Mobility: why bans on short-haul flights would be wrong – economy

The environmental organization Greenpeace has calculated that you can get to your destination just as quickly and above all in a more climate-friendly way in Europe and especially in Germany by train than by plane. According to this, nearly a third of the most used short-haul European connections could already be replaced by a train journey of less than six hours. Based on these figures, environmentalists unearthed a well-known demand: because too many people still don’t voluntarily switch from plane to train, they should be forced to do so.

Concretely, this means: banning short-haul flights where there is a good alternative to the train. But as is so often the case with mobility, this requirement does not go far enough.

It’s a well-known reflex: ban something so that people are forced to choose an alternative. However, this implies that this good alternative really exists. But the reality of life for many people is more complex than simply comparing travel and flight times and concluding that it is only because of people’s laziness in not wanting to change. Instead of having discussions on bans, the focus should instead be on how to make trains more attractive than flights for as many routes in Europe as possible. Because that is the real, much more important message contained in the Greenpeace report: it is not too often.

There are several reasons why the train is often not the first choice of travelers, even for shorter distances. The survey also mentions some of them. Whether the frequency of trains is nowhere near as frequent as the supply of flights or that there are no night trains that could replace late-evening flights. As a rule, the last train returns much earlier in the evening than the last plane takes off. But according to the latest known surveys from 2019, around two-thirds of all thefts in Germany are business-related. For companies and employees, it is very important that you take the train for a business trip and have to stay overnight at least once, or that you can be home late in the evening.

There are more effective measures for climate protection

In addition, it is certainly questionable whether the requirement of six hours of travel as the limit above which flights should be banned makes sense. In Germany in particular, the almost six hour train journey from Munich to Hamburg is often not a good alternative to a flight that only takes a little over an hour and is therefore significantly faster, even when traveling. check-in and check-out. It is certainly questionable whether six hours is acceptable when it comes to purely recreational driving. But to ban air travel between Munich and Hamburg in principle is a bad approach and distracts attention from the real problem.

Greenpeace also clarifies that on more than half of all the trips examined, the train is hopelessly inferior to the plane in terms of time because the train trip takes at least eight hours. It should therefore be much more a question of extending these unspeakable creeping roads so that they can at least initially compete with air traffic. And as is often the case, it is also a question of money. If seven times more CO₂ is emitted per person for the same distance by plane than by train, this difference must ultimately be reflected in the price of the ticket. Right now, the opposite is happening: tickets – especially for fast trains – are generally more expensive than a domestic flight.

Moreover, from the point of view of climate protection, it is not so important to ban certain short-haul flights quickly. Greenpeace writes that this would save around 1.5 million tonnes of CO₂ per year. However, emissions from growing rail traffic still have to be deducted. And that’s not the whole truth either, as it’s not at all clear whether people will actually take the train in Germany instead of the plane – or not in their diesel. In any case, that would hardly help the climate.

According to the Federal Environment Agency, a general speed limit would save at least two million tonnes of Co₂ per year. But the Greens have already been dissuaded from this much more sensible measure during traffic light explorations.

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