1.100 euros a year to go car-free: Berlin initiative calls for new bonus

1.100 euros a year to go car-free: Berlin initiative calls for new bonus

Would you give up your car for a financial reward? A new initiative in Berlin thinks that you might. 

1.100 euros per year to go car-free

Despite recent efforts to discourage driving in Germany with higher vehicle taxes and cheaper public transport tickets, the number of cars in the federal republic continues to grow. A Berlin initiative therefore believes that a new approach is needed. 

Activists from Changing Cities and the Institute for Urban Mobility are proposing a so-called “empty road bonus” to reward people for not owning a car and instead making use of climate-friendly alternatives. 

According to the proposal, anyone who does not own a private car and instead travels by foot, bike, bus or train, or uses a car sharing scheme, would receive an annual bonus of 1.100 euros - approximately the same amount as the cost of an annual subscription for public transport in Berlin. The bonus would be financed with income from the CO2 tax. 

On paper, experts in Germany think the idea is a good one - since many people could probably do without a car in their everyday lives, a financial incentive might make them reassess. Reducing the number of cars on streets “gives people back living space on their doorstep, which is real added value,” one of the initiative’s backers, Tim Lehmann, told Zeit.

German state still pays out billions in driving subsidies

However, as transport researcher Andreas Knie points out, the switch from cars to public transport is not an automatic one, since a car is an altogether different type of transport. In order to fully replace cars, he argues, public transport must become significantly better, offering comprehensive, door-to-door supply. “Mobility has to be easy, uncomplicated and intuitive to use,” he says. 

At the same time, driving in Germany is still cheap. While prices for buses and trains rose 79 percent between 2000 and 2018, the cost of buying and maintaining a car only increased by 36 percent, according to the Federal Statistical Office. Knie argues that tax breaks for cars, such as the commuter allowance, the diesel subsidy, and the favourable taxation of company cars, must be abolished to make public transport competitive. In 2016 alone, these measures cost taxpayers 15,6 billion euros. 

“These subsidies promote driving and are also socially unjust,” says Miriam Dross, head of the Department for Sustainable Mobility at the Federal Environment Agency. Employees with higher salaries in particular benefit from company car privileges, and data shows that they are frequent drivers, covering almost twice as many kilometres as private cars. 

“This is why the empty road bonus initiative is valuable. It triggers an important debate in society as a whole,” says Dross. However, she said that the money would be better spent investing in infrastructure, rather than given out as a cash bonus. 



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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