The potential measures come as a response to the threat of legal action from the EU over the fact that German air quality still does not meet EU-prescribed standards.
News that Germany is considering such a dramatic change in public transport policy comes from a leaked letter sent by three government ministries to the EU. The letter, seen by the German Press Agency (DPA), states that the intended consequence of making transport free at the point of use is that it would reduce the number of cars on the roads of German cities.
No German city currently offers free public transport. The proposal foresees that the federal government would support local governments financially if they were to take it upon themselves to offer free public transport.
The leaked proposal was met with immediate criticism from the Association of Transport Companies (VDV), which pointed out that transport companies currently generate around half of their turnover through ticket sales.
“We are very sceptical about this plan,” a spokeswoman said. “In the end, the taxpayer will have to finance it.”
The spokeswoman noted that the companies would also need to buy new buses and trains and also hire new staff to cope with the predicted spike in demand.
The letter was sent jointly by the environment and transport ministries and the Chancellery. All three government offices made no initial comment on the leak.
Also contained in the letter were various other proposals for improving Germany’s air quality. It specifically referenced a billion-euro programme to improve air quality in German cities, which has already been approved.
The letter further states that the federal government will support cities in efforts to introduce transport rules which would reduce emissions, for example banning heavy vehicles from city centres.
Rules would be tested in five “model cities” – Bonn, Essen, Herrenberg (Baden-Württemberg), Reutlingen und Mannheim.
The European Commission considers Germany’s current measures against pollution in city centres to be inadequate. It will decide upon a possible legal case against Germany in March.
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