Lecture: Free public transport in the Berlin House of Representatives

Kai Gondlach

Today, 12. February 2014, I am invited to a panel discussion as a futurologist. It is organised by the Regional Working Group Mobility of the Green Party of Berlin. The theme is:

Free public transport – vision or utopia?

The speakers are Dr. Matthias Stoffregen (Head of Tariff and Marketing at VBB), Matthias Oomen (ProBahn e.V.), Stefan Kohte (VCD Berlin) and just me, Kai Gondlach (Future Researcher).

It starts at 7 p.m. More information about the event:

gruene-berlin.de/termine/kostenloser-öpnv-vision-oder-utopie

Update: After the event

After the opening statements of the speakers, the spokesman of the LAG Martin Kasztantowicz summed up what was said briefly and started the discussion. Many pros and cons were discussed and, as was to be expected, no result was reached that evening. The complexity of the topic has become clear to all involved, as one previously very critical participant confessed that she is now very "delighted" by the idea. I was concerned that some of the participants started a number juggling; since there was no traffic planner among them who could map the complexity of the system, this was in my m. not very constructive, as 1.) fixed sums were assumed, although these would certainly be different on day X (for example, only the turnover of the transport companies, which completely dispense with fare management in ticketless public transport and thus approx. could save 10%); 2.) man tends to be guided by numbers and believes them more as "soft" arguments. Even if the figures are incorrect, they cannot normally be verified at the moment of discussion, thus serving as a shaky basis for discussion.

I think it has become clear to all involved that the zero tariff / free public transport is not an issue that can be quickly turned under the carpet as unrealistic or implausible. On the condition that contributions are financed (local transport levy), a plausible basis for the solution seems to be in principle. Political actors in particular need to be aware of their objectives under the zero tariff; are these environmental, social and/or transport objectives?

If you only have a hammer, you see a nail in every problem. We must be careful that free public transport does not become a hammer and blur the political objectives.

The next step is therefore to prepare a comprehensive study on the subject, which will clarify the following questions:

  • Is free public transport possible in Berlin (island solution) or would a larger system have to be integrated (VBB)?
  • What consequences are conceivable? (Impact on the environment, cityscape,…)
  • What additional push-and-pull measures would be needed to (a) maintain a sound funding base and b) incentivise the switch from MIV to public transport?
  • What do citizens think of a local transport levy?
  • How would mobile people behave as a result of the changeover? What does this mean for the load? How can this be reacted to in the existing network or what investments in vehicles and infrastructure might be. necessary?
  • What are the legal framework conditions? To what extent must applicable law be be adapted?