do not require more than 150 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants to ensure unrestricted mobility. These vehicles would circulate on a car sharing basis and be available to the public at all times. A vehicle fleet of less than 150 also requires virtually no public parking space. Streets and parking spaces would gradually turn into green recreational areas or building land for urban housing. Also, cycle traffic would become more prominent and there would be more space to expand the public transport network. Currently, Germany's larger cities with a population of more than 100,000 have an average of about 450 passenger cars per 1,000 inhabitants. 

The people in the future-fit city must have more attractive alternatives to owning a car in order to stay as mobile as they are in the present. Another recently completed UBA research project also proves that car sharing works especially well when it is coupled with a public transport network and the availability of rent-a-bikes. However, car sharing can only reduce transport volume in big cities by up to 15 per cent. Ms Krautzberger said: "Car sharing is able to complement public transport but not replace it. If our goal is to be mobile by environmentally friendly means, a much improved system of local public transport is the only way to achieve it. Our aim should be to remain just as mobile in the city without owning a car. Cars will however remain a part of the urban landscape because local public transport is unable to meet all transport needs.” 

UBA’s proposals for “Future-fit City” will be discussed on 30-31 March at the UBA Forum mobil & nachhaltig in Berlin. 

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