Cities cannot manage public transport themselves

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Eckart Würzner, Mayor of Heidelberg, gestures during a conversation. © Uwe Anspach / dpa / Archive

Private transport is a major source of C02 emissions in cities. For climate protection, it would make sense for drivers to switch to public buses and trains. The city of Heidelberg wants to entice them with free offers.

Heidelberg – Heidelberg Mayor Eckart Würzner (independent) wants to make the federal government more accountable in its efforts to achieve more climate-friendly mobility. Municipalities should not be left with the costs of renovating local public transport, which is so important for traffic reversal. “Cities have huge existing pathways that need to be preserved, renovated, modernized and made barrier-free, but there is no longer federal funding for the huge costs involved,” Würzner complained. Municipalities cannot do it alone. It also supports significantly reduced rates.

The new stops would still be co-financed, said Würzner, who is the first vice president of the German Association of Cities, Markus Lewe (Münster), the German news agency. But that doesn’t apply to the aging streets there. The new federal government needs to shift its funding focus from participating in new routes, for which the federal government contributes up to 70 percent, to upgrading existing tram tracks. “There has to be a quick rethink, as some municipalities are dismantling infrastructure due to lack of funds for maintenance.” According to the state Ministry of Transport, such programs already exist.

According to Würzner, it is not only the substance of public transport that needs to be improved, but also the price structure. “Local transport must be cheaper.” An annual student pass of € 550 is a heavy burden for some parents, especially if they have two or more school-age children, years of free use of buses and trains for all.

“I think it’s affordable,” Würzner said. The twin city of Montpellier proved this. On this point, the 60-year-old geographer and the Greens, being the strongest faction in the city council, disagree. The faction does not want to promote public transport with the watering can. “We can’t afford it,” said their boss Derek Cofie-Nunoo. First of all, the offer of public transport must be improved to then make the transition from car to more ecological alternatives attractive for more people. Würzner retorts: “Anyone who still carries this idea as a monstrance ahead of them will never make local public transport more attractive.”

A project with free rides on four Saturdays (March 26 and April 2, 9 and 16) is currently underway, which has been postponed from autumn last year to this spring. Already on the first day, the city registered ten percent more passengers than usual.

According to Würzner, Heidelberg has an extremely good starting position with an urban “modal division”, i.e. the allocation of routes to different means of transport, of 80 percent of all routes traveled by bicycle, train, tram or on foot and the 20 percent in the car. The percentage of environmentally friendly mobility would be improved with the development of traffic light-free high-speed cycle paths through the entire city. “Transportation must be fast and comfortable for people.” To achieve this, transport options should be intelligently linked, for example through parking and running, bicycle parking or car sharing offers at train stations. Würzner summed up: “Then everything becomes attractive.” dpa

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