Germany considers plan for free public transport to reduce pollution

Germany considers plan for free public transport to reduce pollution

"We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars", three ministers including the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, wrote to the European Union environment commissioner Karmenu Vella, according to the AFP.

Germany is juggling several efforts to curb its air pollution and carbon emissions.

'Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany'.

The letter, which was seen by AFP, details that the proposal will be tested "by end of year at the latest" across five different German cities, including the former German capital Bonn.

The measure is just one of a series - including incentives to switch to electric cars and the introduction of low-emission zones - recommended in a letter sent from German ministers to EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

Pollution which can be life-threatening affects more than 130 cities in Europe, according to the European Union commission. To make matters worse, the Commission reports that some 400,000 Europeans die prematurely due to air pollution, costing the worldwide union €20bn euros ($24.7bn) on healthcare.

Countries that fail to keep to EU limits could face legal action at the European court of justice, the EU's highest tribunal, which can levy fines on member states.

Last year, Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW announced a €500 million ($593 million) plan to upgrade more than 5 million newer diesel cars in Germany and offer trade-in rebates on older models. Numerous towns rely on their public transportation to bring in additional revenue that could go away if the federal government only subsidizes the operational cost. But it could also overburden public transport networks in major cities such as Berlin, Hamburg or Munich that are already bustling during rush hours. In Berlin, a single ticket on public transportation costs about $3.50, while a similar one-way trip costs $6.80 in London. When Paris was plagued by thick smog in 2014, authorities responded with an unprecedented idea - banning half of all cars and making public transport free.

The head of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities said Wednesday "the communities and public transportation services can not pay for that".

"The conclusion would be clear: more carriages, more personnel, and maybe even more tracks and lines would be needed".

"Ministers should think again during a ride on the U6 underground line in Berlin at 7.30 am", Die Welt newspaper said. "Where would the billions for that come from?"