Why should people use public transport

dispute

Yes: everyone has a right to mobility

Definitely, says Ulrike Anna Bleier. Where should the money come from? Well, from the drivers

The federal government is considering introducing free local public transport in cities with high levels of air pollution, and Germany is freaking out. Me too: bus and train travel as a civil right! Mobility for everyone, no ifs or buts! No more broken ticket machines! No more complicated ticket tables that make you feel, no matter which ticket you choose, you definitely pay for it! Increase participation and social justice, reduce particulate matter pollution. The more people use buses and trains, the fewer cars jostle on the streets, pollute the air and make the streets and sidewalks a struggle for cyclists and pedestrians.

Expanding and becoming cheaper are not contradictions

It would be nice, but it's not that simple. Because the local public transport networks are already reaching their limits: "A short-term, sudden increase in passengers would completely overload the existing systems," explains Jürgen Fenske from the Association of German Transport Companies. "If ten or twenty percent more people use public transport, many will turn their backs on it after a short time and switch back to the car," fears Ulrich Soénius from the Cologne Chamber of Commerce.

A model project in Templin, Brandenburg, confirmed this - initially. The introduction of free local transport in 1998 caused the number of passengers to explode. After just four years, almost 15 times as many people were using local public transport. The buses were always full. So the city increased the pace. At some point Templin could no longer afford the free citizen service, but today a bus ticket there costs only 44 euros - a year! The free local transport model failed at first glance - the benefit of the experiment remains enormous for the Templiner, the number of passengers in 2015 was still five times higher than before.

A second example: Tallinn is a European pioneer in free public transport, with a population of around 445,000, comparable to Duisburg. Those who live in Estonia's capital have been able to travel by bus and train free of charge since 2013. The model works: ten percent more residents use these modes of transport today. And: 30,000 more people have lived in the city since public transport has been free. This gives the city treasury a plus of around 30 million euros in taxes. Tallinn puts this money into local public transport and thus covers the additional costs.

So expanding and becoming cheaper are not contradictions. On the contrary. And it doesn't have to be completely free. Third example: In Vienna, an annual pass costs 365 euros a year and is very close to free travel. According to a study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 63 percent of a ticket is already subsidized at the normal rate. Urban car traffic is financed even more from taxpayers' money, and by no means only from vehicle tax. According to Verkehrsclub Deutschland, many external costs relate to expensive items such as fire brigade, police, street lighting, green spaces: "Even today, every citizen indirectly finances urban car traffic with an average of 150 euros per year." Even if only half of them are for the free citizen ticket and then If the necessary capacity expansion is spent, the billions in financing the free public transport in Germany could definitely work. But who should pay the minus that car traffic then lacks?

You only get drivers off the road anyway if you ask them to pay

Answer: Well, the drivers. The economist Axel Ockenfels also believes that you only get them off the street if you ask them to pay. In the “FAZ” he suggests introducing fair prices for road use so that motorists also make their contribution to air pollution and congestion. Such city toll models already exist: in Milan, London and Stockholm, where the number of cars has fallen by 20 percent during rush hour. The model would also make the roads more attractive for cyclists, which in turn would relieve local traffic.

The question of free local public transport turns out to be a crucial question: Should our society become fairer, should our cities become more livable? Or do we want to leave more and more sections of the population to their fate because we allegedly cannot afford anything else: The poor should stay at home? Better watch the cyclists? And if you can't stand the thick air in the city, you should just move to the country?

Rethinking does not have to take place in the future, but right now. This is the best time to invest in new models. Free mobility should be a civil right like health care and education. And just as a society benefits from healthy and intelligent citizens, it benefits from people who can get on the next bus for free and drive to work, to the theater, to the beach or even just to the next bigger picture.

Ulrike Anna Bleier works as a freelance author and writer. In the city she rides a bicycle or tram. Her car, which she uses for longer journeys, has a funny name. She believes: a future in which everyone is better off is possible.

Photo: Stepanka Stepankova