Move Green: strategic measures for urban transport planning

03. Juni 2008 zur Übersicht

Address to the conference of the European Platform on Mobility Management (EPOMM) on June 6-7, 2008 in London

Ladies and Gentlemen,

thank you very much for getting the floor today.

I came here with fresh impressions from the debate and the vote on the Green Paper on Urban Transport in the European Parliament's Transport committee last week - a rather disappointing experience since my fellow colleagues in the Parliament seemed to be too afraid to set up an eager but also helpful framework to tackle transport problems in cities. I am convinced that amongst you the awareness for necessary solutions concerning congestions, use of space or safety issues is significantly higher. I am therefore looking forward to an interesting exchange of views.

In my opening remarks I would like to tie in with a subject that in the last year has preoccupied politics, the economy and society like no other: climate change. Many studies - starting with the Stern report in autumn 2006 - have been published, many shocking news have alarmed politics. But despite all new awareness and all declarations of good intent I fear that still too little action is undertaken.

A growing cause of this change is transport, which, in the European Union, now accounts for almost 30% of CO2 emissions - and growing - which are harmful to the climate. Other sectors on the opposite have managed a CO2 reduction of 10%. Cities and urban areas play a significant role in this respect. They are a major part of the problem since they are the source of 40 per cent of all CO2 emissions and 70 per cent of all climate damaging emissions. It is therefore a necessity to start with urban transport - not only to improve life quality, to reduce congestions, pollution and noise, but also to tackle the overall problem of climate change.

I would like to mention just a few aspects of what should be the guidelines for a sustainable urban transport planning - partly based on experience I got in my hometown Berlin.

First: Lower priority for motor traffic

Car traffic accounts for 15 per cent of all EU emissions and remains one of the few sectors whose emissions keep rising. Above all, technical efficiency is needed, but it still is not enough. We need a change in our lifestyle - away from car use and towards mobility by foot, bike, bus and train. This is the challenge in urban transport planning. This is where new intermodal mobility strategies come into play. The prerequisite for an intermodal transport system is a well-developed public transport network as the backbone of the system, which is then supplemented by individual mobility facilities such as car sharing and bicycle hire.

Congestions charges as in London or Stockholm can give a clear incentive to change from car to public transport.

Berlin has a very extensive road network, which means that apart from a few exceptions to create access to new residential and industrial areas, there should be no further building of new roads. Nonetheless Berlin is currently constructing a motorway that has been designed 50 years ago - showing that little has been learnt. Automobile transport must be reduced, and one of the methods must be to introduce car parking charges equivalent to the prices of tickets in public transport. The public transport ticket in Berlin costs 2.10 euros, but parking is largely free of charge. In just a few areas, some 50 Eurocents must be paid for half an hour of parking. Therefore it is necessary to increase the parking areas and the price.

Second: we need a well-developed public transport system

To get car users off the streets, public transport has to operate regularly, safe, clean and affordable. It is in fact necessary to reduce the fares and to introduce attractive intervals and an all-night subway service like in New York, where the trains operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When public transport was dominant in Berlin before the Second World War, the Berlin transport company BVG operated at a profit. That was still true between 1945 and 1948 even though the war damage had to be repaired. Future-oriented transport policy therefore needs to concentrate first and foremost on increasing the number of passengers.

By contrast with this experience, however, the number of passengers has been reduced by 25% over the last ten years because the Berlin public transport company (BVG) has doubled its ticket prices, while at the same time the services offered have become worse because of greater time intervals, time limitations etc.

Third: Cycling must be promoted

A cheap and highly efficient approach lies in the promotion of cycling and walking. Half of all car journeys in the EU are shorter than five kilometres, whilst 10% are even less than one kilometre. Many of these journeys could be made by bike or even on foot. If only 30% of car journeys of less than five kilometres were made by bicycle instead, the volume of CO2 emissions generated by road traffic would be cut by four per cent in Germany, for example. By the way, this would be exactly the volume still missing for Germany to reach its Kyoto target.

Today 12% of Berlin's citizens travel by bike - while 10 years ago, it was only 6%. German towns which have been encouraging cycling for a longer period, such as Erlangen and Freiburg, reach more than 30%, Groningen in the Netherlands or Copenhagen in Denmark even reach 50%.

The decentral urban structure in Berlin without any major uphill stretches is ideal for cycling. Much could be achieved here with a low level of investment. Even the Senate wants to increase the cycling ratio to 25%. In Berlin 90 % of all the houses are situated only five minutes by bike to the next urban railway or underground station. Five years ago it was made possible to take your bike also on trams, underground, S-Bahn and trains at all times. A great progress for bike & ride to school and to work. I consider the e-bike a very good innovation since it gives elderly people the chance to use this mode of transport; furthermore it comes in handy in mountainous regions.

Four: the connection of residential areas and transport junctions to the tram network

The wrong decisions arising from the planning of a city suitable for automobiles, i.e. the decision to build large residential areas without a rail connection, must be corrected.

Similarly, the major transport junctions of railways, subways and buses must be linked to the tram network as quickly as possible. It is a terrible thing that, in spite of all good intentions, a residential area for 15,000 people has been built in the north-east of Berlin without creating the necessary public transport infrastructure. Another example is the Märkisches Viertel in the northern part which was built for 50,000 people 40 years ago. Until now the only mode of public transport is the bus. After the reunification, the tram of another district which was in former East Berlin suddenly became available for the local residents. But in the last 20 years the senate of Berlin has not been able to extend the tram line in this area and connect it to the nearest underground station less than one kilometre away.

Five: Priority for bus and tram on the existing roads, the way they are

The bus and tram must be given priority on the existing roads. The synchronized traffic lights for automobiles must be subordinated to synchronized traffic lights for bus and tram.

In Berlin, most of the tramlines spend 20% of its travelling time waiting at red lights. If the traffic lights were synchronized for all the trams in Berlin, as they already are in Zurich and Cologne, the operating costs could be reduced by 20% for a better level of service.

The same also applies to buses, which today have their own lanes on a route length of only 100 kilometres, and that only at certain times usually. It is necessary to create a bus lane network of 400 kilometres. That is not only attractive for the passengers because they would then reach their destinations sooner, it is also financially attractive: The public transport company estimates the annual savings at 250,000 dollars per kilometre of bus lanes. It also benefits bicycles and taxis, which are entitled to use the bus lanes - but - and I think that this is important for London - motor bikes are not allowed on the bus lanes. And that is good!

Six: Achieving the greatest efficiency with the least effort

Future-oriented transport policy can only be directed towards what is financially feasible, not what is merely desirable. It is better to build 100 kilometres of tram routes instead of 5 kilometres of subway. If we want to achieve a turnabout in transport policy in the foreseeable future, we must therefore change direction and switch the lights to green for a renaissance of the tram system like in Paris or Los Angeles.

For Berlin an underground system for further public transport routes is a wrong decision - although this is actually planned in the development plan for Berlin. It is unreasonable because it costs too much and takes too long.

The tram is an extremely flexible means of transport which can travel at walking speed through pedestrian areas, and which is almost as fast as the subway and urban railway in outlying districts. Because of the shorter distance between the stops and the shorter walks to and from platforms, the travelling time from door to door is rarely longer than with the subway or urban railway. That may be different for long distances, but within the city, the most trips are less than 5 kilometres. The investment costs for the tram, at 10 million dollars per kilometre, are only one twentieth of the subway construction costs, which have risen to 200 million dollars per kilometre in Berlin.

Tram operating costs are only half the cost level for subway or for bus routes with medium to large passenger volumes - and that is a saving which applies every year. The capacity of the tram is 20,000 persons per hour. This is slightly below that of the subway and urban railway. But it is twenty times the capacity of a lane of automobile traffic, which can handle just 800 automobiles per hour. With an average of 1.1 persons per automobile, that represents only 900 persons per hour.

What can the EU contribute in the context of urban transport planning? I think that subsidiarity remains a key prerequisite. However, we don't need to reinvent the wheel. Experiences from different cities should be collected and offered as a toolbox to tackle urban problems. Unfortunately the Green Paper of the EU commission as well as the Parliament's response so far have missed the opportunity to create such a framework.

Thank you for your attention!