How to get cleaner air? Germany considers free mass transit

To meet EU air pollution targets Germany may make public transit free in cities struggling with poor air quality. Here a Munich traffic jam in 2007

The proposal is due to be tested by the end of this year at the latest in five cities across Germany, including former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim.

German ministers have discussed considering offering free public transportation to get more people to use environmentally friendly mass transit, but their idea has run into opposition by some German cities and towns, who think the plan is too expensive.

Making all of Germany's inner city transport free won't be an overnight switch though.

German politicians have come up with a proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, in efforts to meet strict European Union air pollution targets and avoid big fines.

"Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany", the letter, which was signed by Germany's environment minster Barbara Hendricks alongside three other ministers, states. A spokeswoman for the city of Bonn told DW Akademie that she was unaware of "any manufacturer that would be able to deliver so many electric buses on such short notice".

So far, experiments with free public transport have usually been short-lived.

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Even prior to the EU's pressure to adjust German air quality to its standards, the country has struggled to keep pollution levels low.

The plan is as urgent as ever, as Germany and eight other European Union countries including France, Spain, and Italy failed to meet a January 30 deadline limiting nitrogen dioxide and fine particles.

As the AFP noted, the proposal comes just over two years after Volkswagen's "dieselgate" emissions cheating scandal.

The government "should make sure that the vehicle manufacturers finance the emergency measure" of free transport, Greenpeace told AFP. To make matters worse, the Commission reports that some 400,000 Europeans die prematurely due to air pollution, costing the global union €20bn euros ($24.7bn) on healthcare. Instead, under the new scheme, the government would be expected to jump in to shoulder the burden, which would ultimately make public transport an nearly fully tax-funded system.

In the letter, the authors proposed low emission zones, free public transport to reduce auto use, extra incentives for electric cars and technical retrofitting for existing vehicles as long as this is effective and economically feasible.

This file photo taken on November 5, 2014 shows a suburban S-Bahn train pulling into a station in downtown Berlin. Tickets can be cheaper compared to other major European cities.

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