Car-free: children play on a temporary play street in berlin
Photo: jorg carstensen / dpa
In denzlingen near freiburg, they want to be faster than the rest of the republic. By 2035, the 13.600-inhabitant municipality to be climate-neutral, as decided by the municipal council in april. While a conspicuous number of solar systems have already been installed on roofs, it is traffic that is causing the most concern – as is the case almost everywhere in germany. The town stretches along the main road, and many of its inhabitants use their cars for their daily journeys.
Instead of arguing about bans and price increases, mayor markus hollemann tries the opposite to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads. Anyone who deregisters their car and undertakes not to buy a new one for the next three years will receive a one-off grant of 500 euros to pay for an annual ticket for local public transport, which costs 630 euros, or for the purchase of an e-bike.
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The municipality could now become a role model for the metropolises, because there, too, things are moving in the other direction, contrary to all traffic policy goals. The number of cars is not decreasing, but increasing.
rush for used cars in particular
"the often claimed trend ‘away from the car’ is not discernible," says industry expert ferdinand dudenhoffer, who has just presented a new analysis: according to this, there are more cars parked and driving than in the previous year in 22 of the 25 cities studied, for example in berlin, leipzig, hannover, dortmund and bochum.
During the pandemic, the problem got worse. When fear of the virus reached its first peak, the rush for used cars began. Buses and trains ran empty across the country, car dealers did good business. Suddenly, even city dwellers who previously got by without a car wanted a vehicle just for themselves – better safe than sorry.
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By around 500.during the corona crisis last year, the number of cars on the road in germany increased by around 1,000, although initially far fewer new cars came off the production line than usual – due to factories that had been shut down in the meantime and to the shortage of chips. Although pop-up cycle paths and the bike boom have brought about a change in traffic patterns, at least in the cities, the glut of cars is threatening to set them back by years.
Pandemic and premiums stop the departure from the car
Older burners were especially popular with the converts. the average age of registered cars climbed from 9.6 to 9.8 years, according to data from the federal motor Transport authority. In addition, for example, 126.000 vehicles older than 30 years, a pandemic increase of almost 15 percent. Many of them are thirsty for fuel and emit above-average levels of pollutants and emissions.
The organization changing cities, which campaigns for a traffic turnaround, is therefore now promoting a car abolition premium of 1100 euros – per year. In Berlin, for example, the premium is equivalent to the price of an annual public transport pass for the city and surrounding area.
The money is to be given to those who permanently part with their own vehicle or who already do not have one. This could also appeal to people "who are less interested in climate protection but would rather do without their own car for cost reasons. Extrapolated for the capital alone, the costs add up to around one billion euros per year.
Cities on the brink of collapse
"to meet climate targets and make cities livable again, we need to significantly reduce the number of cars on the road and cut them in half within ten years," says kerstin stark of changing cities. It’s also a signal before the federal elections. "the debate during the election campaign, for example about fuel prices, is unnecessarily hardening the battle lines."
More cars instead of fewer – bringing the traffic system closer to collapse, especially in cities. The most important resource in metropolitan areas is becoming even scarcer: public space. Most municipalities are a long way from effective "parking space management," as experts call the pricing of (parking) spaces. Residents’ parking permits sometimes cost less per year than a vegetable stand at the weekly market per day.
Bumper to bumper: cars and delivery trucks jostle for space on berlin’s kaiserdam.
Photo: michael kappeler / dpa
premiums to control consumption patterns have been around for a long time in the transport sector, but they mostly stimulate car sales. First it was the scrappage premium that replaced old vehicles with new ones after the financial crisis, now the electric car premium is helping to say goodbye to the combustion car. Up to 6,000 euros are added by the state for new cars that do not exceed 40.000 euros.
While this supports the switch to electromobility. However, the incentive does not solve other traffic problems – rather the opposite is true. "replacing a car with one that takes up just as much space doesn’t get us anywhere at all in cities," says stark. The annual anti-car premium should also serve to boost the bicycle industry and new mobility services. Not only the quantity, but also the size of the vehicles continues to increase. The premium is to be paid to all those who do without a car for a year, financed, for example, by a federal government fund that municipalities can access.
More space for bike paths, restaurants and playgrounds
For those who are already thinking about getting rid of their car because they only need it for vacation trips, this is another thought-provoking idea. The advocates hope that the "car-free streets" could be used to create more space for social encounters, safe bike paths, restaurants and housing.
michael muller-gornert, transport policy spokesman for the environmental association VCD, has a reserved reaction to the proposal. For him, it is "not yet clear whether such premiums are the right approach to eliminating cars. "It seems to me as if the second step is being taken before the first." the first step would be to invest in alternatives to the car, for example in an efficient local transport system beyond the metropolitan areas. the money, "which is not exactly abundant after the pandemic", should first be invested in buses and trains as well as in the bicycle infrastructure.
The traffic expert also fears deadweight losses, especially in the initial phase. "i live in the city center, don’t have a car anyway and get a job ticket paid by my employer. The premium according to the changing cities model would then be on top of that. But if you live on the outskirts of town and have no alternative to a car, such a financial incentive is of no use," says muller-gornert. First of all, the financial and political framework would have to be created to enable environmentally friendly mobility for all. The VCD is calling for a federal mobility law to address this issue.
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Changing cities has already priced in deadweight loss – and doesn’t see it as a real problem. After all, contrary to all environmental claims, car traffic is subsidized to the tune of billions – in the form of free parking spaces, the diesel tax privilege and the tax deductibility of overpowered company cars. "the free-road premium rewards those who do away with their own car or continue not to buy one," says kerstin stark.
The idea already seems to be catching on in denzlingen in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. "although we haven’t advertised the program yet, dozens of drivers have already deregistered their vehicles in recent weeks," says climate protection coordinator lena hartmann-kist. Often people would think about it for a long time, for example to give away their second car.
The financial incentive would then be the impetus not to wait any longer. In addition, the municipality finances subsidies for registration with carsharing providers or the purchase of cargo bikes. "the premiums are a small piece in the puzzle of our future mobility concept," says hartmann-kist, "but the popularity shows us how big the signal effect is."