The study, published by ICLEI – an association of local government groups – calls on local authorities to cut the subsidy for private car users in order to boost investment for sustainable public transport networks.

Based on analysis of local authority budgets from 12 German cities as well as Graz in Austria, Geneva in Switzerland and Ferrara in Italy, the report finds that most of the money used to subsidise private transportation is not recovered.

The subsidies come in the form of such things as maintenance of roads and streets, traffic signals, lighting, traffic police and parking spaces.

Local authorities can only recover such investment through such measures as parking fees and fines. However, according to the study, in Germany these methods recover on average only 29.1% of expenditure, while in Graz, the net spending for car transport by the local authority is double that contributed to the public transport system.

Gino van Begin, ICLEI Regional Director for Europe, said: “Car drivers are getting a free ride from local authorities and the result is increased congestion and pollution in European cities. Redressing the balance in favour of investments in sustainable transport will be good for the economy and the health of urban-dwellers.”

Analysis of the studies figures shows that Dusseldorf spends €250.3 per inhabitant in subsidises for private car users but recovers only 14.8% of this. On average for the whole of Germany, every inhabitant pays €145.50 per year in subsidy for car users and recovers only 29.1%.

The study author’s admit that not all of the listed costs are related to car traffic, but also support other modes of traffic. However, for the example of roads, they estimate that 80 – 90% of costs were generally allocated to car traffic, while 10% of the road is estimated to be used by other means of transport in terms of space, time, and deterioration.

Transport is seen as one of the largest contributors to climate change and air pollution, both in terms of gases and particulate matter. This report has come out as evidence is emerging that cities across Europe are exceeding EU pollution limits that came into effect in January. This sets levels for soot particles which are only allowed to be exceeded on 35 days in a whole year.

By the end of March, both Stuttgart and Munich had recorded their 36th day exceeding those limits.

By David Hopkins

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