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Found 5 results

  1. Public space vs cars

    From the album Random images

    How much of the public space belongs to vehicles? This brilliant visual show how much public space we cede to cars in our cities.
  2. Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia, a small country located in northern Europe with a population of around 1.3 million people. The capital itself has around 400 000 inhabitants. But despite its size, the country and its capital is moving towards a cleaner and more progressive approach towards transportation. In the summer of 2012 Estonia started to work on a public charging network for electric vehicles – with an easy subscription-based payment method for its users. After building fast-charging stations in every city and larger village, Estonia became the first country to offer a nation-wide charging network for electric vehicles last year. That very same year, in 2013, Tallinn introduced free public transportation to all of its residents and thus became the European “capital of free public transport”. Today, Tallinn still holds the crown as the largest city in the world to have free public transport. The authorities in Tallinn believed that a free public transport scheme would boost economic development, encourage people to shift from cars to buses and trams and thus cut congestion and traffic emissions. Now one year on, what exactly are the results? Free public transport stopped a downward trend The public transportation system in Tallinn consists of buses, trams, trolley buses and commuter trains. Tallinn's system of about 480 public transport vehicles serves around 400 000 people, making it one of the largest systems in Europe. Public transport share was at around 40 percent before the scheme was introduced. That was even then a relatively high level compared to other European cities. The ticket costs were also fairly cheap, and pensioners and youths already benefited from free public transport in the city. Despite all this the public transport share was on the decline and had shown a negative trend for two decades. But since the introduction of the fare-free scheme there have been a 12.6 percent increase in travels. And less wealthy neighborhoods in Tallinn has seen an even bigger increase. So in spite of initial worries the scheme has clearly been successful in persuading more people to use public transportation. Strong public support One popular argument against free public transport schemes is that the quality of the service and the comfort for passengers would take a substantial hit. But according to passenger surveys people in Tallinn feel differently. For the people of Tallinn, public transportation travel has become better and more convenient since the introduction of the free-fare scheme. But the increased passenger satisfaction is also the result of investments made in new and modern buses as well as a new electrified rail line on a previously neglected link. Tallinn has also increased the service frequency and designated more priority lanes for buses in the city, which no doubt has further increased the satisfaction. The free-fare scheme in Tallinn is the result of a referendum which was held in 2012. In the referendum 75.5 percent voted for the scheme, and 24.5 percent voted against. Back then several political parties were skeptical to the idea of free public transport. Many politicians believed that it would be too expensive or simply unfeasible to accomplish. But the idea of a free-fare scheme had a strong public support, and thanks to the result in the referendum the scheme was approved. Today no one wants to abolish the scheme – that’s how successful it has been. Allan Alaküla, head of Tallinn’s European Union Office in Brussels, says there has been a “political shift” for free public transport. There is now “no party promising to abolish the free ride for Tallinners,” he says. The photo shows a tram in Tallinn, Estonia. Photo credit: Greta Tamošiunaite (cc). Economic costs and benefits The introduction of free public transportation was no hasty decision. The various costs and potential benefits had been carefully assessed and debated. Before the free-fare scheme the city's annual public transportation budget was €53 million. But revenues from ticket sales amounted to only €17 million, of which €5 million came from people living outside Tallinn. The public transport system clearly didn’t pay for its own costs. By introducing free transport in Tallinn, the city expected incur an additional cost of €12 million – which mainly represents the loss of revenue from ticket sales (tourists and people living outside Tallinn still have to pay for their tickets). City officials deemed this to be a reasonable price to pay, especially when considered against the potential environmental, economic and social benefits of such a scheme. City officials believe that the free-fare scheme has resulted in an economic boost for the local businesses in Tallinn. “We really provide an incentive for stimulation of the local economy,” says Alaküla. “We observed already that people tend to spend more if their mobility is free. They go out more in the evenings and weekends.” There has also been other, more major economic benefits. Between January and November 2013, officials reported that around 10 000 new residents had been registered in the city (the latest numbers show 15 000 new residents). This was a number which was significantly higher than previous time periods. It’s therefore presumed that the increase is mainly a result of the free-fare scheme. Each additional 1000 residents provides the city with €1 million in tax revenue. So the new tax revenues help cover a large part of the additional costs of the free-fare scheme. And with an estimated 30 000 unregistered residents in Tallinn there is a huge potential for even more tax revenues. Environmental and social benefits A fare-free public transport obviously helps improve accessibility and mobility for a city’s residents – especially for economically disadvantaged people. It’s harder, and still too early, to quantify the long-term environmental benefits of free public transport. But even here one can imagine some obvious positive results as people shift away from cars, leading to less pollution and congestion. Traffic congestion was down 15 percent during the first quarter of 2013, compared to levels at the end of 2012. Overall, car use throughout Tallinn has been reduced by 9 percent. Alongside the free-fare scheme, parking-fees in the city was increased sharply to further discourage the use of cars. It’s expected that the free-fare scheme will result in a reduction of CO2 emissions by 45 000 tons every year. Another benefit is a decrease in noise pollution when less cars are on the roads and electric public transport vehicles - trolley buses and trams – are introduced. Dedicated bus lanes also help to make the traffic move more smoothly around the city. It also has the added benefit of decreasing the average trip length by 10 percent, making people get to their destination much faster than before. After one year, free public transport has been a success in Tallinn. The free-fare scheme has stopped a downward trend for the city’s public transportation system and encouraged more people to leave their cars at home. The experiment in Tallinn has been so successful that other Estonian municipalities are now also interested in introducing similar free-fare schemes for its own residents. The results in Tallinn are also encouraging because it might help speed up plans for similar free public transportation schemes in other major cities, in Europe and around the world. Tallinn acts as a successful, full-scale real-world example that free public transport is possible and that it can have substantial social, environmental and economic benefits for a city.
  3. Kiruna is a small town with less than 20 000 inhabitants located in the most northern parts of Sweden. It's a typical mining community, with iron ore extraction being the key industry of the area. In fact, Kiruna has been an important seat for iron ore extraction and mining industry in Sweden since the early 20th century. So it's not the typical city you would expect to introduce free public transportation for all its inhabitants. But the city of Kiruna did just that in 2011, and the results have been amazing. "The result is incredible," said Niklas Sirén, Vice Chairman of the municipal executive board in Kiruna. "We did not dare set a figure as a goal. There is a very strong car culture, it is sparsely populated here and we figured Kiruna residents are deeply rooted in their driving. We were pleasantly surprised. More people are choosing to leave their cars more often." Niklas Sirén and his local Left Party was behind the suggestion to introduce free public transportation in 2011 on a trial basis. Back then, in 2010, only 120 000 trips were made. But since free public transit was introduced, travel has tripled in Kiruna and the experiment has now become permanent. Last year more than 387 000 trips were made in Kiruna. "This has broken a downward spiral for public transport," Sirén said to ETC. "Previously, there would mostly be only empty buses. Now comes the expectation of more rides and lines. The next step is to expand public transport." But it's not completely free. To be able to use the service, Kiruna residents need to pay 100 SEK, around $14, for a buss card each year. The free public transport does not apply to tourists and other temporary visitors whom instead need to buy tickets to be able to travel. But the card is also available for asylum seekers, and students that lives outside the municipal. For Kiruna, the free public transportation costs around 3.3 million SEK per year.
  4. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will throw millions of people out of work! That claim has made many working people reluctant to support action to slow climate change. But is it true? Our Jobs, Our Planet, a report written in 2011 by Jonathan Neale for the European Transport Workers Federation, argues the opposite, that changing the ways that goods and people are moved can reduce emissions from the transport sector by 80% while creating over 12 million new jobs – 7 million in transportation and 5 million in renewable energy. The author of Stop Global Warming, Change the World writes that such a program will be a big win for workers and for the planet: “there are more than 40 million people out of work in Europe now. The planet needs help. They need work. If we succeed, we can solve both problems at once.” Neale’s argument focuses on four kinds of changes: Reduce. We change our lives so we use less energy. For example, cities with dense populations, nearby jobs and local shops create less emissions than suburbs and hypermarkets. Shift. We use a different kind of transport. For example, getting passengers out of cars and into buses cuts carbon dioxide emissions in half. Improve. We make transport more efficient. For example, better designed trucks moving at slower speeds will cut carbon dioxide emissions in half. Electrify. We stop making electricity by burning coal and gas. Instead we use renewables like wind and solar power. This can cut carbon dioxide emissions to almost nothing. The majority of Neale’s 103-page study is a well-documented explanation of how those four principles can be implemented in Europe today, dramatically reducing fossil fuel use while creating millions of new permanent jobs. He also addresses a problem that many such analyses ignore —that under capitalism, jobs created in one area often means jobs eliminated elsewhere. Much more employment in public transport can mean much less in auto manufacturing, for example. That’s why, Neale argues, the transition requires an integrated plan based on public ownership of the industries involved, with a “bedrock guarantee … that anyone who loses a high carbon job is guaranteed proper, lengthy retraining and a new job at the same wages or better.” He urges the labour movement to adopt a two-pronged program for reducing emissions and expanding employment. “If unions stick to policies that support growth in all sectors, we will not be able to deliver that growth. Climate change is coming. If we do not take radical action, we will face radical circumstances. When climate catastrophe arrives, governments will cut aviation, trucking and much else swiftly and savagely. Then there will be no protection for the workers affected. “So unions will need to do two things at once. We need to campaign for serious cuts to emissions. But we need to insist at the same time that those cuts can only come if workers are properly protected. We need to be control of the process, not have it done to us. This is not just a matter for workers in aviation and road freight. It will only happen if workers in other sectors, and other unions, insist that all workers are protected.” Our Jobs, Our Planet: Transport Workers and Climate Change is an important report in its own right, showing what could be done in Europe today with proper planning. It’s also an important example for labour and environmental activists everywhere: this is the kind of analysis and program we need to build an effective labor-green alliance to save the world. I’ve posted the full report here. (pdf)
  5. The opening of the San Francisco Bay Area bike share on August 29, 2013, brings the combined fleet of shared bikes in the United States above 18,000, more than a doubling since the start of the year. The United States is now home to 34 modern bike-sharing programs that allow riders to easily make short trips on two wheels without having to own a bicycle. With a number of new programs in the works and planned expansions of existing programs, the U.S. fleet is set to double again by the end of 2014, at which point nearly 37,000 publicly shared bicycles will roll the streets.The largest bike share in the United States is in New York City, where some 6,000 bicycles are available at 332 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The program opened at the end of May 2013, and in less than 3 months hit 2 million trips. On busy days, each bike gets checked out seven times or more, a remarkably high borrowing rate. The city ultimately hopes to expand the program to other boroughs and grow to 10,000 bikes. The other large bike-sharing debut in 2013 was in Chicago, where 1,500 Divvy bikes now grace the streets. The program hopes to double to 3,000 cycles by the end of the year, ultimately growing to 4,000 strong”reinforcing the city's efforts to dramatically boost biking. In addition to making shared bikes readily accessible transit, Chicago plans to extend the path and trail network to within a half-mile of all residences. Before New York and Chicago came on the bike-sharing scene, Washington, DC, held America's top spot. Its program has grown to over 2,000 bikes, spreading into neighboring communities. Transport planners from cities around the country have made the pilgrimage to Washington to ride one of the cherry-red Capital Bikeshare bikes and see firsthand how the popular program works. Since 2007, biking in the nation's capital doubled to 3.5 percent of all commuter trips, and bike sharing has made it more convenient to travel the expanding web of marked cycle lanes. Other large bike shares include Nice Ride in Minneapolis and St. Paul (1,550 bikes), Hubway in the Boston area (1,100 bikes), and DecoBike Miami Beach (1,000 bikes). Aspen, Columbus, Fort Worth, and Salt Lake City are among the more than a dozen programs that opened in 2013, joining a list of cities that have enjoyed bike sharing for longer, including Denver, San Antonio, Chattanooga, Madison, and Fort Lauderdale. On the international scene, the United States is just catching Europe and Asia's bike-sharing tailwind. Worldwide, more than half a million cycles can be picked up in well over 500 cities in 51 countries. Italy and Spain have the greatest number of programs, while China is home to two thirds of the global shared bike fleet. New York is the only American city to make it onto the list of the world's 20 largest bike-sharing programs. In fact, five cities have more shared bikes than the entire U.S. fleet. Four of them are in China, where Wuhan reportedly has some 90,000 shared bikes for its 9 million people. Hangzhou has 69,750 bikes that are well integrated with that city's mass transit. The world's third largest bike share is Vélib' in Paris, the first large-scale program to gain worldwide attention. Since its 2007 launch, riders have taken 173 million trips. According to the program, one of the nearly 24,000 Vélib' bikes gets checked out every second of the day. Vélib' claims to have the highest bike density among the world's top programs, with one bike available for every 97 city residents. Within the next year, the U.S. bike-sharing fleet will have caught up with Paris. New entries in Florida could push the country past that mark, with launches expected in Miami (500 bikes, an expansion from Miami Beach), St. Petersburg (300 bikes), and Tampa (300 bikes). Phoenix is also hoping to launch a 500-bike program that will double in size as neighboring cities join in. Rollouts hoped for in 2014 include large offerings in Los Angeles (some 4,000 bikes) and San Diego (1,800 bikes), as well as 500+ bike programs in Portland (Oregon), Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Seattle, along with a number of smaller markets. The new San Francisco Bay Area scheme is starting out relatively diffuse, with 700 bicycles split between San Francisco and other cities along the 50-mile rail line south to San Jose. Planners note that it ultimately could grow to a network of 10,000 bikes, better allowing rail riders to travel the first and last mile or so of their commute on two wheels. As communities continue to improve their biking infrastructure and as enthusiasm for an efficient, environmentally friendly, healthy, and enjoyable form of transportation grows, bike sharing has a bright future in the United States. (For full list of current and planned U.S. bike-sharing programs, click here.) For more information on bike-sharing in the United States and globally, see Dozens of U.S. Cities Board the Bike-Sharing Bandwagon and Bike-Sharing Programs Hit the Streets in Over 500 Cities Worldwide, by Janet Larsen.