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Mobile with free local transport?

Bus, car or bike? How Germans prefer to travel, and why it is causing political debate.

Free local transport: an incentive to abandon the car?
Free local transport: an incentive to abandon the car? © dpa

Germany. Some love it, many complain about it, even more depend on it: people use the local public transport services in Germany for 24 million journeys every day. International comparisons show that the services in Germany are very reliable, but passengers still often get annoyed about cancelled or delayed connections. Now Germany is debating whether the use of buses and trains should be free.

Where did the idea of free local transport come from?

In 2017 the local public transport services in Germany registered around 10.3 billion passengers. That is the equivalent of around 20 million car journeys that could be avoided. But would more car users change to local public transport if it were free? The Federal Government has put forward this idea in an effort to lower air pollution levels.

What are the reactions of citizens and transport experts?

Many citizens are welcoming the proposal, but many transport experts and mayors are sceptical. One major issue is finance. Apart from this, buses and trains in big cities are already very crowded. Services would have to be dramatically expanded in order to follow the good example of Tallinn. The Estonian capital started a pilot project with free local transport five years ago.

What are the other alternatives to cars?

About every second car journey in Germany is less than five kilometres in length – a distance that many people can easily cover by bike. Almost every household owns a bike in Germany where there are 73 million bikes for 83 million inhabitants. When you cycle, there is no need to worry about getting stuck in a traffic jam or finding somewhere to park. Cycling helps you to keep fit and it does not produce any emissions, noise or fine particles. People who want to have a bike at their disposal whenever and wherever they need one, can opt for bike sharing. Rent-a-bikes can be located and unlocked by app, and payment is automatic. In Berlin alone there are more than 10,000 bikes available throughout the city.

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And what if I’m too lazy to use a bike?

The electrical energy boost gained from e-bikes or pedelecs is gaining in popularity. According to the German National Cyclists’ Association (ADFC) there are around 600,000 e-bikes and 3.5 million pedelecs in Germany, and the numbers are increasing.