Germany Wants to Fight Air Pollution With Free Public Transit

Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images

Getting people out of their cars is an essential part of combating climate change. By one estimate, getting people to ditch their two-car household for just one car and a public transit commute could save up to 30 percent in carbon dioxide emissions [PDF]. But how do you convince commuters to take the train or the bus? In Germany, the answer may be making all public transit free, according to The Local.

According to a letter from three of Germany's government ministers to the European Union Environment Commissioner, in 2018, Germany will test free public transit in five western German cities, including Bonn. Germany has failed to meet EU air pollution limits for several years, and has been warned that it could face heavy fines if the country doesn't clean up its air. In a report from 2017, the European Environment Agency estimated that 80,767 premature deaths in Germany in 2014 were due to air pollution.

City officials in the regions where free transport will be tested say there may be some difficulty getting ahold of enough electric buses to support the increase in ridership, though, and their systems will likely need more trains and bus lines to make the plan work.

Germany isn't the first to test out free public transportation, though it may be the first to do it on a nation-wide level. The Estonian capital of Tallinn tried in 2013, with less-than-stellar results. Ridership didn't surge as high as expected—one study found that the elimination of fares only resulted in a 1.2 percent increase in demand for service. And that doesn't necessarily mean that those new riders were jumping out of their cars, since those who would otherwise bike or walk might take the opportunity to hop on the bus more often if they don't have to load a transit card.

Transportation isn't prohibitively expensive in Germany, and Germans already ride public transit at much higher rates than people do in the U.S. In Berlin, it costs about $4 a ride—more expensive than a ride in Paris or Madrid but about what you'd pay in Geneva, and cheaper than the lowest fare in London. And there are already discounts for kids, students, and the elderly. While that doesn't necessarily mean making public transit free isn't worth it, it does mean that eliminating fares might not make the huge dent in car emissions that the government hopes it will.

What could bring in more riders? Improving existing service. According to research on transportation ridership, doing things like improving waits and transfer times bring in far more new riders than reducing fares. As one study puts it, "This seldom happens, however, since transport managers often cannot resist the idea of reducing passenger fares even though the practice is known to have less impact on ridership."

The same study notes that increasing the prices of other modes of transit (say, making road tolls and parking fees higher to make driving the more expensive choice) is a more effective way of forcing people out of their cars and onto trains and buses. But that tends to be more unpopular than just giving people free bus passes.

[h/t The Local]

These Nature Posters Show the Most Endangered Animal in Each State

NetCredit
NetCredit

The U.S. has more than 1300 endangered or threatened species, from South Dakota's black-footed ferret to Colorado's Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly to the blue whales that live off the coast of Alaska. These wild animals could disappear if prompt wildlife conservation measures aren't taken, and people are largely to blame. Globally, human activities are the direct cause of 99 percent of threatened animal classifications, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Some of these animals may even be in your backyard. A research team commissioned by NetCredit used data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to highlight the most endangered animal in each state. For this project, "most endangered" refers to the animals that face the greatest risk of extinction. An art director and designer then teamed up to create gorgeous illustrations of each animal.

Since some regions are home to many of the same creatures, a different animal was selected from the shortlist of endangered species in cases where there were duplicates from one state to the next. The goal was to cast light on as many threatened species as possible, including the ones that rarely make headlines.

"We hope this will start a conversation around the fact that it's not just the iconic species we see on nature documentaries that we're at risk of losing forever," the research team said in a statement.

Take the black-footed ferret, for instance. It's the only ferret that's native to North America, but its ranks have dwindled as its main food source—prairie dogs—becomes harder to find. Prairie dog eradication programs and loss of the ferret's habitat (due to farming) are some of the factors to blame. A ferret breeding colony was established in the past, but only 200 to 300 of the animals still remain, rendering them critically endangered.

To learn more about some of America's most at-risk species, check out the posters below and visit NetCredit's website for the full report.

California's Point Arena mountain beaver
NetCredit

Alaska's blue whale
NetCredit

South Carolina's frosted flatwoods salamander
NetCredit

Minnesota's rusty patched bumble bee
NetCredit

New York's Eastern massasauga snake
NetCredit

West Virginia's Virginia big-eared bat
NetCredit

Florida's red wolf
NetCredit

The poster of endangered wildlife in all 50 states
NetCredit

The West Coast Is Preparing for Another Super Bloom

iStock.com/Ron_Thomas
iStock.com/Ron_Thomas

In spring of 2017, people flocked to Southern California's deserts to see fields of wildflowers brightening the normally sparse terrain. That level of vegetation, also known as a super bloom, is an event that only occurs after winters of heavier-than-average precipitation. Now just two years later, the rare sight is about to return to California's Anza-Borrego desert, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The 2018/2019 winter season was an unusually wet one for California. Between October 1 and the beginning of February, Downtown Los Angeles saw 12.91 inches of rain, which is approximately 167 percent more than the seasonal average. All that precipitation will produce an explosion of color when spring arrives in Anza-Borrego desert three hours southeast of Los Angeles. Experts predict the 2019 super bloom could start as early as late February and last through March.

If the last super bloom is any indication, this year's event will attract crowds of sight-seers. Anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 people visited the desert to look at and snap pictures of the flowers in 2017. Many local communities were overwhelmed by the influx of tourists, but this time around they know what to expect. Portable toilets will be set up around popular sites, and thousands of maps of showing where the flower fields, gas stations, and toilets are located are ready to be passed out to drivers.

Visitors also have a few things to learn from the past super bloom. Two years ago, foot traffic in places like the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve was so heavy that trails had to be closed down to protect delicate flowers from selfie-taking tourists.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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