Free public transport to cut city pollution

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German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt and chancellery chief Peter Altmaier drafted the letter originally sent to EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella, outlining the government's consideration of free public transport in cities dealing with high levels of air pollution.

In what has been described a radical move for Germany, several cities across the country will trial free public transportation services in an effort to reduce auto usage and related pollution.

"We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars", three ministers wrote in a letter to European Union environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in Brussels.

Germany wants to test free public transport offers across five cities in western Germany including Bonn, Essen, and Manheim before the end of this year, with a view to expanding the policy nationwide in future, a letter yesterday from several ministers to the EU Commission reveals.

On top of ticketless travel, other steps proposed Tuesday include further restrictions on emissions from vehicle fleets like buses and taxis, low-emissions zones, or support for car-sharing schemes.

The plan is as urgent as ever, as Germany and eight other European Union countries including France, Spain, and Italy failed to meet a January 30 deadline limiting nitrogen dioxide and fine particles.

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German authorities face legal action because of air quality problems in cities.

Public transport is highly popular in Germany, with the number of journeys increasing regularly over the past 20 years to reach 10.3 billion in 2017.

Titans like BMW, Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler, or the world's biggest carmaker Volkswagen agreed to pay some 250 million euros into a billion-euro fund to upgrade local transport.

But Bonn Mayor Ashok Sridharan, who was informed about the government's plans over the weekend, said he was happy his city was selected as one of the "lead cities". 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.

It's unclear how a country-wide rule for free public transit would pan out in Germany.

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