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Germany considers free public transport in fight to banish air pollution (thelocal.de)
290 points by keeganjw 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 192 comments



In Tallinn (Estonia) free public transport was launched on the municipality level. What's interesting, is that despite criticism that this is too expensive for the city - free transportation has actually turned out to be profitable.

This is because only residents of the city can use public transport for free. So thousands of people, who have lived there already, but were not registered as residents, now declared their residency to access free public transport—and started paying their taxes there too.


That's amazing! Estonia is such an interesting country and I'm always excited about the news I here from there.


Does that mean the countryside will now have a tax deficit since those taxes collected will now be (rightfully) counted for the city?


Am I correct to assume that the single biggest group not living at their registered home is students? Barely any other group has access to two homes, let alone be able to afford them.

Here in Austria, Vienna also has some incentitives for students to officiall change their main residence.


This does not make sense.

If the citizen (as you say) is deciding between paying taxes or buying transit tickets on a monetary basis, he or she will choose the cheapest option, and the city will lose out on revenue. On a purely financial basis making this the citizen's choice cannot be a win-win for the citizen and the city.

Besides the above argument, it is also unlikely that there is any possibility of net revenue to the city. Even if a few people irrationally decide to pay more taxes than they were paying in transit fares, and hence generate some revenue, there are presumably only a small minority of the population who make this decision. But these additional tax revenues have to cover not just what these citizens were spending on their own transit passes, but also the loss in revenue to the city from everyone else in the city not paying for transit anymore.

Certainly, it is likely that free public transport enhances the economy and generates revenue in other ways, but it does not add up in the way you have presented it.


It doesn't make sense because you don't understand how registered addresses and taxes work in the former eastern bloc. It's common for people to move to a large city and officially still be registered as living at home. Sometimes it's due to laziness, sometimes they don't want to get the paperwork to get registered at their new address, sometimes they just like having mom take care of all their paperwork/tickets/etc.

Free public transportation is incentivizing these people to register where they actually live. They aren't paying more in taxes, they've just registered as official residents of the city, so their taxes are counted as being paid in the city.


It's not just the Eastern Bloc - it's not uncommon in the US, particularly among recent college grads who move to a new state, to not get a new driver's license (which costs $), or to avoid getting new license plates on a car and summarily to avoid the higher insurance costs in that locality, etc..


With respect to auto insurance, the insurance contract is governed by the laws of the state in which the car is registered, however the rate paid is based on where the car is principally garaged. If someone is paying a lower rate by not correctly listing where they live, that is insurance fraud (albeit of the small time variety), and depending on the state can void coverage or incur other penalties.


Citizens are paying taxes anyways - in the city/province of their residency. So for the citizen - changing the residency doesn't cost anything and you get free public transport.

So this is a net positive for the city (but not for the country as a whole I guess).


I see, that does change things. Thanks for explaining that -- it is quite different than in North America, where municipal taxes are generally added on top of provincial or federal taxes. For example, many wealthy NYC residents go to great extremes to avoid the municipal tax, which they can do by spending enough time out of the city [0].

I guess to the point of Berlin, do municipal taxes work the Estonian way or the North American way in Germany?

[0] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/03/19/tax-me-if-you-...


Basically all of Germany's taxation happens at the federal level. The taxes that happen at the municipality level are largely property taxes, can't really avoid that by moving around.


That isn't true, it's about 50:50, see table 3 here: https://www.bundesfinanzministerium.de/Monatsberichte/2017/0...


That's the spending side. Tax collection happens federally. As you can see

>"Das Ländersteueraufkommen stieg im Haushaltsjahr 2016 gegenüber dem Vorjahr erneut deutlich um 9,9 % auf 22,3 Mrd."

Only 22 billion of the 600 billion euros are collected at the regional level, about half of it is spent by regional administration. Given that OP was asking about the former and specifically avoidance, how the money is spend doesn't seem that relevant.


That's remarkably different from Sweden (where the income tax varies by County and Municipality)

For example, these are the top and bottom municipalities. This is just the county + municipality take of the income tax:

http://www.scb.se/hitta-statistik/statistik-efter-amne/offen...


This is true, but there are still incentives to fake your residency. For example, you only have to pay the Rundfunkbeitrag (17,50 € per month for the public media) once per household, so students can save money by pretending to live at their parents' place. For car taxes it's usually better to be registered outside of urban areas. The government even changed the law to make faking your residency harder, now you have to register with some form that has to be signed by your landlord.


The cities/municipals do get federal money proportional to the number of peope registered there, and technically it's illegal not to register yourself when you move cities, but students still do the "I live at my parents'" thing.


Practically every city with a transit system should be giving away free rides all the time. Something along the lines of every citizen can come get a ride card that gives you 4 free rides a week on the tube or 4 free bus rides within city limits.

It accomplishes a ton:

* It gets people who cannot afford regular fares to use these services when appropriate, rather than what might be less desirable (having a friend drive them around if they are too poor, etc).

* It gets people using services they might not use otherwise. A lot of commuters would take the train once or twice just because its free. If you can get people started on using public transit, they might just keep using it.

* You can also give away free rides during low density hours, such as at night. This can help offset daytime load by getting people to do their time-flexible commutes at off hours.

Now there are a lot of tweaks on the model, like making free rides only eligible for non-peak hours. But the whole point of public transit is to increase the efficiency of people and business in the economy where it is built - it is never meant to turn a profit, and if it is profitable it is probably failing on that first premise by costing so much to use. Making it completely free all the time makes it rife for abuse unless you institute a system where riders who ride the most get the least priority. But honestly if anyone were willing to implement such a system making the transit free and just using the tax revenue of booming business to pay for the transit is a much more sensible model than trying to keep your transit system revenue neutral or even cash positive (cough, Amtrak).


Many USA transit systems have such a low farebox recovery ratio that they may even save money by getting rid of the overhead of fare collection. Cash handling is not cheap, nor is maintaining fareboxes and electronic fare collection equipment across entire fleets.

Even SF Muni which is heavily used has only a 22% farebox recovery ratio.


Isn't most fare collection automated nowadays? There's still likely to be an "info" booth at big stations for out of towners.

It's only in above ground systems where you have to have people watch against fare-beaters. But even then the tickets are mostly electronic and self-serve.


Electronic fare collection systems are municipal IT projects and, as such, not cheap.


I think parent was suggesting giving some free rides away, not getting rid of fares altogether. Getting rid of fare collection services and infrastructure does save on costs (often comparable to the amount collected, as you say), but once that's done, then demand would presumably increase and possibly outstrip supply. At which point you need to increase supply (expensive, and you're not getting anything back from it), or decrease demand (by charging people for a journey). Every transport system will have it's sweet spot, and some cities have different priorities that others.


It seems wasteful to subsidize, say, 80% of a transit system's costs with taxes, and only use fares as a means to keep it underutilized.

And in many areas of the USA, I doubt removing fares will push demand past capacity -- it's not the $100 - $200 month in fares that keeps most people in a car that may cost them $700/month or more. [1]

[1] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/total-cost-owning-car/


While I agree I want to point out that I find reliability and punctuality far more important than price when it comes to get people into public transport. Germany probably excels at both, but it not the same for other countries / cities.


As if! Deutsche Bahn is late all the time, some WWII bomb is found and the track goes through the evacuation zone, someone blocks the trains door from closing because he wants to finish smoking his cigarette, train stops on a turnout track because of course freight trains are more important, people on the rails, fallen tree after a storm, etc etc. Of course compared to other countries our trains are probably still pretty punctual, but it's still annoying when you are stuck at the station for an hour when your whole trip only takes 45 minutes otherwise.

Especially the WWII bomb thing is annoying, because they tend to find one every few weeks when there's construction near the tracks.


An hour delay is a few times a month event for Amtrak’s NEC (the best line by far) and that’s with no bombs. And the DC metro... My 26 minute subway ride regularly takes 30-35 minutes, and that’s after a year of single tracking and shutdowns to perform upgrades.


And strikes that leave you hanging at Frankfurt Airport with no option to commute at all for three days and more


It's a meme that American transit sucks. But some is very good. Seattle's light rail has been great even though it doesn't go everywhere yet. You might be surprised.


This is a fantastic idea - is there anywhere which implements this?

However, if the transit system is already at capacity at peak time, then it would need to be restricted to off peak (in lieu of building more services), as the ticketing is acting as demand management rather than revenue collection.


I'm not convinced that even with finite free rides public transit users would make rush hour worse. The people taking the tube at rush hour are usually doing it where they cannot travel at an alternate, less congested time. Those people will go for free or not, and are stuck riding at the times they do. Even with a free ride card, you would still want to avoid rush hour just to not have to wait for transit to become available.

What is interesting is that most public transit obeys the same congestion rules as roads - if you take a congested road system and add more roads, you often just end up with more cars on the roads at the same times congesting the new roads again because of all the offset load that uses transit at off hours due to congestion. For people on the roads, they are effectively "free" to use once you have the car, but people still actively decide to drive at off hours to avoid congestion. The same happens with any transit system regardless of cost - unsurprisingly, people don't want to be stuck in traffic.


Brisbane, Australia already charges peak vs off-peak rates with off-peak being 80% of the peak rate. Peak hours are 6:00am-8:30am and 3:30pm-7:00pm Monday-Friday. Non-front-facing government jobs are also generally somewhat flexible in start and end times, allowing a large portion of the government's workforce to spread out around some of those times and lessen the peak demands.


In Melbourne Australia there’s a “free tram zone” where in the centre of the city anybody can use trams to get around for free. It works pretty well, although the trams sometimes get very packed.

It’s not exactly the same idea, just a similarity from where I’m living.


> Other attempts around the world to offer citizens free travel have failed, including in US city Seattle.

Why do they not mention the large amount of cities where free public transit is working just fine (most notably Estonian capitol Tallinn)?

List: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_public_transport#List_of_...


Also many European cities subsidize public transport and it would not be possible any other way. It would be too expensive for its core demographic without subsidies and still be unprofitable.

https://www.openstarts.units.it/bitstream/10077/5892/1/vanGo...


Notice that all those cities are small. (Tallinn looks like the biggest one that makes all public transit free.)

Prices are useful in that they provide a price signal that regulates demand. If you make the price zero, people will start using it for trips that they wouldn't really need to use public transport for, because why put in the effort to walk or bike when the transit is free? The spike in ridership will force an increase in frequency, making transit even more convenient for walkers and bikers, creating a cycle of having to cater to bottomless free demand.

As far as attracting drivers goes, transit is in many cases already much cheaper than driving. Price is not the main issue keeping drivers on the roads.

Guangzhou tried free transit to reduce pollution and had to stop because it caused severe overcrowding issues. http://humantransit.org/2010/11/guangzhou-abandons-free-fare...


> If you make the price zero, people will start using it for trips that they wouldn't really need to use public transport for, because why put in the effort to walk or bike when the transit is free?

This argument doesn't hold because it already applies to all time-based passes. I have a year pass, so the marginal cost of any particular tram ride is zero. When I'm walking along a road that also happens to have a tram line, I may hop on the tram for a stop if one happens to be coming at the right moment, even if I could easily walk.


I'm not sure how Germany organizes their rail systems, but I'm guessing the rail companies profit from increased property values like in much of the world. This makes free public transport potentially workable (and even profitable) at least in the subway aspect. The US does not exercise a system like this in the vast majority of cases.

Of course, there's also the fact that if you have a well-designed system, free transport should encourage a lot more economic activity that'll pay back into the funding of the system. That's another thing many cities in the US lack.


>free transport should encourage a lot more economic activity that'll pay back into the funding of the system

Exactly!

People say you shoudln't add lanes, build more rail stops, or otherwise subsidize travel because QoS does not improve. The trains are still crowded, the highways are still backed up. It's about capacity, not QoS. If you can't make the pipe faster you can make it wider.

The system doesn't even need to be very well designed (though that's certainly a helpful) because people will automatically load balance based on personal preferences (cost vs time vs inconvenience vs whatever).


Not really, the infrastructure is state-owned and separated from the rail companies.


I'd be interested to see how they intend to make this plan successful, then. There's no other avenue for the rail to collect revenue in that case, unless its economic benefit is already a significant net profit for the government. It may be, for all I know, it allows higher population density and encourages market participation, both of which increase taxes collected.

It is hard to see how it'll really convince many people not already taking public transit to use it, though. Cars are pretty expensive to have anywhere in Europe with the price of gas and typically more discouraging laws for car ownership (not sure what they're like specifically in Germany), I can't imagine it's a large cross-section of the population that drives because it's cheaper.


Marginal cost, I would guess.

When you have a car, but you don't have a transit pass, the cost of completing a particular trip by car is (or at least appears to be) cheaper than doing so by public transit. For example, if I have to go to the city center and back by tram, the cost for two one-way tickets is € 4,60. The cost of one liter of gasoline is somewhere below € 2,00. Public transit only becomes cheaper than going by car if you use it regularly and thus purchase monthly or yearly passes.


>There's no other avenue for the rail to collect revenue in that case

They already get paid around $9 billion/year, so I guess the government would just pay more.


Much larger public subsidy than say the Uk has.


In Seattle, we had a “free ride zone” across downtown. But since virtually every route crossed the “free ride zone” and went elsewhere, it was extremely confusing to use. Also, Seattle has a huge homeless problem, so you’d end up with vagrants using the buses as rolling shelters and crowding out legitimate transit use.


Once upon a time, Austin, TX, made its Capitol Metro busses free. Ridership went way up, although there were a couple of complaints. The first was that really sketchy people starting riding the busses a lot[1]---possibly because they were heated/air conditioned---and the second was from UT Austin students, who were still paying for bus service as part of their student fees.

I never heard why they stopped, though.

[1] At one point, I was waiting at a bus stop and a man who was either on serious drugs or schizophrenic came up and started talking to me. When the bus arrived, he followed me on but didn't sit next to me while I started reading a book. A few minutes later, he started behaving even more oddly and pulled out a crack pipe. Sheriff's deputies eventually removed him because he was getting threatening.


Tallinn is not very big though compared to other European capitals, also they have form for it as it was former USSR. They never even put up barriers when you had to pay (trains would have inspectors and buses were self ticket stamping).


Few German stations have barriers. It's actually "profitable" in most cities to never buy a ticket, checks are rare. I guess German mentality helps avoiding widespread abuse (and the fact that it's a crime under German law).


Germany is the only country I ever visited where i feared the ticket inspector. I've seen them put fines. They go undercover in the metro: sometimes its just a dude sitting there suddenly takes the gadget out and yells out a control. I've had foreign friends, as tourists having to pay the fine.

In SF you can simply not pay,there is no control. In argentina, the bus driver might not start the bus if you don't pay, turning the whole bus people against you. In germany, you get a damn ticket very fast, which you can pay with credit card.

I once didnt pay the ticket and felt like Jason Bourne.


Problem is that this can get you in legal trouble after a few times. While first offender cases always get dropped, you'll get a court date if you get caught too often. I once witnessed a case where someone had to spend a short time in jail because of that. He got caught 13 times over two years (not sure how he managed that) but still appears quite harsh. The fact that Germany doesn't have massively overcrowded jails shows that most people end up paying at some point.


And get caught dodging rail fairs you will often be fired there was a high profile case of a highly paid financier in the City (uk) getting fired for this he probably wont be able to work in finance again.


Its a criminal offense not to pay a public transportation ticket?

Damn. I really was like Jason Bourne.


https://dejure.org/gesetze/StGB/265a.html

StGB means criminal law.

(1) means that using public telecommunication services (eg. public phones, maybe paid public wifi?), public transport or entering an event with the intent not to pay the fee can lead to jail up to one year or a fine, unless there's another law that mandates a bigger punishment.

(2) means that even the attempt is a crime (ie. you don't have to succeed), otherwise them catching you would make you exempt from that law (as long as you paid up).

The first few incidents can usually be settled with the fine set by the transportation authority, both to avoid too much work in the legal system and because you might legitimately forget it every now and then (and that means no intent = not criminal = they'd lose a case based on this law).

After too many occurences they'll claim that you can't forget it that often, which helps build a case in court.


I am glad to hear this is a thing. I was apprehensive about travelling to the other side of the world by myself recently and confessed to my wife I wish I could be more like Jason Bourne. "He never fumbles for his passport, misplaced his tickets, worries about losing his medication". This became a theme as I reported my progress. On one leg I sat opposite a high powered cop (I could see the files he was working on). I reported back to my wife with pride that I overtook the action man in the race to passport control, "just like Jason Bourne".


In practice, it's punished as a criminal offense only if you are a serial offender.


There are fare inspectors in SF. May not be too often but checks are happening.


Anecdotally, I see people not pay the bus almost every stop i use it. Muni is anarchy.

Not to mention that the way to pay for cash doesnt give out change, which means taht if you dont have a clipper card, you just dont pay anything at all.


> It's actually "profitable" in most cities to never buy a ticket, checks are rare.

The operators are adjusting this so that there are just enough controls to have enough payments. This is an optimization problem and they know what they are doing and how much.


I think it's not profitable. I work in Berlin and commute to work by public transport every day. You currently pay 60EUR if you get caught and I get checked at least twice a week. Repeated offenders pay more and get additional sanctions. For 60EUR you get a ticket for a month (in a yearly subscription).


Every time I visit Berlin I get my ticket checked, like clockwork.


Really depends on the city! In some my ticket was checked twice a year, in others more like twice a week.


Albeit a small data point, I've used public transport in more than a dozen of countries in Europe and saw barriers near public transports in three countries.


The big problem with barriers is that you need standardised tickets. If you want to allow a mix of local tickets and rail tickets (to allow one fare for the whole journey) it'll be close to impossible to build a barrier that works for all of those. The cities that do have barriers (e.g. London) only accept specific tickets on those lines and are large enough to run their own system.


> If you want to allow a mix of local tickets and rail tickets (to allow one fare for the whole journey) it'll be close to impossible to build a barrier that works for all of those.

Let's take Rotterdam or Amsterdam as an example. Both of these stations are closed off to non-ticket holders. You can access Dutch trains as well as international trains like Thalys to France and ICE to Germany.

Access is granted by individual tickets bought from the Dutch railway kiosks, by Dutch public transport cards, or by printed/digital QR-code tickets from any of the three rail companies. There is only one type of barrier. There are not isolated entrances for particular lines.

Maybe I misunderstand you, because what you say is close to impossible seems to work just fine in the NL.


That works because the Netherlands standardised all tickets. German ICEs and Thalys are one of the rare exceptions and have a work-around. That needs one central body organising and standardising travel across the country. Few countries operate that way.

But you're right, it's actually not impossible just unlikely to happen. And I must say I really enjoyed the Dutch system where you don't have to print paper every time.


> And I must say I really enjoyed the Dutch system where you don't have to print paper every time.

Heh, when we went Amsterdam - Berlin and vice versa we had to print our tickets. We even reserved seats. I quite like that system. One has to reserve in advance if one wants to save costs though.

The downside of the Dutch system is its easy for the government and railroad employees to check where you went. There was even a recent scandal about this, where an API was public which showed the transactions. The price of the transactions could be correlated with the cities the traveller traveled to and from.

In Germany, you have more anonymity thanks to being dependent on paying with cash and paper tickets.

Look, if, with exactly the same cost attached, people don't want that by choice... fair enough. However we don't that choice. And if you travel like 3 times a year a long trip through The Netherlands the 40% discount in down time hours is already worth it. Which is not anonymous but linked to your name. The anonymous card is a joke anyway; not my definition of anonymity that is for sure.


Don't boarding passes already work that way? If the airlines can do it I see no reason why railways couldn't.


Only when airlines cooperate with agreements. The booking numbers are only unique within a system and if you fly on several airlines it's not uncommon to have different booking numbers for each airline. Their systems are often (not always) able to print all tickets in one go but I often had to get a new ticket at a stopover because of system issues.

Airports have contracts with each airline flying anyway so they can adapt their systems. Since aviation is a for-profit business (at least in theory), there's more money to do this than for tax funded public transport.


London actually works fine. There were two public companies running railways: the national rail system, and the London system.

They designed a credit-card sized paper ticket. You can buy a ticket from any station in Britain, to a destination that requires you to change in London (e.g. Brighton), and your ticket will work to travel between the main stations in London. Or you can buy a ticket to a destination in London.

However, this does make some more novel ticket types difficult or impossible. In many other countries, you can buy tickets online and print them at home, or buy rail tickets with a smartphone. These aren't possible in Britain.


I think you can touch in and out in London with your phone now most people just use there debit or credit card as they almost all have NFC.


You can, but you can't yet travel to Birmingham (or even Reading) with that system.


Vancouver BC now has this. A standard ticket that works throughout the city on all transit. I hate it though because we used to run on a trust system with no barriers and now there is congestion at busy times due to the barriers. It also reportedly did not raise revenues much anyway.


Actually London works because the barriers are required to be manned. So if 1% of users have crazy tickets (e.g. some international through exist that are valid across London for say Birmingham to Paris) the human just glances at their ticket and lets them through.

A typical barrier in London accepts: National Rail (orange) tickets that used to be labelled "Rail Settlement Plan", Oyster (a contactless travel pass used for most public transit in London), the various contactless payment standards (for your VISA etcetera) and its own pink tickets. But a human is always there if you have something else.


Well, plans say the government is subsidizing Electric cars and Plugin-Hybrids with 4,000 Euro. Half payed by the government and the other half from car manufacturers.

They even want to expand these subsidies to small businesses and extend the amount to 8,000 Euros.

The problem indeed is that this would not help to banish air pollution, because the numbers are to low. The second thing is, that only wealthier people would benefit from these subsidies. You have to be able to afford a new car at first. And second you have to be able to afford an electric car. And even if you are the typical buy brand new cars guy, you typically drive these cars 6 to 10 years. So these subsidies might come in an unpleasent moment of your car-buying-cycle.

Free public transportation could reduce car traffic and everybody could benefit. Even poor people.


In light of this, the decision to shut down nuclear power plants by 2022, but keep the coal power plants is, err, interesting? Sure, renewable sources are increasing, but fossil fuels are still the biggest source. I wonder where the energy for electric cars will come from if they truly become popular. Keep in mind that Germany imports energy. So phasing out nuclear power, while still importing from nations running nuclear is somewhat hypocritical (e.g. France has some plants along the border).

Even in Germany, politics are politics and fears are not always rational.


> Keep in mind that Germany imports energy.

Germany imports energy. It also imports electricity sometimes. But Germany actually has a large export surplus for electricity over the last five years - even though several nuclear power plants have been closed. And the surplus is widening.

> So phasing out nuclear power, while still importing from nations running nuclear is somewhat hypocritical (e.g. France has some plants along the border).

Germany has now the largest electricity export surplus in Europe. Germany also has a large electricity export surplus with France.

The German export surplus of electricity in 2017 was 60TWH. 2016 56 TWH, 2015 57TWH. Etc.

https://www.energy-charts.de/energy.htm?source=import-export...

In money this means an export surplus in 2017 of 1.4 Billion Euro.

Renewable energy is now at 36% for electricity and Germany now for the first time has days where the whole country is powered by renewable electricity.

> e.g. France has some plants along the border

The old french nuclear power plants Germany would like to see closed.

> I wonder where the energy for electric cars will come from if they truly become popular.

Depends where you are, but I live in North Germany and it's possible to have large amount of surplus electricity in one or two decades from wind with buffers (like hydro in Norway which is then transported via HVDC lines to Germany).


> Renewable energy is now at 36% for electricity

Great, but my point still stands. Would I like more renewables? Of course! Would I prefer running the nuclear powerplants we already have instead of coal? Yes.

The surplus is great, but just illustrates the issue with renewables. I just wish we could be a bit more truthful about the surplus. Large numbers are nice, but that’s manager level detail. A surplus when you don’t need it and have no way of storing it is useless, and you end up paying people to use electrisity, which has happened. And that’s with only 36% renewable energy. This problem will get worse, not better.

I guess electric cars will be able to store some of that by charging during the day and overnight. But we’re still far away from 100% renewable without electric cars, and just because we’re not burning petrol or diesel doesn’t make electric cars environmentally friendly.


> Would I prefer running the nuclear powerplants we already have instead of coal? Yes.

I would not. But I'm for phasing out coal next.

> A surplus when you don’t need it and have no way of storing it is useless, and you end up paying people to use electrisity, which has happened.

these are rare events. As I said Germany has a surplus export not only in TWH, but also in Euro.

The large exports numbers are not because we have renewable energy we can't store, but because we have too much power plant capacity and the owners don't want to shut them down while they are making money. Thus one can export the surplus production - the power plants are already there and paid.

Also keep in mind, the old days of an energy market which is limited to a country is over. The EU is also about a EU-wide energy market. This transition is ongoing and in the future you will see more of this and you will see whole new electricity networks set up between EU member states - for example connecting all north-sea countries. These networks will also buffer demand spikes. For example upcoming HVDC lines between Norway and Germany will be able to reverse transport directions based on demand or storage priority. Stuff like that is already in the works, like this 1.4GW line between Norway and North Germany

https://www.shz.de/deutschland-welt/wirtschaft/stromkabel-no...

A second line is thought to follow somewhen in the next decade...

> have no way of storing it is useless

Storing electricity will get more important in the future. But the transition phase to 100% renewable is still more than three decades and when storage is REALLY needed might be a decade or more away.

Right now it is more important to deliver surplus energy to regions where this would be needed. But keep in mind that this is also not an infrastructure problem, but also about regions unwilling to import electricity from other regions. Regions are egoistic and they want to benefit from the electricity production without having the negative sides.

For example many regions in Germany were keen to have a nuclear power plant and were happy to profit from electricity sales, but literally not a single region could persuade their population to allow storing of nuclear waste, hosting the dirty parts of the nuclear industry (like reprocessing plants) or setting up some of the 'riskier' nuclear power plants (like breeders).


But you'll still need coal (or gas/oil) plants with quick start-up times to pick up the slack when the solar/wind won't produce enough.


Germany heavily subsidised solar power in the 200x timeframe, and was probably the driving force behind the Moore's-Law-like improvements the technology has seen.

The result is that now solar + batteries is actually cheaper than coal (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16258419).

So that seems to be among the most rational and farsighted political decisions, ever.

Nuclear power is politically impossible to sustain in Germany. It's also vastly more expensive than any other major source of power. Those are facts just as hard as any natural science. The world has moved on, and the supposedly irrational environmentalists and politicians have dramatically improved the technology, while all the science fiction enthusiasts are still fetishising nuclear power long after it has become embarrassing.


Numbers for 2015 are

82,17 TerraWattHours exported

37,12 TWH imported

91,8 TWH nuclear

187,4 TWH regenerativ energy

The main problem Germany is facing, is the storage of Energy on Sunny, Windy days. Storing this energy in car Batteries would be an extra bonus. Plus, regenerativ energy is going to increase further.

Yes, your absolutely right about the coal plants. And I am pretty sure they are going to be shut down. But the main problem is, nuclear waste will stay for millions of years, while CO2 in the atmosphere will probably vanish in centuries. Not nice but that's the decision to make.


You can check this interactive fallout map to see why it makes sense for France and Belgium to build them at their eastern border:

http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/atomkraft-diese-in...


I don't speak German so I can't check how the article got his maps, but I don't think the winds in France are mostly West-East. Also I think it's more than just sending the fallout on the other side of the border in the location of the nuclear power plants:

-close to a water source with the Rhine basin -close to where the electricity will be used (Paris and its suburbs on the West side, Germany to sell on the East side, major cities all around) -close to where heavy industry exists (both for use and production of the construction pieces) -Outside of the areas of seismic risk


Interesting map in this regard: https://www.electricitymap.org The countries with the lowest amount of CO2 almost all have nuclear power plants.


Not so fast!

This "consideration" comes with a couple grains of salt.

First the regulatory-political climate: The pronouncement was stated days ahead of a court ruling regarding what measurements communities could take to reduce air pollution, as well as weeks ahead of a decision the EU will make about how to punish countries that repeatedly miss pollution thresholds, like Germany.

That means: The government is telling communities 'behave', dare not prohibit any type of cars (diesel) from entering your cities, you may get into our "free public transport program" instead.

That it is a crude plan is exemplified by the fact, that some of the "first tier" communities in the plan didn't knew about the plan at all and first heard from it in the news, most of them were just informed days before. So far, all communities criticize the idea.

The estimated costs for Hamburg alone would amount to 800-900 million EUR/year, paid by all the rest of Germany. And then there is the problem that public transit crosses community boundaries - the crude plan though as it is, would grant citizens of one community free access to the same transit system that the neighbouring citizens would have to pay in full.

Regardless of whether free public transit makes sense at all - The fact that it is brought up in such a crude proposal and the fact that it is a progressive idea taken "hostage" by conservatives it is an idea bound to fail and to be muted a long time afterwards.


Poor idea.

1) It will have an enormous cost. TfL in London collects £5bn/yr in fare revenue. While fares are lower in Berlin and it's a less busy system, it will still probably cost €500mn/yr for Berlin alone.

2) Most people driving are not doing it because they cannot afford public transit fares. They are either wanting a more 'luxurious' environment, can't get where they are going easily on public transit, etc. I'm not convinced it would actually induce much demand on the system from car drivers.

3) It may induce a load of demand from non-car drivers, who can now do a load more trips, longer commutes, etc.

4) Most public transit systems are at peak capacity in rush hour. In London if you switched everyone who was driving to public transit you'd need to double the capacity to do so. Considering crossrail is being built for ~£20bn to increase capacity 10%, you'd probably be needing to spend hundreds of billions of euro on capacity upgrades.

Much better to actually tax the diesel cars properly for the externality cost rather than do some other policy which doesn't directly address the issue.


4 and 2 are in direct opposition. If making it free would not make a dramatic difference then they would not need to dramatically increase capacity.

As to cost, 5bn/yr for significant increases in air quality and lower personal costs as people drive less is necessarily a bad deal. Much like how public healthcare is nominally expensive, but if tax is less than insurance costs that's a net savings not a cost.

PS: Some of that 5bn/yr also goes to collecting fairs. Avoid that effort and you would see significant reductions in operating expenses.


I'm saying that people who currently don't drive cars are likely to use the service a lot more.

People who drive cars are likely to continue driving cars even if it was free.

You get worst of both worlds: loads more demand and no real reduction in driving.

Why not just tax the actual cars instead of losing 5bn/yr of revenue? If the goal is actually to reduce pollution. Stick a €5000/yr tax on bad diesel cars (and maybe transfer that money directly to a EV subsidy fund). They will vanish tomorrow.


Being free overcomes a hell of a lot of other problems when you're talking about the general public.

HN isn't nearly as price sensitive as the general public.


Without the bad diesel tax, a lot of people choose to commute to work by car because they would end up spending roughly the same as with public transport. The marginal cost of using a car for a 10km five days a week, let's say 60EUR/month, would now compete with 0EUR. For people making 1k/month this is money.


4 and 2 are not in opposition when ticket pricing is used for load distribution. Which actually happens, monthly tickets are much cheaper here if you take the option that excludes rush hour. With free tickets, that would be lost.

I'm all for allocating more tax money to transit (and I think it's pretty cool that "we"/"they" are actually consisting it), but I'm really afraid that quality would suffer a lot of tickets were abandoned. Turning businesses (even heavily subsidized businesses) into charities will absolutely change how they are run.


Money is not the only cost. If going at 5pm hypothetically takes 1h and 6pm take 5 minutes then people will wait to 6pm until this balances out.

Subway's don't operate as independent businesses. They can't raise fair prices arbitrarily and often receive far more money from the government than from their nominal customers.


> It will have an enormous cost. […] it will still probably cost €500mn/yr for Berlin alone.

That it's costly doesn't mean it ain't worth the price. Universal healthcare is costly.

Also as other commenters note, if it succeeds and lowers air pollution significantly it might save more than it costs in fines and respiratory disease treatment & lost productivity costs.

> Most people driving are not doing it because they cannot afford public transit fares. They are either wanting a more 'luxurious' environment, can't get where they are going easily on public transit, etc. I'm not convinced it would actually induce much demand on the system from car drivers.

Affordance is one thing, convenience is another. I can well afford to buy a ticket, but not having to? Not needing to plan for queuing at the vending machine for an individual ticket, or seeing my bus/train leave because I was a bit short and had to make a stop? Not suffering the hassle of finding my passcard and seeing NFC fail because it's too hot, too cold or Tuesday? Not being caged in/out of the public transport system?

That's invaluable.

Hell, just the latest is my fondest memories of Lyon's metro, not sure about now but 20 years back there were no porticos anywhere, you could walk/run from the station's entrance to the train without having to stop anywhere. Paris's gates were both less friendly and less convenient.

> 3) It may induce a load of demand from non-car drivers, who can now do a load more trips, longer commutes, etc.

Oh no, people without cars being allowed to move around, what horror.

> Most public transit systems are at peak capacity in rush hour.

People who have to take public transports during rush hours won't take it even more, and people who don't have to avoid it regardless of price. Off-peak though…

> In London

The article is about Germany, not London.

> Much better to actually tax the diesel cars properly for the externality cost rather than do some other policy which doesn't directly address the issue.

Car tax doesn't just affect cities with good public transport infrastructure. In fact it mostly affects people not in that situation.


> Also as other commenters note, if it succeeds and lowers air pollution significantly it might save more than it costs in fines and respiratory disease treatment & lost productivity costs.

I have not seen these calculations.

> Affordance is one thing, convenience is another. I can well afford to buy a ticket, but not having to? Not needing to plan for queuing at the vending machine for an individual ticket, or seeing my bus/train leave because I was a bit short and had to make a stop? Not suffering the hassle of finding my passcard and seeing NFC fail because it's too hot, too cold or Tuesday? Not being caged in/out of the public transport system?

That's all non-problems for most people. Here in Hamburg many people have month or year cards. Buying tickets via mobile phones is easy and common now. There is also no NFC involved. If I'm moving in Hamburg, I usually get a day ticket on my mobile phone - which is cheaper than two normal trip tickets. The ticket is valid for local trains, bus, ferry, ...

> bus/train leave because I was a bit short and had to make a stop

The public transport system is really really dense. If your bus leaves without you, the next one comes in a few minutes.

> 20 years back there were no porticos anywhere, you could walk/run from the station's entrance to the train without having to stop anywhere

standard in the whole of Germany.

> People who have to take public transports during rush hours won't take it even more

Sure they would. Demand would go up over much of the day, which means infrastructure investments.

> Car tax doesn't just affect cities with good public transport infrastructure.

Why not? Even German cities with extensive public transport systems have lots of car traffic.


(1) Almost impossible to say at this moment. There are so many externalities: current waste of land, time wasted in traffic jams, environmental damage, ...

(2) Partially true, I guess. However, public transport would get a lot better due to higher frequencies, etc. There will also be a lot of people who would actually enjoy time for reading (instead of traffic jams) and don’t quite understand their current costs of running a car

(3) Yes. And also demand by people who can’t afford mobility today but would love to be mobile

(4) Yes, not sure if that’s a con?

Diesel tax: Nice complement to free public transport


A lot (most?) transit systems in europe are completely at capacity at peak hours. In London and Paris they are at the physical limits of what you can do, say a train every 90 seconds. You cannot physically increase frequencies above that.

I also don't think you're doing a lot of reading in crush loaded trains, but whatever. I take the train every day but it's not like a nice relaxing intercity journey, in London rush hour it can be complete hell and is completely not productive when you have 4 people in a sqm.


You can increase frequency in London on many lines (e.g. the Northern) by resignalling, and TfL has been looking at doing so. But it ain’t cheap. See London Reconnections passim.

But the bigger wins are more active travel (by providing segregated cycle routes) and moving more Tube journeys to the shoulder peak.


> In London if you switched everyone who was driving to public transit you'd need to double the capacity to do so

I sincerely doubt that. With trains every 2-3 minutes and 500-1000 people per train, each tube line transports probably at least 2-3 people per second in each direction. The road traffic above the surface is a fraction of that. Removing all cars from the road (most of which aren't private cars anyway) during peak time would maybe increase demand by some 5-10%.

That's different for trains, obviously. To replace the M1 North of London you'd need to increase train service significantly.


> Removing all cars from the road (most of which aren't private cars anyway) during peak time would maybe increase demand by some 5-10%

Transportation demand is devious. People might travel more and further if it’s free. This could also affect where people move and to where they are willing to commute.


I don't think people spend more time than necessary on any London tube line during rush hour because it's cheap. Any extra time spent is trying to squeeze into an already packed train or waiting at barriers when the station closes due to overcrowding.

But that's still faster than taking the car, just cycling tends to be a bit faster door2door.


I don't mean that though. In Greater London (M25) 50% of journeys are by private car. For commuting to and from work transit use is a lot higher, but car usage is still 50% of all journeys.

There are so many areas really badly served in outer london by transit that cars are used a lot.


> Removing all cars from the road (most of which aren't private cars anyway) during peak time would maybe increase demand by some 5-10%.

Also, it would make buses faster and thus more attractive vs. the tube, further reducing the increase in demand on the tube.


Your nr 2 isn't a real argument. A lot of people drive because it's not _much_ cheaper than taking public transportation. If a monthly pass costs 100€, that's ~70l of gasoline, or 40km of driving 20 days a month in a car that does 8l/100km. If you're carpooling with someone, that doubles.


> Most people driving are not doing it because they cannot afford public transit fares

If New York made the subway free, I'd ride it more. Less about cost than hassle: Fishing out a Metrocard, (dropping it, picking it up); swiping; learning it's five cents short; standing in line, negotiating the machine; waiting for it to return your card while your train arrives and leaves.


This point is especially true for visitors. Each city has its own peculiarities with its subway or bus. So people typically don't make the effort and use Lyft/Uber instead.


The public transit card in the Netherlands will automatically keep itself topped up if you enable it, makes public transit basically worry-free. Unless you're low on funds, of course. There's also a version which will just send a bill to your employer at the end of the month, but IIRC that one's quite pricey in comparison.


NYC has that too: http://web.mta.info/metrocard/EasyPayXpress.htm

Highly recommend it!


At some point they do NFC off your phone. Like UK allows you to tap bank cards. Maybe phone too as it's a year since I did this last. Its a great system.


This will be resolved next year when they replace metrocard with a new system which will allow contactless payments.


Half of that seems like poor planning on your part. Can you refill your metrocard online? I can do this for public transport in Atlanta and I have done it a couple times when I visited Europe. In both cases I was able to set it up well in advance.


> Half of that seems like poor planning on your part.

Irrelevant. It's friction. More friction means more complexity and less use. Not having to plan is convenient and freeing. And leaves more headroom for planning genuinely important things.


I have to remember to fill up my gas tank to use my own car or charge my phone to use Uber. Both of these tasks require similar amount of work as reloading a public transport card online.


Not only is charging your average smartphone far easier (one wire or just dropping it onto a pad) but most people find their phone is necessary for other uses as well, so using it for Uber requires no extra work.


> I have to remember to fill up my gas tank to use my own car

By that time you're already in your car, there's friction but there's probably more friction to finding an alternative mode of transportation than to stopping at a gas station.

> or charge my phone to use Uber.

You're likely using your phone for many other things and charging it every night if not more often, you don't have to charge it exclusively for the purpose of using Uber.


And if I didn't have to remember to fill up my gas tank, my life would be better.


You're right, but in the specific example it's not much different than hopping in your car and realizing that you need gas.


Indeed, but I think it's a moot point, anyone dissuaded by the friction of using such a payment system would probably have been unable to contemplate getting out of bed in the morning due to the immense friction of preparing and eating breakfast, or the hideous friction of "getting dressed".


The competition is a rideshare. That’s tap, step out, think about other things until you’re magically at your destination. Being able to walk over, walk on, (stay alert), walk off, walk over is considerably fewer things one has to give a shit about.


Rideshare isn’t any faster than driving my self during rush hour. Public transport by rail is usually faster than any form of driving.


If drivers were required to pay a fee for every road they drove on, would you make the same argument for eliminating those fees? Shifting the cost of public transportation fully to the municipal level shifts the cost away from those that can afford it the least and more towards those with higher incomes.


The other dynamic to consider is the shift to ride sharing. Somebody who commutes in their private vehicle every day is unlikely to change to a different mode of transport, but an uber rider is more likely to switch to a different mode.

Also, increasing ridership helps to make public transit better, which actually can convince car drivers to switch. in my town, the bus comes every 30 minutes except during special events like festivals when they get a couple extra buses and it comes every 10 minutes. At a 30min frequency, i take my car or bike. at a 10 minute frequency, i take the bus. If you increase the number of riders by making transit free, that can create a political motivation to increase transit service.


Driving already has an enormous costs, billions of dollars, and millions of people dying.


In regards to 4 more than twice as many people take buses trains and the tube than drive cars for commuting. This includes everyone who commutes into the city from outside it too so capacity wouldn't need to be doubled. https://londondatastore-upload.s3.amazonaws.com/Zho%3Dttw-fl... Also not every increase of capacity costs £20bn. The northern line has increased capacity by 10% by upgrading signalling. New trains will increase it by 10% again.


Interesting that you mention London; I was there not long ago and was surprised that the bus fare is a flat 1.20, no matter where you go. That's very cheap IMO, and with a low barrier to pay for it too.


On 2), there's a much larger psychological difference between cheap and free than there is between expensive and not so expensive, so I expect it would have a larger impact that you think.


Wrong, I have a company car and use it daily, but would use public transport if free. Public transport I have to pay myself, car is paid for by the company.


This seems like such a no brainer to me that I wonder why it wasn't implemented much sooner. The biggest problem seems to be how to handle increased demand. But increasing demand is exactly the goal of this measure!


It's going to be expensive. With EU fines of a couple hundred million euro looming for missing air pollution targets and not doing enough to work towards them, spending that money is getting more attractive. + giving people stuff for free is a lot more popular than other options, e.g. temporary bans of diesel cars etc. (both with owners and the poor, poor car companies...)


I don't think that this is such a good idea, as mentioned above by others, during peak hours the trains are almost over capacity (At least in Munich where I currently live). Making them free would lead to a degraded experience for everyone.

One of the major reasons that I am not in favor is because in Pakistan ( where I am originally from) they launched a Metro Bus service a few years ago, the fare was a nominal flat rate ( ~ 15 euro-cents) for traveling as much as you can in one direction. Now although it is a great service for the people but the buses are always over crowded, and because they are incurring a loss and the government has to spend millions of dollars per year in subsidies just to keep it afloat; They have not upgraded capacity and it is really inconvenient to travel on those buses ( I remember getting sick 4-5 times a year when I regularly traveled on those buses).

A better solution would to be start banning the diesel engine, ramp up the taxes for fossil fuel based cars. And to force factories to reduce their carbon emissions.


It will only lead to overcrowding if the service is still good enough that more people than today find it worthwhile to deal with.


Before you get too excited: This is nothing more than a vague idea at the moment. No specific plans and particularly no budget for it.

I'd be extremely surprised if this becomes a real project.


There is really nothing more to say to this news report.

To give some context, Germany is currently in coalition talks for the forming of a new government and the Social Democrats(SPD) are screwed. They promised no more coalition government before the election but stepped back on that. The party voted by a hair to take up negotiations for a new coalition, during which the prime candidate(Schulz) was completely abandoned after trying to give him the post of former SPD foreign minister Gabriel. Now they face a party vote on getting involved in a new government and they fall in polls almost every week[1].

There is absolutely no substance on this topic.

[1] https://www.wahlrecht.de/umfragen/


This initiative gets a nice public discussion going with most people seemingly in favor. The best argument I’ve read against this initiative so far is that it may disadvantage rural folks. The idea is: tax money goes into urban transport hence further benefiting people in cities while giving little back to those cut off the transport networks. Personally, I believe it is the best for the environment if most people move into the cities - so I’m not convinced by that point; but still always good to know the opposite side


> The best argument I’ve read against this initiative so far is that it may disadvantage rural folks

Rural folks are already heavily subsidized in Germany, e.g. commute expenses being effectively tax free no matter the distance, very much unlike the increased rent you pay for living closer to work. If anything it would be evening things out a little.

But of course that won't keep them from shouting this down for this very reason, completely ignoring the fact that drivers would be the most immediate beneficiaries of less congested streets. If this free transit idea would ever be realized (which I doubt) it would most definitely have to be defended at constitutional court level against stubborn "not with my tax money" resistance.


The pilot is taking place in cities but the article isn’t clear on whether this might be expanded to regional rail lines as well if the pilot is successful. Many small/rural towns in Germany have rail service.


If Germany is anything like the U.S. (it might not be), the economically prosperous cities are subsidizing/propping up rural areas already.


It is not. Germany has a much higher population density, from pretty much any point within the country it's no more than 2 miles to the next village. And those tend to be larger than rural US villages, often 3,000-5,000 people. So public transport doesn't work as well in rural areas but there's generally some service for most of the population.


And these villages have a pretty nice industry.

There are many so called "Hidden Champions", which are often located in these areas. Farming and so on is not very typical for German villages. A village with 3,000 people has perhaps one to three farms employing at most 10 - 20 people.


A friend of mine just finished his PhD in Physics and is jobhunting. He's been to a lot of tiny villages in the last few weeks..


That depends on how taxes are collected. It might be true or not depending on the city.

As an example of why it can be bad, argentina has subway in Buenos Aires, and it used to be federally owned. That meant taxes from all the country paid for subway in the city.

OTOH if you have income taxes (i think they do), as a renter, you will pay a tax that goes to build a subway that makes the rent where you live higher.

My concerns of free public transportation would be that it would encourage very strange discentives. For example, a postmates company can say that all deliveries are done on public transport, which means basically the state will be subsidizing some kinds of businesses, to the detriment of others (whole sale retailers for example).

Also free transport will make people extend their commutes, because now a very long trip doesnt matter if its costly. This happens in argentina.


Instead of making it free, could they improve the speed and comfort of public transport?

I don't drive because it is cheaper, I drive because it is faster, more comfortable and more convenient (it gets me closer to where I want to be).


Agreed. I actually think it could be possible to make transit faster than driving by implementing the right infrastructure. For example, bus only lanes. I think there's still big issues with first and last mile though. One of the things that kills bus time is stopping at many stops and waits between transfers.


In Seattle the “Ride Free Zone” caused the busses to be used as makeshift homeless shelters.

This lead to a common sentiment that busses were smelly, unsafe places, and it was eventually scraped.

(Germany seems to have less of a homeless population than West Coast cities, so perhaps this won’t be an issue for them.)


So instead of fixing the problem of homelessness, Seattle decided to compromise on transportation. Is this ideological or pathological or both??


Since nobody anywhere has ever "fixed" homelessness, not really fair to criticize Seattle for not doing it.


On the contrary, when comparing the percentage of homeless people with the average income and wealth in a city, many cities in US, including San Francisco and Seattle, stand out for their striking inequality.

Many cities in other developed countries are doing much better.


That sounds to me like https://www.theonion.com/no-way-to-prevent-this-says-only-na...

Seattle has ~3x as many homeless per population than the US average. The US has ~3x as many homeless per population than Germany.

That's about one decimal magnitude of difference (at a somewhat comparable climate - San Francisco likes to claim that they have to deal with so many homeless people because of the accomodating weather)

Whatever is going on in Seattle, there's likely room to improve.


Not having a problem is not the same as having fixed a problem. Did Germany have a prior homeless problem that they fixed?


> Did Germany have a prior homeless problem that they fixed?

Do millions of displaced people after a sizable war count?


Id say they are unrelated topics. Germany does not have the homelessness issue Seattle has.


I applaud EU countries of being so considerate about pollution and climate change, be it renewable energy, pollution control by traffic and other industries. On the other hand we have my country India where in budget 2018, not much attention is given to any of these matters.


I wish India would ban two-stroke engines (phase them out, not ban them outright obviously), that would make a huuuuggeee difference in the air pollution of the large cities.


You have a good point but only stopping two-stroke engines is not going to help. Single person car driving is a big problem and cab sharing is still premature. I think these are by-products of the poor public transport. Major cities don't have fully connected subway system, inter-city public transport is even worse, be it railways (sigh!) or public buses.

Other bigger factors to pollution are industries and electricity production. Curbing pollution is not possible if country/states are not very concerned about it, be it regulating the industries, making better public transport or focusing on renewable energy. Problem is, some of the leaders are focused on politics and others care only about growth and economics. They don't even think that pollution is a real issue. And those who care and think about it, are not allowed to live and do their work!


The biggest problem in Germany is that the short-haul service is bad. My half-an-hour car commute would turn to more than an hour. With unreliable service and too few or insufficient connections (overcrowded at peak hours and too few outside). This needs to be fixed first.


Germany's a big place. Where exactly are you talking about?

My 20 minutes U-Bahn commute from Britz to Kreuzberg becomes a 35 minutes one if I ride a car. That's also assuming that finding a parking spot is instantaneous, which it isn't.


I live outside of one of the large cities. Apart from Berlin and maybe Hamburg people tend to live more in the outskirts. That's where the service is bad.

I've been in Japan last year for vacation. Public transportation was a breeze compared to Germany (5 min stepover time was no problem; try this in Germany).

Anecdotal: We returned from (another) vacation by plane and took the train back home from the airport. We had to stepover once. Not only was the first train late, but also time schedule of the catching train was at odds. When we left the train station there was (in the train!) an announcement that the train will not stop at some of the advertised stops in order to catch up with time. We had to leave the train at an earlier station and where left to sort out the problem ourselves.


> Apart from Berlin and maybe Hamburg people tend to live more in the outskirts.

That's why there are huge integrated public transport regions around the cities.

In Hamburg the public transport system reaches a metropolitan area of around 4 million people. Some 750 connections are being offered, which reach far into neighbour states.

I've been a long time user of the public transport system here and never has there been a more extensive service and a simpler handling of tickets than what we have now.

Any complaints are from a very very high level.

> We returned from (another) vacation by plane and took the train back home from the airport.

In Hamburg you drop off the plane, head to the public transport S-Bahn at the airport and in 20 minutes you are in the center of the city. The S-Bahn comes every ten minutes until 11pm and then the S-bahn is still providing public transport throughout the whole night.


I would have to agree with this. In the last few years, the terrible connection and high train prices have been "solved" by private bus companies, e.g. Flixbus et al. But light rail services outside of city centres usually suck. Japan's rail is on a whole different level though.

Also anecdotally, living in a rural area and getting a bus to school in the city was at least a 45 minute bus journey, with busses maybe every hour. Driving was 20 minutes. I had no choice, at that age I couldn't drive. But if I started working, no way I would do that. A nice side effect of this is people leave these rural-isa areas to move to cities, which increases congestion.


Simply put your commute time is artificially low, by cities designed to be cheap for driving and owning a car.

Your anecdote is fine and all, but those problems are worse if you use a car, and they are cheaper to fix in public transport since it reallyis problem in the organization and prioritization of resourcse rather than sunk costs in infrastructure and space.


Given the effects of commute time on happiness, if I wanted to make life drastically worse for as many people as possible like some sort of cartoon villain, this brand of public-transit advocacy is exactly how I'd go about it.

Artificially depressing commute time is one of the greatest accomplishments of humanity.


First, I'm a bit sad that you choose to put words in my mouth to paint my argument as evil.

Commute times go down with public transport, for all modes of transport, individually and on a population level. When you try to fit public transport after the fact on infrastructure built for personal cars, there will always be an edge for the cars, making the choice for cars easier.

In the end you have to see infrastructure for public transport and bicycles as a tool to increase network capacity. If you only prioritize cars you are making it worse for everyone and yourself because more people will use cars and your commute time is longer until you build more roads (Rinse repeat).

This is not rocket science, it has been known for a long time.


>In the end you have to see infrastructure for public transport and bicycles as a tool to increase network capacity

Prioritizing capacity at all costs makes sense in a bursting-at-the-seams megacity like New York, San Francisco, London, etc. There, sure, everyone needs to give up some convenience so that everyone else can fit. There's a point beyond which personal cars as a transportation system doesn't scale, and above that point, we need to put them down.

But much of the world doesn't live that way and doesn't want to. It's completely appropriate for smaller and slower-growth communities which have the space (i.e. away from the major cities, like parent's comment) to optimize for quality of life, mobility, detached houses, yards, etc. instead. You don't need to sacrifice everything in the name of capacity when your capacity demands are small. That doesn't mean complete car supremacy like the exurban US, but it also doesn't mean treating hours of people's lives as necessary sacrifices.


A big part of the discussion is going to hinge on what we mean with cities and slower-growth communties. Almost everyone live in areas where public transport is vital.

You have to ask yourself, generally when you leave these car utopian places, will you pass or enter areas where public transport seems to be a good idea? The answer of course depends on the definition in the first paragraph, and I'm pretty sure you overestimate the population needed for good public transport by some order of magnitude.. If those places are an important part of your life then you also need to think about public transport.


To be fair, the Shinkansen system is pretty much one-dimensional.


then again this pollution and car traffic issue isn't really that much of a problem outside of the big hubs. It's specifically city air quality that has been suffering.


I don't know how the public transportation is in Berlin or Bonn, but I remain pretty unimpressed with it in Düsseldorf. The train schedule is very unreliable; trains and cars share the same road, and the train is regularly held up by cars. It is difficult to buy a ticket because the machines on the train only take coins, do not offer guidance on which ticket to buy, and are regularly out of order. Tickets are not checked before boarding. Instead, they regularly send stealth ticket checkers into the trains and give fines to people that weren't honest or bought the wrong ticket. Many stops are not elderly/wheelchair accessible, and it would take a lot of work to update them. That said, I did move here from Japan, so I have a high expectation. If I had come from the US, I would have been pretty happy just to see that trains exist! Minus the handicap-unfriendliness; everywhere I've been in the US, the bus drivers get out and set up a ramp for wheelchair users when needed.


After living in Berlin for a month I honestly thought it was free. Never saw a fare gate and was never asked for a ticket. A wonderful system.


It's pretty embarrassing to get caught. Prepare for angry fast German, a fine and threats of jail. Probably less funny when you live there and commute regularly :D


At first I was like "a word of caution" because Germany is inbetween governments (even though they will be the same) but seeing that ministers from all three parties involved support it, there might be something in it. On the other hand, the EU as well as the German Bundesverwaltungsgericht are playing hard regarding air quality in cities.

The source I've read (http://taz.de/Regierung-erwaegt-kostenlosen-OePNV/!5481464/ ) mentions seven more ideas in the letter to the EU, only the free public transport standing out as radical. Traffic restrictions, incentives for e-mobility and upgrading pollution vehicles are others. I bet that's what is to be expected sooner or later and someone just slipped the radical idea about free public transport in to see the fallout.


Corvallis, OR is just a small (55K) wealthy college town but all our buses are free to everyone all the time.


How about offering tax breaks to companies that promote telecommuting in some fashion?


Because then everyone will promote it without any real change. Suddenly there will be more remote working policies without people using them (because their boss tells them off the record that they are not supposed to use them).


then a bunch of companies who already do telecommuting (call centers come to mind) all relocate there, causing a net impact of 0 on pollution.


Try allowing only electric cars in the city center. That should help a lot.

And electrifying buses is pretty easy and fast, comparatively speaking. Buses tend to have a shorter operational life than commuter cars and are in use a lot more and there's a lot fewer of them. Replacing tens of millions of commuter cars is a lot harder than tens of thousands of transit buses.

...of course, Germany's grid is pretty dirty since they keep building coal ("lignite", a sort of euphemistic way of saying "brown coal") infrastructure while shutting down perfectly good, clean nuclear power. But should still help.


Downtown Portland used to have free public transit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fareless_Square


Counter-intuitively, given the state of German infrastructure it seems to me they should consider doing the opposite, if it will help motivate them to actually invest in their public transport infrastructure...


well it has been shown to not have had much of an effect when practiced elsewhere. More services is a far better option than free.

example story https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/01/why-can...


Don't take this too serious. If it would stop driving bans for diesels, this government would also consider rainbow unicorns for every school kid.

(Hello downvotes? If you are not in tune with German politics: this is the same government that is in contempt of court for failing to enforce effective measurements to stop excessive pollution levels. This is not at all a sincere suggestion.)


I don't understand why you are getting downvoted either but keep in mind that complaining about downvotes is not allowed on HN.


FYI they are currently downplaying the contents of this article

https://www.thelocal.de/20180214/government-plays-down-free-...


If you want to banish air pollution then allow only electric cars. Perhaps let some basic services use combustion engines because it's cheaper. There is no "free" transportation.


Probably a great way to making money in the long run, wonder what healthcare cost for all people going sick by the environment.


OTOH, when I was using Munich's public transport daily, I always caught a cold once or twice per year. This never happened since I stopped using it regularly. And I know a few people who made the same experience.


Exactly, apparently the "ÖPNV-Immunisierung" (public transport immunization) was fake news, too. I can report the same experience for Hamburg.


I wonder what this would do to bikers. Suddenly buying a bike is more expensive than energy consuming public transportation.


Or they could just invest in clean, carbon-free nuclear power... oh wait.


one of the socialism's PROs. if done right. transport.


By how much does the income tax increase.


Is this like, a version of Unix to standardize all the version? You just end up with - another version of Unix.

So, more cars on the road (at least at first) will help with pollution?


Not really. It's not about starting a lot of public transport companies, more about expanding the existing ones. Public transport is heavily regulated in Germany, you won't find more than one provider in most cities (mostly because it's loss making).


Again, expanding a losing (low ridership?) business is unlikely to reduce total cars on the road?


It's not low ridership, it's mostly losing money due to low prices. A large group of people tends to get free transport (university students, children, the elderly, disabled people) which means that in the end, only part of those using the system actually pay. Monthly tickets are also often heavily discounted (not in all cities though).


Good to know. Still I wonder how many of those folks would have driven a car.

Don't get me wrong; public transport is a great thing. But just pasting it onto a culture of driving cars is going to fail, at least at the start.


If you take it to the extreme and stop externalizing the environmental cost of transportation, how do people reach schools and hospitals?




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