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]

Smoke From California Wildfires Has Reached the East Coast

A plume of spoke from the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, on November 8.
A plume of spoke from the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, on November 8.
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Smoke from the deadly California wildfires has drifted 3000 miles across the U.S., causing hazy conditions in several East Coast cities, the PhillyVoice reports. Smoggier-than-average skies have been reported in Philadelphia, New York City, and other areas along the east coast.

New Jersey-based meteorologist Gary Szatkowski tweeted a map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which illustrates the path the California wildfires' smoke likely took. The agency uses satellite technology and a high-resolution atmospheric model to track wildfires and forecast the direction that smoke is expected to travel. To check it out for yourself in real time, visit NOAA’s High-Resolution Rapid Refresh Smoke feature.

Although this news may be alarming to people in East Coast cities, the smoke is likely to disperse as it continues to travel east, if it hasn't already done so. It isn't expected to cause any health problems in the region, National Weather Service meteorologist Lamont Bain told Dallas News.

In California, however, the air quality is currently as bad as Beijing’s. Wildfire smoke produces isocyanic acid (a toxic substance found in cigarette smoke) among other potentially harmful compounds that are still being researched. Wildfire smoke is potentially responsible for 25,000 deaths per year.

“The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles,” the EPA states. “These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death.”

People are advised to limit their time outdoors when the air quality is poor. This is especially true for at-risk groups, including children, the elderly, pregnant women, diabetics, and those with heart or lung disease.

[h/t PhillyVoice]

Designer Creates Artificial Flowers to Feed Hungry Bees in Big Cities

iStock.com/schnuddel
iStock.com/schnuddel

Rebuilding the world's shrinking bee population will be a multi-level effort. Legislators and citizens are already doing what they can to conserve the pollinators, by planting the right things and banning some pesticides, and now a designer from the Netherlands is stepping up with a product made to help city bees. As Fast Company reports, Matilde Boelhouwer's project, called Food for Buzz, uses artificial flowers to feed bees in concrete jungles.

Boelhouwer's flowers are made from polyester "petals" pinned to a 3D-printed hollow receptacle. The receptacle connects to a stem attached to base filled with sugar. When it rains, water drips down the stem and collects in the sugar base, creating a sugar-water solution which is then pumped back up to the receptacle where insects can drink it.

To attract the most prevalent pollinators—bees, bumblebees, butterflies, hoverflies, and moths—Boelhouwer borrowed elements from real-life flowers. Her creations are colorful and symmetrical, which signal to insects that they're a good source of food. And while they may pass for the real thing with bees, Boelhouwer's flowers are all spins on flowers found in nature rather than exact copies of them.

Artificial bee snacks don't necessarily need to be beautiful to be effective. This Bee Saving Paper from Warsaw, for example, is covered in a biodegradable UV paint that's invisible to the human eye. But the flowers made for Food for Buzz can provide life-saving fuel to bees while beautifying urban spaces at the same time.

Boelhouwer tells Fast Company that her polyester flowers do succeed in attracting pollinators, but more research still needs to be done to determine how they compare to other artificial bee feeders.

[h/t Fast Company]

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