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Climate Tickets: Convincing People to Use Public Transport is More Complex Than Just Cutting Costs

Public transport is one of the lowest carbon ways to travel but encouraging people to use it isn’t always easy.

Climate tickets have become a hot topic in Europe. With rising cost of living and ongoing concerns about carbon emissions, these national public transport passes have been popular with the public. 

But there are mixed messages on just how effective different schemes to encourage people to take trains and buses have been. 

From the Deutschlandticket – touted as “one of the best ideas” the German government has ever had – to Austria’s Klimaticket, politicians have backed these affordable long-term tickets as a way of tackling the climate crisis. 

Inaccessibility, overcrowding and sparse public transport networks, however, have proved problematic. 

Transport accounts for a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions and around 70 per cent of all oil, meaning shifting away from air and car travel is crucial to climate policies. 

So what are some of the most effective ways to get people to ditch cars and planes?

    Where in Europe has the cheapest and most accessible public transport?

    In May, a Greenpeace report revealed the state of public transport across 30 European countries.

    Nations were ranked based on four criteria: the simplicity of their ticketing systems, affordability of long-term tickets, discounts for socially disadvantaged groups and VAT rates. The report also looked at individual capital cities, rating them based on the same categories.

    Each capital and country was assigned a score out of a possible 100 points.

    Luxembourg, Malta, Austria, Germany, Cyprus and Spain came out on top with high scores for easy-to-use tickets and discounts. Tallinn in Estonia, Luxembourg and Valletta in Malta came in the first three spots for the city ranking.

    Austria had one of the cheapest and most accessible public transport networks.JOE KLAMAR / AFP

    Greece, Croatia and Bulgaria were at the bottom of the country list with Bulgaria scoring no points in any of the four categories.

    When it comes to individual cities, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, London in the UK and Dublin in Ireland scored the worst for cost and accessibility.

    Currently, the cities with the cheapest monthly or annual tickets are Prague, Bratislava, Rome and Vienna. In these places, the cost is around €0.85 or less per day after the price level adjustment.

    The most expensive cities in Europe were London, Dublin, Paris and Amsterdam. Tickets here will cost you more than €2.25 per day.

    How effective are Europe’s climate tickets?

    Several progressive countries and cities have set a Europe-wide trend towards climate tickets.

    “Our definition of a climate ticket is a public transport ticket which is valid for all or most means of public transport…for a certain period,” Herwig Schuster, transport expert for Greenpeace’s Mobility for All campaign explains.

    Three of the 30 countries – Austria, Hungary and Germany – have so far introduced these relatively affordable tickets that can be used nationwide.

    “I think the only model that is quite close to our [recommendation] is the Austrian model because the Austrian climate ticket covers all means of transport. So you can use the pass in the countryside as well as on the underground in Vienna,” says Schuster.

    Greenpeace is calling for all European countries that haven’t yet reduced the cost of public transport to introduce a climate ticket. 

    But those that have already introduced these kinds of passes also need to improve them.

    The analysis shows the ideal ‘climate ticket’ doesn’t yet exist in Europe. Schuster says that while the Austrian model is good, it is too expensive. The Deutschlandticket is cheaper but it isn’t valid on some city transport networks.

    Recent reports have also questioned just how effective Germany’s country-wide transport scheme is. 

    IMAGO/aal.photo via Reuters Connect
    Recent reports have questioned how effective Germany’s climate ticket really is.IMAGO/aal.photo via Reuters Connect

    A forecast by the Federal Environment Agency, published alongside a report from the German Council of Experts on Climate Change, suggests that the Deutschlandticket does little to cut emissions. 

    It says that calculations from the Transport Ministry of a 22.6 million tonne reduction by 2030 “appear overestimated”. The report predicts a figure of around 4.2 million tonnes is more likely. 

    So what is the problem with the €49 ticket? Infrastructure is the simple answer. 

    More people using public transport without improving capacity leads to overcrowding. The prospect of an uncomfortable journey does nothing to make people ditch their cars.

    And, for a large proportion of Germany’s roughly 83 million inhabitants, regular public transport services aren’t a reality. 

    Think tank Agora Verkehrswende estimates that around 27 million people “either have no connection to public transport in their area or only a few times a day”. 

    It shows that, even if costs are cut and ticketing made simpler, rail and bus services need to improve in order for people to want to use them. 

    Can free public transport convince people not to use their cars?

    “We don’t explicitly advocate for free transport,” says Herwig Schuster, transport expert for Greenpeace’s Mobility for All campaign.

    “We always say that transport should be affordable but not free. It’s okay if this is done in Luxembourg which is a super rich country.”

    Tallinn was one of the first cities to make public transport free for residents in 2013 and it has led to a 1.2 per cent increase in demand since it was introduced. Luxembourg was then the first European country to make tickets free for commuters and foreign tourists alike. It has failed to encourage people to switch away from cars, however.

    Greenpeace notes that this is probably because more than 200,000 people commute in and out of Luxembourg meaning they’d still need to buy a ticket for a neighbouring country.

    “People typically go from Germany to Luxembourg, from Belgium to Luxembourg and still use the car because it’s not really helpful if they don’t pay for the Luxembourg section,” Schuster says.

    People board a tramway in Luxembourg as the country inaugurated its free public transports policy on February 29, 2020.JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN / AFP

    Improvement in services is hard without income from tickets

    According to Herald Ruijters, director of DG Move, the European Commission body responsible for transport in the EU, there is no such thing as free public transport. 

    “Free public transport in the end is a discussion about budgets and who is bearing the cost,” he told Euronews Green earlier this year. 

    Even if it might be a popular idea to have free-of-charge public transport, he explained, someone has to bear the cost in the end either through taxation or public subsidies. That includes the essential budget to maintain services and invest in expansion. 

    “I don’t think it is a real solution. There is no free lunch,” Ruijters added. 

    What will encourage more people to use public transport?

    Greenpeace says reducing the cost of public transport is still one of the “easiest and quickest” ways to shift people from cars to trains and buses. 

    The cost of public transport must be lower than that of running a car and worth the price or people won’t use it. The easiest and fairest solution for most countries is to aim for somewhere around €1 a day. 

    Though funding is an issue, there is “huge potential”, to shift money from fossil fuel subsidies or introduce taxes on airline tickets and kerosene to pay for the reduced ticket prices, Schuster adds. 

    One of the easiest ways to cut the cost would be removing VAT, with some Eastern European countries having rates as high as 20 per cent.

    “Over a couple of years, I think all governments could be able to introduce that kind of fair pricing.”

    Making systems easier to navigate with simple ticketing systems is also important. Schuster says that electronic cards that can be used everywhere – like those in the Netherlands – are a good solution. Especially when compared to Bulgaria where you might need several tickets for a bus or to change trains.

    Combining low cost, good infrastructure and a simple-to-understand ticketing system could be the best way to encourage more people to use public transport.

    Source : Euro News