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Earth Transportation

Germany Considers Free Public Transport in Fight To Banish Air Pollution (theguardian.com) 321

"Car nation" Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines. From a report: The move comes just over two years after Volkswagen's devastating "dieselgate" emissions cheating scandal unleashed a wave of anger at the auto industry, a keystone of German prosperity. "We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars," three ministers including Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks wrote to EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella in the letter seen by AFP Tuesday.
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Germany Considers Free Public Transport in Fight To Banish Air Pollution

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  • by Arab ( 466938 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @10:55AM (#56121663) Journal
    The only reason I drive rather than commute by train is that it's a lot cheaper for two people to drive than it is to get the train.
    • by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:09AM (#56121769) Homepage

      That's the ONLY reason? I'm also dissuaded by the fact that my car starts and stops closer to where I want to be.

      • by Stephan Schulz ( 948 ) <schulz@eprover.org> on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:12AM (#56121793) Homepage

        That's the ONLY reason? I'm also dissuaded by the fact that my car starts and stops closer to where I want to be.

        In European cities, the distance from the next available parking spot often will be further than the distance from the next public transport stop.

        • by tripleevenfall ( 1990004 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:19AM (#56121831)

          That's certainly true, but I think the GP's point is that anybody who can afford to drive will still do so, because the car runs on exactly your schedule, and goes exactly where you want to go. The route can be changed at any moment and offers much more comfort and a more pleasant experience.

          Apart from this, even if parking is sparse, it will usually be much faster to drive. It depends on the city, but most people value less time spent commuting over all else.

          • by TuringTest ( 533084 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:41AM (#56122025) Journal

            anybody who can afford to drive will still do so, because the car runs on exactly your schedule, and goes exactly where you want to go.

            I can afford to drive all the way to my job, but I leave the car mid-route and take the train to the city center. This is so to avoid the huge morning and evening traffic jams, and because I can go reading or web-browsing during half the ride. This combination takes about 1/4 longer than going all the way by car, but it's worth it.

          • by Stephan Schulz ( 948 ) <schulz@eprover.org> on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:57AM (#56122129) Homepage

            Apart from this, even if parking is sparse, it will usually be much faster to drive. It depends on the city, but most people value less time spent commuting over all else.

            The first claim is far from true for many European cities. When I moved to Munich (1995), I sold my car after it stood useless and rusting for 18 months. Going by subway, it took me about 10 minutes to get to work (and the subway ran every 10 minutes). Going by bicycle was 20 minutes. Going by car was unpredictable, but never less than 20 minutes, even with private parking at home (so no searching). Now I live in Stuttgart, and while going by car might be nominally a bit faster with no traffic, we cannot have any meetings at 9 in the morning, because during rush hour, my colleagues travel time goes up by an hour or so. The public transport system in most of the US is (intentionally or not) crippled. Try Singapore, Hong Kong, Munich or even Paris to see what it can be like.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Solandri ( 704621 )

              The public transport system in most of the US is (intentionally or not) crippled.

              It's not crippled. With a few notable exceptions (e.g. NYC), the cities here tend to be a lot sparser than the European cities I've visited. The means the traffic problems which slow down driving your own car there are not as bad here (in time per distance), and that public transportation has to cover a larger area so either runs slower (more stops per trip) or leaves you with a longer distance to walk after getting off (fe

          • by plopez ( 54068 )

            Time in a car is dead time. On the bus I can read, write, take an online course, review my work email, etc. Commuting is much more efficient and a walk from a station to work serves as daily exercise. Oh, and it's cheaper if you look at it in costs per mile. Also safer.

            • This is only true if you get a seat, not if you have to stand up the whole time. Most transit is packed during rush hour and making it free only compounds that problem. Free transit might be a great idea for many reasons, but I don't know how many people it will get out of cars. Now if standing were free but a seat cost money, that may work nicely.
              • by mspohr ( 589790 )

                It's a lot healthier to stand. You'll be sitting at your desk all day and letting your arteries and bones degenerate. Best to stand as much as possible.
                Also, get a standing desk at work.

          • Pleasant experience? Traffic jams, road rage, desperately looking for a parking spot, you call that a pleasant experience?
            Driving sucks. Public transport sucks as well, but driving is worse most of the time.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          In sensible cities you have all the stuff people want to visit built around public transport hubs. The railway station, for example, is often also a shopping centre and near to office blocks in Japan and some parts of Europe. In fact in Japan the retail attached to the station keeps the train tickets cheap and the service very high quality.

      • I practically always use public transport, because I can make good use of the time - read a book, follow my news, sometimes even do a bit of coding or just thinking.
        Driving is a waste of time if you have good public transport to resort to, especially if you are a commuter and do it every day. Also, the short walk to the bus or tram stop is good for my health, considering I have a sedentary job like most of us.
        Also, cars are noisy, expensive and they stink. I wish more people would use public transport.

    • The only reason I drive rather than commute by train is that it's a lot cheaper for two people to drive than it is to get the train.

      The only reason I drive rather than commute by mass transit is that I live in the US and mass transit is almost non-existent outside of a few major cities.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If they really cared about emissions they would keep their nuclear plants running. They care more about appearance.

    • by eepok ( 545733 )
      I work in sustainable transportation. It's literally my job to get people to do anything but drive in a car alone. And you're right. Especially if you're in America and Amtrak is your only train commute option, carpooling with just one other person will likely be more attractive than taking the train. Here are the issues with America's passenger rail system...

      Most of the rail where you find passenger rail lines (Amtrak with extra luggage space) and commuter rail lines (more seats, no luggage space) is ac
    • At least where I live, Public transportation is just too slow.
      I live 50 Kilometers from my work. Even if public transportation reached my house, it would take 3 or 4 hours to get work. and 3 or 4 hours back. So my day would be Wake up, Travel to work, work, track to home, sleep.
      Living closer to work, will require living in a noisier area, with more crime, and in a much smaller home.

      Having a car, really gives me the optimal life style that I and my family choose to have.

  • "Free" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pecosdave ( 536896 )

    Free doesn't mean free. It means now every time your neighbor gets on a bus you have to pay a fractional cent. Paying it for them motivates them to use it more. Now it means all your neighbors.

    That might work there, but where I live the bus sucks so bad I couldn't use it if it were free. It takes a minimum of three hours to get to where I want to be, less than one to drive.

    • by Hasaf ( 3744357 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:34AM (#56121961)

      You are forgetting that roads are also heavily subsidized. So, each time you drive to work you are taking money from a neighbor who cycles, or walks, to work. https://frontiergroup.org/repo... [frontiergroup.org]

      "Aside from gas taxes and individuals’ expenditures for their own driving, U.S. households bear on average an additional burden of more than $1,100 per year in taxes and other costs imposed by driving. Including:
      An estimated $597 per U.S. household per year in general tax revenue dedicated to road construction and repair.
      Between $199 and $675 per household per year in additional tax subsidies for driving, such as the sales tax exemption for gasoline purchases in many states and the federal income tax exclusion for commuter parking benefits.
      An estimated $216 per year in government expenditures made necessary by vehicle crashes, not counting additional, uncompensated damages to victims and property.
      Approximately $93 to $360 per household in costs related to air pollution-induced health damage."

      This is only a small snip from the article that I provided the link to.

      • You are forgetting that roads are also heavily subsidized.

        And you're forgetting that everybody benefits from those roads - that's why they're subsidized.

        • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @01:12PM (#56122729)

          You are forgetting that roads are also heavily subsidized.

          And you're forgetting that everybody benefits from those roads - that's why they're subsidized.

          And everyone benefits from Mass Transit too. Even if you don't use Mass Transit, you benefit from cleaner air, less congested roads, and an improved over-all economy. (Cities with good Mass Transit are generally considered more desirable- which brings in more employers and people wanting to live there, which improves your property values, the tax the city brings in... and along with that more amenities for citizens).

      • You are forgetting that roads are also heavily subsidized. So, each time you drive to work you are taking money from a neighbor who cycles, or walks, to work.

        Can you think of anyone who doesn't benefit from subsidized roads? Unless you live in a self-contained biosphere constructed by local labor from locally sourced material, the food you get at the store was trucked in from somewhere else, the fuel you use for heating/travel was trucked in from somewhere else, the place you live was constructed from materials trucked in from somewhere else, and there are services available to you beyond walking distance because there are roads available for those services to

      • You are forgetting that roads are also heavily subsidized. So, each time you drive to work you are taking money from a neighbor who cycles, or walks, to work.

        Conversely, the very existence of a good road network, transportation technology, fueling network, and so forth could be seen as being "subsidized" by private motoring culture.

        I'm rather glad that paramedics don't have to take a train to come get me. For one thing. Would fancy motorized ambulances exist, if private motoring had never happened?

        Also, would motorized buses even exist, without private motoring? How much public transport as we know it today would even be possible, without us private drivers?

      • So, each time you drive to work you are taking money from a neighbor who cycles, or walks, to work.

        Why shouldn't the neighbor who cycles or walks to work help pay for the roads? All the food, clothing, materials needed to build and maintain their house, and other goods and services they need to live are delivered via those roads, even if they personally don't use them.

        • by Hasaf ( 3744357 )

          I am not saying that they shouldn't. After all, nearly everyone derives benefit from all of the public goods that we fund. The problem starts when people forget that their favorite means is subsidized, just like the means that they don't, personally, like.

          So, no, bicyclists don't, often, complain about subsidizing the roads that autos run on. The problem is that people in autos often think that they are paying the full cost and assume that all other road users are free riders. One hears the same about rail

  • by Rande ( 255599 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:06AM (#56121743) Homepage

    There's lots of people who commute every day that don't actually need to be in the office every day.
    But the company decides it's more convenient and they aren't paying for the commute so they make everyone come in.
    I could do 95% of my job from home, but no, I have to come in, because it's easier to yell across the office than it is to pick up the phone.

    • by green1 ( 322787 )

      Lazy Management.

      It's far easier to manage by looking at the timeclock than it is to evaluate the actual productivity of your employees. If you do the former, you have to either have everyone in the office, or have all sorts of invasive spying stuff loaded on their company gear to track their every move. If you do the latter, you don't care where they work, when they work, or even how many hours a day, only whether they produce the right quantity and quality of output.

      Unfortunately many managers are still of

      • I concur.

        The problem is that most companies "peter principle" people into management. It's pretty much the worst way to run promotion in a business, and yet just about every business does it.

        You take someone really good at the current job, and ask them to manage people who aren't as good at that job. Now you've removed one of your stars, and you're asking them to do a different job that they may or may not be good at. Knowing how to do your job well doesn't have any bearing on whether or not you're a good m

  • by Chatterton ( 228704 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:06AM (#56121751) Homepage

    If there is only 1 bus every day, even if the bus is free, I will not take that bus.
    I live 6km from my work, there is a bus that stop just in front of my house every hour. I still take my car to go to work. Why?
    By car it take me 15-20min to go to work in the morning and 8-10min to go back in the evening.
    By bus with a change for a metro it take me ~20min in the morning and between 45min and 1h15 in the evening.
    Even if the bus and metro were free, I still value the time lost way higher than the price of riding with my car.

    • by AmazingRuss ( 555076 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:30AM (#56121929)

      6km is a pretty easy walk or a 15 minute bike ride.

      • I think the point is, that it takes longer on the bus than it does to walk 6 km. That has been my experience for the most part. The only place where buses make any semblance of sense is when they run every 15 minutes.

        • Definately true. Busses are a joke, at least in the US.

        • by TWX ( 665546 )

          I lived in a city where the buses ran every fifteen minutes, and my apartment was 1/8 mile north of the same road that my work was also 1/8 mile north-of, but the workplace was in an adjacent city where the buses ran every half-hour. Every other bus turned around at the border between the cities, and those half-hour buses that did continue tooled around that city's downtown and then sat at a senior center for fifteen minutes before continuing. It took 45 minutes to go eight miles and if I missed the bus I

        • by hawk ( 1151 )

          I've found that in a city, a bicycle can almost always overtake and pass a bus . . .

          hawk

        • Good thing then that here in Germany in bigger cities we have buses (and trams, and subways, and city trains) that run every 15, 10 or sometimes even 5 minutes.

      • by green1 ( 322787 )

        depends where you live. This week where I live 6km would be extremely miserable at -29c with 40cm of snow. whether you walk, or bike.

    • by hawk ( 1151 )

      >Even if the bus and metro were free, I still value the time lost way higher
      >than the price of riding with my car.

      And here you have what is so often missed in the "ooohhh! mass transit! rah rah Rah1" rush.

      To become an option, the opportunity cost, including time and convenience, needs to meet one of two thresholds:
      1) the cost of that specific trip needs to be less than gas for a car owner (OK, add a small bit of maintenance in)
      2) the cost of always using using it, including cabs ride sharing when n

      • by Megane ( 129182 )

        3) the mass transit must come close enough to your destination on both ends of the ride

        This can be difficult in suburban areas of the US, partly due to the low density, and partly due to the design of suburbs, such that you can't simply go in a straight line to a bus stop because of winding streets and fenced yards. If the walk takes more than 15 minutes or so (I'll even be generous and say "for each end", and that's up to an hour of just walking!), nobody sane will want to do it five times a week. Bicycle

        • because of winding streets and fenced yards.

          Whether the yard is fenced or not makes no difference. You should not be on it unless you have permission from the owner.

  • Makes sense to me. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:10AM (#56121777)

    Here's the thing: It costs billions and billions, and billions to make and maintain those roads. That's considered a worthy service built by shared effort of the society. The additional cost of running buses across those roads is much less, basically a small percentage of cost to increase the the capacity and utility of those roads more.

    It makes the overall society more efficient, since those tax dollars are saving millions of individuals much more money over time, usually folks who actually spend money in the economy instead of the savings/investment classes that tend to shelter their activities from the economy at large.

    Ad described, at least, makes sense to me - and would be nice to use if I ever visit there.

    Ryan Fenton

    • Never forget ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:21AM (#56121845) Homepage

      Roads receive "investment", public transport (including rail) receives "subsidy". As if a layer of tarmac is somehow going to earn money on its own if only enough were spent on it.

      Politicians love to play these verbal sleights of hand to fool the stupid and unfortunately it works a lot of the time.

      • Roads receive "investment", public transport (including rail) receives "subsidy". As if a layer of tarmac is somehow going to earn money on its own if only enough were spent on it.

        Politicians love to play these verbal sleights of hand to fool the stupid and unfortunately it works a lot of the time.

        Actually it's more like: if roads & railways are re owned by the state they are 'anti-competitive', 'inefficient', 'socialist dinosaurs' that get 'subsidies', money stolen by violent means from the pockets of the taxpayer (especially the rich ones). If roads & railways are privately owned they are models of efficiency that receive 'investment', spur competition even if they are monopolies and never ever charge their captive customer base unreasonable usage fees because the companies that run them ar

      • Roads receive "investment", public transport (including rail) receives "subsidy". As if a layer of tarmac is somehow going to earn money on its own if only enough were spent on it.

        That is in fact exactly what happens. The increased business activity from building a road (where it's needed) means more economic activity and thus more tax revenue for the government. The entity which builds/owns it reaps a monetary benefit from it, thus making it an investment.

        Public transport doesn't increase economic a

    • by pr0nbot ( 313417 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:23AM (#56121863)

      This is what frustrates me about the argument against nationalising the railway (here in the UK). Opponents proclaim that if the states run it, it will run at a loss, and therefore the state should not run it. But that ignores the secondary benefits - running a frequent and free train service would, for example, allow people to live further away, increasing the supply of viable housing and so easing the housing crisis in urban areas. People would save money, not just in travel costs but on things like nursery care, because they might actually be able to get home at a reasonable hour. The state might lose money on the train service but get it back from economic boosts (of people spending their extra disposable income, increased productivity as some people use their time savings to do more work) or reduced costs (e.g. the health costs of pollution, the cost of social housing when housing is scarce, etc).

      • I suspect that if you made national rail services free, then you'd see some unpleasant secondary effects. There are a lot of commuter towns around London already where no one who works there can afford to live there because salaries in London are higher and this pushes up the property prices. You might eventually reach an equilibrium where salaries everywhere reach London rates, but that would take a long time.
      • by apoc.famine ( 621563 ) <apoc.famine@gmail . c om> on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @01:12PM (#56122733) Journal

        A second frustration is the viewpoint that the government can't manage anything without massive waste and corruption. I've worked with a number of very large private businesses now, and they all were shitshows on the inside. Bureaucratic mazes of self-imposed rules, employees that should have been fired years ago, silos in departments that didn't talk to each other and screwed up trivial tasks because of it, etc., etc.

        These companies were no better than the state government agencies I've worked with, and in at least one case, were far worse. But not only were they incompetent, they also made a significant profit while being incompetent.

        Had some of these projects been run by the government, they wouldn't have been any worse, and would likely have cost less, simply because government doesn't build in a profit margin. In areas where there are natural monopolies, it makes sense to have the government run things. It's far too easy for the private sector to milk every last dime out of an essential service if there aren't adequate avenues for competition. And whereas a private company is very resistant to do anything that doesn't improve revenue, the government can be lobbied to do such civil projects, if enough people feel it's worthwhile.

        • by Whibla ( 210729 )

          A second frustration is the viewpoint that the government can't manage anything without massive waste and corruption.

          That is certainly the story that was told, and told again, in the 1970's and 1980's which led to the notion that privatisation was not only sensible but essential if the country was to succeed on the global stage. Of course the people pushing that view were also the people who profited when those industries were privatised.

          Unfortunately that viewpoint is now practically enshrined as 'common sense', and, unless you own a popular newspaper, you've got practically no chance of persuading anyone otherwise.

          Fast

    • by e r ( 2847683 )
      This is interesting and I want to believe you but I also want proof.
      Do you have any studies or numbers to back this up?
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @11:28AM (#56121921)

    Some cities such as Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, etc. are so spread out that providing reasonable public transportation, even if people are paying, is impossible. Europe has dense urban cores in their cities, and even car-centric German cities haven't spread out so much that providing transportation is a problem. A place like Dallas with zero natural boundaries has spread out to hundreds of square miles. In cities like that, public transportation isn't generally used as a way to get to work...it connects low-income housing with places of employment, hospitals and shopping areas because that's where the limited funds are best spent.

    Other US cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington are at least candidates. Metro NY has a decent regional transportation system...there are 3 commuter railroads and several suburban bus lines, and a good amount of development has grown up around the rail lines. And of course, the city itself has subways and buses. Unless they absolutely need their cars to get around during the day, or are super-wealthy and don't care about parking costs, most people who are working normal-schedule jobs take the train or bus into the city. In other cities, you'd need way more than free fares to get people out of their cars.

    Fare revenue from public transportation doesn't come anywhere close to paying for the real cost of running the system. Getting rid of it would make it even harder to run, unless everyone decided that it was a public good and should be paid for with taxes or reduced spending on roads. Also, people would have to understand that they can't externalize the cost of living on a 3-acre lot in a super-far flung suburb...making bigger roads just encourages more sprawl-based development. And that's a lifestyle change I don't think most Americans can handle.

    • The U.S. has a 'car culture', therefore investment in public transportation isn't anywhere near the same as in some other countries, therefore it's less convenient.
      I don't live in a big city like New York, so I only hear about the subway (or taking a cab) being so much cheaper and faster than owning a car.. but where I live, as you say, it's not practical. What's a 20-30 minute commute each way to/from work, would be 2 to 3 times longer by public transit. I don't have time to waste on that.
      Then there's th
  • A major reason is due to air pollution, aka taking care of your citizens health. Also known as not permitting car companies to externalize costs, i.e. having some one else cover the cost of people sickened by your product.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Germany is still the largest coal user in Europe. The mining unions are very powerful there, cars are a drop in the bucket as far as pollution, the thing is they are visible, not many people like to live next to large power plants. If Germany had not shut down there nuclear plants they would have easily met the EU mandate.

  • I saw a story that the local bus systems spends 10 bucks for every buck it gets in fares. So how far are we from free as it stands. Europe may be different but in the US the mass transit brand is pitiful except for a few cities. People already pay a significant premium to drive.

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