Rhein on Energy and Climate

Everywhere on earth metropolitan areas suffer from growing congestion. The situation is bound to become worse, especially in emerging countries, as everybody wants to have a car.

More individual traffic cannot be the answer, not the electric car, not even car-sharing. Cities have only one solution: extend their public transport systems, make them faster and more frequent, while at the same time inhibiting individual transport.

Brussels is an example of flawed policies during the 1960-80s, when those in charge believed that it would be possible to expand population far beyond the city limits and rely on cars as the major means transport. The result: in 2011 only one third of the daily commuters to Brussels used public transport! It is only slowly that those in charge attempt to correct earlier mistakes and catch up with Berlin, Hamburg, Munich or Frankfurt and their exemplary electric train + subway connections up to 60 km from the city centre.

Encouraging public transport in European cities is crucial for clean air on the one hand and lower C02 emissions on the other. Individual transport in cities is the most polluting form of traffic. It consumes easily three times as much energy as public transport. Though all this is well-known to policy makers, little action has been taken, and almost none at EU level, municipalities falling under strict subsidiarity!

Still, the EU should facilitate the transition from individual to public traffic in Europe’s major cities by

  • producing a green paper on urban traffic and green house gas emissions;
  • regularly bringing together mayors from major cities for an exchange of experience on how to cope with rising numbers of commuters;
  • making available more funding from structural funds and EIB for co-financing the necessary subway, train and tram investments;
  • announcing stricter EU regulations for C02 and hazardous emissions from cars.
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  1. The problem in France is that – outside of Paris – the main conurbations spent a large amount of money in the 70s and 80s building huge car parks in the centre of their cities. Thse were often – at huge expense – hidden underground or lofted into multi-storey montrosities. Now, when it is becoming clear that no one wants cars in the city centre, these car parks continue to suck in cars and traffic exactly where they are not wanted.
    As debts were incurred in their construction, municipalities are loath to close them down and lose valuable revenue. The only sustainable solution is to keep them for inner-city inhabitants to park in, clear the streets of parked or moving vehicles, and prohibit all but service/delivery vans from the centre.
    Yes, this needs concomitant investment in public transport.

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