By: Emily Janicik
As the global economy continues to industrialize, pollution continues to increase as a result. Many governments have felt pressure to counteract this, particularly in regards to air pollution, with some enacting stricter environmental regulations. In Europe, the European Union has taken steps limit the amount of air pollution by putting caps on particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), but some countries are still not complying with these regulations. Fines have already been implemented against Poland and Bulgaria, which can add up to thousands of Euros per day. For other EU countries, including Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, the impending fines have been pushed back so they have time to create proposals for environmental improvements.
Germany, in particular, has faced harsh criticism for their levels of air pollution, which in some cities is double the legal amount. Stuttgart, for example, tested at 82 micrograms of NO2 compared to the cap of 40 micrograms earlier this year. A large portion of this pollution can be attributed to Germany being the largest automotive manufacturer in Europe. In 2016, the German government gave a $9.2 billion tax break to diesel fuel producers, which is not helping reduce consumption. Up until 2016, diesel cars were marketed as environmentally friendly and cost-efficient, but studies from the French, German, and British governments have disproved this notion. This theme is nonetheless prevalent. Many Europeans believing diesel is a better alternative to gasoline, and diesel cars remain popular, causing more air pollution.
One way the German government seeks to cut air pollution is by making public transportation free to make it more attractive to the general public. Buses will now be free in Bonn, Essen, Reutlingen, Mannheim, and Herrenberg starting later in 2018. This change was proposed to the EU Environment Commissioner in a last-ditch attempt to stop the environmental fines from being levied against Germany.
However, many are skeptical of whether eliminating transit fares will make an actual difference. For one, most German buses run on diesel, which will only increase pollution if more people begin to ride, and electric buses cannot be produced in the quantity and time needed. Additionally, a study from Estonia found that a 14% increase in the use of public transport after eliminating fares was not due to people switching from driving to the bus but from commuters who had previously walked and then switched to the bus, representing an increase in pollution.
Moving forward, Germany will need to consider all of their options for reducing air pollution. While making public transportation free is a step in the right direction, it is nowhere near enough to lower pollution levels substantially. Instead, Germany needs to address diesel problems in the automotive manufacturing industry directly in order to make more of an impact, especially in the long term.