Germany To Tackle Air Pollution By Trialling Free Public Transportation


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer



Pollution’s a prolific killer. In fact, around 9 million people around the world every year die prematurely because of it. Air pollution is by far the primary antagonist in this grim tale, and although most of these deaths take place in developing countries, wealthy nations still struggle with air quality too.

As first revealed by Politico, a handful of German cities suffering from poor air quality may soon get free public transportation – along with other measures – to deal with the problem, if the relevant German authorities give the go ahead.


A letter outlining the ideas – signed by various members of the German government, including the German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks – was sent to Karmenu Vella, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs, and Fisheries.

In it, the signatories have suggested low-emissions zones, free public transportation in order to reduce the amount of personal car use, additional economic incentives for electric cars, as well as retrofitting current vehicles with emission dampeners. The promotion of car sharing schemes is also suggested as an option.

According to the Telegraph, five cities – Bonn, Essen, Herrenberg, Reutlingen, and Mannheim – have been lined up as test subjects for the yet-to-be-approved trials, which are hoped to commence at the end of the year at the latest. If successful at improving air quality, the scheme would be rolled out to other cities also suffering from air pollution.


As pointed out by the AFP, Berlin, like plenty of other EU cities, is having some difficulty when it comes to meeting the EU’s air pollution targets. If it fails to do so, Germany could be heavily fined via European courts, along with several other EU members – including the UK, Spain, Italy, and France.


London, another city struggling with air pollution, is likely to take similar measures to draw down its hazardously high levels of toxic aerosols and particulate matter. Its mayor, Sadiq Khan, has proposed setting up “ultra-low emission zones” by 2019, which will charge vehicles high fees for driving through much of the city center, whenever they venture into it.

Retrofitting measures and helping electric cars to proliferate are welcome, but drastically reducing the amount of traffic in the hearts of cities has an immediate effect.

One of the most visually striking examples of its efficacy can be found in Beijing, one of the most smog-ridden cities on Earth. In recent times, before enormous military parades, authorities banned much of its traffic from its streets and hundreds of factories were shut down. This resulted in beautiful, rare, azure skies, and air quality index levels in the healthiest category.

Banning traffic from the centers of cities has normally just been a temporary measure, however, which is why a multi-pronged approach is needed. Some cities have even looked to colossal air filters, like China’s Xian, which appear to be fairly good at filtering large particulate matter out of the air.


It’s not clear at this stage if the trials will be successful or when precisely they may begin, and some German authorities have concerns over how such a scheme will be financed. Some local newspapers have hinted that the public transportation network may not be able to handle the additional burden of extra users.

Still, air pollution-curbing measures are welcome. Air pollution has been blamed for 500,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2014 alone – so hopefully we don’t have to hold out for the death of the internal combustion engine before the EU’s air quality begins to markedly improve.


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