Underfunded public transport: refurbishment before new construction

Local authorities have too little money for existing streetcars and buses. So far, the federal and state governments have only been allowed to support new lines.

The tramway in Hanover also needs planning security. Photo: dpa

If buses and trains are to continue to roll reliably through Germany’s cities in the future, the course must be set quickly now. At least, this is the view of the Ecological Transport Club of Germany (VCD).

Important regulations on planning and financing local transport expire in 2019, said VCD head Michael Ziesack in Berlin on Tuesday. "If the federal and state governments do not quickly agree on successor regulations, there is a threat of gridlock in the municipalities." Without long-term planning security, no one can tackle new projects, he added.

In the VCD’s view, funding for the expansion of municipal infrastructure must be regulated differently. Up to now, the federal government has only been allowed to promote the expansion and new construction, but not the renovation, for example, of road or subway connections Here, too, the federal and state governments would have to support the municipalities in the future, according to the VCD. "Many municipalities are otherwise overburdened," says Ziesack. It cannot be that subway lines are shortened because a municipality can no longer afford to renovate a tunnel.

The service sector union Verdi also warns against the loss of important federal subsidies for local public transport, as announced by the Federal Ministry of Finance. "If the federal subsidies were to be cut, the municipalities would have to bear all the investments in local public transport on their own," says Verdi national board member Christine Behle.

No fare increase

"We already have an investment backlog of 2.5 billion euros per year that is steadily growing," Behle said. Many traffic guidance systems and installations date back to the 1980s and are in urgent need of renewal. Every day, up to 27 million people use local public transport, which relieves the burden on roads and the environment.

The VCD is also calling for new ways of financing local public transport. According to Ziesack, a significant increase in fares would not be possible, as this would result in a loss of customers. However, it should be possible for municipalities to introduce a "local transport tax" to improve services.

In this case, every citizen would have to pay a levy – unbureaucratically linked to property tax – to ensure that buses and trains run. "This way, not only the users but also the beneficiaries would participate in financing local transportation," says Ziesack. Businesses, for example, benefit from local transportation because it brings customers or patients to them. In addition, local public transport relieves the pressure on roads and central parking lots, for example at train stations.

In principle, the transport club believes that local public transport must be a mandatory municipal task, as it has an essential social function, namely guaranteeing participation for all citizens. The scope of public transport should be defined by cities, municipalities and counties. Otherwise, according to the transport club, there is a risk that the service will be discontinued or excessively restricted in the event of budgetary constraints.