Germans ready to ditch cars in favour of buses, trains and bikes

A new survey showed Germans are willing to switch their cars for public transport and cycling. [Neil H/ Flickr]

German motorists are ready, in theory at least, to abandon their cars in favour of buses, trains and bikes, according to a new study. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks (SPD) does not see autonomous cars as the solution to the “mobility problems of the elderly”.

On Wednesday (12 April), she said in Berlin that “Germans won’t accept automatic cars because they have to walk down hallways. I find it difficult to imagine a 75-year-old daring to pilot a driverless car in a decade’s time.”

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But there is another change of mentality going on in the minds of the Bundesrepublik’s drivers.

For the first time, the authors of the 11th environmental awareness study asked people about their attitudes towards driving and mobility. Of the 4,000 people questioned, 91% said that life would be better if people weren’t dependent on their cars anymore.

79% said they would prefer urban development in the place they live, so they had an alternative to using their cars.

Hendricks was particularly pleased that 46% of those surveyed, who live in small towns of up to 20,000 people, could imagine giving up the car in favour of bus or train. In the large cities, that figure rose to 60%.

Two-thirds of respondents wished there was better infrastructure for cyclists. On a less positive note, 70% said that they used the car daily or several days a week.

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Harry Lehmann, head of the climate and energy department at the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), said that awareness is always ahead of real behaviour. This is illustrated by other parts of the study, for example, meat consumption and nutrition.

But without a change in awareness, other changes will not be possible, Hendricks warned.

In any case, the minister has seen her strategy of asking for more environmental protection and climate action from the transport and agricultural sectors vindicated.

Hendricks explained that the role of the next government is to link environmental issues with social justice. She warned that environmental and climate issues risk being labelled as “elite topics” and being subsequently rejected.

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37% of those surveyed said there is tension between the issues, for example, rent increases after a building’s energy efficiency is improved.

In terms of climate policy, Germans are sceptical about how successful it has been. Two-thirds fear that Germany cannot cope with the challenges posed by climate change. A minority of the respondents believed that the global economy will be carbon-neutral in the year 2100.

Germans ranked these issues as the third most important in 2016, after the refugee crisis and security. Three-quarters said plastic pollution of our seas is the biggest environmental concern.

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