"Transport and Urban Planning: Greens in Big Cities"

10. November 2005 zur Übersicht

Konferenz zu Energie, Klima und Verkehr der europäischen Grünen-Fraktion, London

Ladies and gentlemen, dear Friends,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about the biggest city in Germany, about "The Development of Transport Policy in Berlin since the Fall of the Wall".

Before talking about Berlin, I would like to say a few words on the current situation as regards ‘Climate Change and Transport’.

Katrina, Rita and Wilma are not the latest trendy names for girls in 2005 but three natural disasters which devastated the coastlines of south-east Asia and the United States of America. Because in the past environmental protection measures costing millions were regarded as luxuries, billions will not have to be found. As far as preventing a climate change catastrophe is concerned, the doomsday clock now points to five minutes past midnight rather than five minutes to midnight!

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the EU pledged to cut its CO2 emissions by at least 8% by 2012. This includes the new Member States which joined the Union last year. Since the transport sector is the second biggest producer of greenhouse gases after industry, accounting for almost 30% of emissions, the EU will only be able to fulfil its commitments if there is a radical change in transport policy, with urban transport policy playing a central role in this regard. However, quite apart from this there are three other reasons to leave the beaten tarmac tracks of transport policy and find new ways - railways:

- The ever-increasing cost of oil

The campaign ‘weg vom Öl’ (away from oil) launched by the German Greens some years ago is now more pertinent than ever. Unlike before, nobody now disputes the need for this. In recent years, we have seen a veritable explosion in oil prices (from just under 20 US dollars per barrel ten years ago to 70 US dollars per barrel now, an increase of 350%). And these prices do not represent the real cost by a long shot. We will have to get used to the fact that dumping prices are a thing of the past and that the current price levels have a long way to go before they peak. Even if in future many people will still be able to afford a car, it is far from certain that they will be able to drive it in view of the cost of petrol. Even US President George W. Bush recently felt obliged to call on US citizens to drive less in a televised address broadcast by the large networks. That this did not come easy for him is shown by the unusually clumsy delivery from such an eloquent producer of sound-bites.

- Renewable energy as an alternative

The world’s oil reserves are diminishing. For some years now, world oil consumption has out-stripped new finds. In addition, extremely populous nations such as China and India have joined the world market. Even if people in China and India were to drive ten times less than us, then the world’s oil supply would still run out within a few years. There will then either be a world war for oil or a price war for the distribution of this black gold of hitherto unknown proportions. Neither is desirable. Those who survive will be those who manage to break with their dependency on oil, become energy efficient, change their mobility behaviour and offer alternatives. These alternatives are renewable sources of energy and public transport. Both are environmentally friendly and both create jobs. In Germany at least, the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) of the Red/Green coalition created 150 000 new jobs and thus more than any other sector. The lion’s share of steel production is now used for the construction of wind turbines.

- The demographic factor

The demographic factor also plays an important role as regards transport policy. In the highly developed industrial nations, people are getting older while fewer children are being born and it is older people in particular who are more likely to change over to public road and rail transport. In Germany, 62% of single pensioners do not have their own car. Our infrastructure, notably as regards roads, is tailored to a far higher population. For this reason, it is already now difficult enough to maintain the existing infrastructure. Tomorrow it will be more difficult still. If you use current financial resources for new construction then you are ensuring that existing infrastructure will not be able to be maintained in future and may even have to be taken out of service. If, in addition to this, you promote environmentally damaging systems for motorised individual transport then you are hindering the efficiency of environmentally-friendly public transport.

In my home town, Berlin, it is a two-fold problem. Due to the division of the city lasting several decades, there is now an over-supply in public transport in certain areas because 'western' underground lines (U-Bahn) were constructed running parallel to ‘eastern’ suburban rail (S-Bahn) lines, which can now be used by all and are used by all. Thus, if in future we do not want to put underground, suburban rail or tram lines out of service, then we must do everything possible to change the modal split. To this end, the first priority must be to stop the construction of new roads. However, careful thought must also be given before proceeding with costly new building projects in the public transport sector. What is more important is to optimise the existing system as a whole, closing any gaps and ensuring 100% accessibility for the disabled.

This is also a big issue for London since in 2012 it will not only host the Olympics but also the Paralympics. Disabled-friendly public transport systems are not only of benefit to wheelchair users and mothers – and the odd father – travelling with prams or small children, but are also vital for the increasing numbers of older people who feel unsafe in cars, for whom climbing stairs is too difficult and escalators too dangerous.

But Berlin is actually ideally equipped for future-oriented transport policies. Berlin has a de-centralized urban structure which consists of 23 metropolitan districts, each of which has its own independent centre. This enables a significant amount of traffic to be avoided. Berlin still has the so-called Berlin mixture - i.e. work, leisure and dwelling in the same local area is still intact in many parts of the city, even in the historic city centre. Many trips can still be made on foot or by bike, and these means of transport are still actually used.
Berlin has more than 500 kilometres of urban railway and subway routes, and its tram net-work of 180 kilometres is the largest in Germany.

All of this explains why nearly every second household in Berlin does not possess an automo-bile. The average in Germany applies to only 19%.

As you see, the starting position is still good. All Berlin needs to do is to make use of the structural elements which have proved positive in other cities and to cast them into practical policies. I will now summarize my criticism and my demands in nine points:

1. Only attractive public transport can cover its costs

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 fares, while at the same time the services offered have become worse because of the greater time intervals, time limitations etc.

Instead of this policy, it is in fact necessary to reduce the fares and to introduce attractive in-tervals and an all-night subway service like in New York, where the trains operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At least at the weekend there is an over-night-service in Berlin. That is economically viable, too. Traffic companies in other regions have been able to improve their economic performance by reducing fares and extending the service offered.

2. 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 the bus and tram. In Berlin, most of the tramlines spend 20% of its travelling time waiting at red lights. If the traf-fic lights were synchronized for all the trams in Berlin, as they already are in Zurich and Co-logne, 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 only at certain times. 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.

3. Cycling must be promoted

Only 10 % of Berlin's citizens travel by bike. German towns which encourage cycling such as Erlangen and Freiburg reach 25%, 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 in-crease 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.

4. Lower priority for motor traffic

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. Automobile transport must be reduced, and one of the methods must be to intro-duce car parking charges equivalent to the public transport fares. The public transport ticket in Berlin costs about 2.50 dollars, but parking is largely free of charge. In just a few areas, half a dollar or so must be paid for half an hour of parking. Therefore it is necessary to increase the parking areas and the price.

5. Repair of the urban structure before new construction and extension

As a matter of course, the repair of the damage caused by the building of the Berlin Wall must be regarded as the major goal. Some kilometres are still missing in the urban railway network, and apart from one single exception, the tram routes all end in East-Berlin, where the wall used to be. In eight places it is urgently necessary that the tram routes should be extended at least as far as the nearest subway or urban railway station in West-Berlin to ensure that the two halves of the city do not remain divided.

6. 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 deci-sion to build large residential areas without a rail conection, must be corrected. Similarly, the major transport junctions of railways, subways and buses - such as the stations Hauptbahnhof, Ostbahnhof and Zoo - must be linked to the tram network as quickly as possible. It is a terri-ble 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.

7. 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. 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.

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.

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 out-lying 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 dol-lars 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.

The job argument is also important in a city where unemployment almost reaches the 20% mark. The construction of a tram line creates four times as many jobs - and jobs from within the region - compared with the construction of subway lines. Subway lines need more capital, more machinery but little manpower.

8. The same criteria for goods transport

What applies to passenger transport is also fundamentally true for goods transport. Goods must also be mainly transported decentrally by rail. To achieve this, it is necessary to reacti-vate the 50 local goods stations and over 200 sidings. At the fine distribution level within the city, low-noise and low-pollution city trucks would take over the goods.

9. We need an ecological tax reform

This whole program must be integrated into a complete overhaul of the conventional tax sys-tem which makes raw materials available at dumping prices due to high subsidies - and makes labour expensive. As long as automobile transport avoids the truth about the costs, as long as the deficits are made up by tax subsidies - bus and rail transport will not have a real chance.

The costs of automobile traffic are immense if we include the consequential costs such as in-validity, hospital and work absenteeism costs, reduced rent, damage to facade of cultural monuments, and so on. Every automobile in Germany is subsidized with 3,000 dollars per year from tax. And this calculation does not include global effects such as climate disaster and the gap in the ozone layer.

In Germany - and not only in Germany - there is a discussion about the price for gas and the ecological tax-reform, which is a very important decision of the red-green coalition Schröder/Fischer. In the consequence of this ecological tax-reform low consumption engines would compensate the extra costs.

The Federal Office of the Environment, the Green party - and even the boss of Shell Europe - agree that an internalization of the external costs of automobile transport would lead to a gas price of 15 dollars per gallon.

Because of this red-green ecological tax-reform the consume of oil has gone down in the last years by 4% every year.

In closing I would state the following:

Berlin has all chances to realize a modal split in the city centre to a ratio of 80:20 in favour of public transport. Even now Berlin is actually ideally equipped for future-oriented transport policies:

• An urban structure that is decentral and favourable for cycling

• The Berlin mixture of work, leisure and dwellings

• the opposite of the "Charta of Athens", the city of short ways, is still intact even in the inner city

• 500 kilometres of urban railway and subway lines

• 180 kilometres of tram lines

• Nearly every other household has no car

As you see, the starting position is still good. What I stand for is that - not only in Berlin - the know how of scientific studies and the statements in political pledges are indeed turned into transport policies.