Plans for a major shakeup in the German public transport industry could be underway, according to a leaked document, that could see the government subsidizing the costs to offer free rides to the public.
The government of Germany is now mulling the idea of making public transportation system use in heavily polluted cities free as a means of reducing emissions and thus improving air quality, Reuters has reported.
In addition to the free public transport, German legislators are planning on tightening emission restrictions for cabs and buses; implementing more tax breaks for low-emission vehicles; and encouraging carpool schemes.
"Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany", they added, according to AFP. The campaign will take place in several cities, including Bonn, Essen, Reutlingen, Mannheim, and the town of Herrenberg.
More than 130 cities in Europe are now affected by "life-threatening" air pollution, according to the European Commission.
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.
The EU takes air pollution very seriously, which causes 400,000 preventable deaths and incurs $24.7 billion in health spending per year in the bloc.
Countries that fail to keep to EU limits could face legal action at the European court of justice, the EU's highest tribunal, which can levy fines on member states. In light of Volkswagen's emissions scandal of 2015 in which the auto tycoon purposely programmed its vehicles to cheat emission tests, the German government has actively tried to make the reduction in pollution levels one of its main priorities. Mayor of the German City of Bonn, Ashok Sridharan, doubts the ability of automobile manufacturers to help reverse the damage done to German air quality.
The idea of free public transportation sounds like an attractive one, even in a country like Germany where alternative modes are popular and cheaper than their equivalents in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Car-makers such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler or Volkswagen agreed to pay about €250 million into a billion-euro fund so that local transport could be upgraded. He says to the German press agency DPA, "I don't know any manufacturer who would be able to deliver the number of electric buses we would need".