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How Germany managed to ease traffic congestion

Joel Omotto @omottojoel

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko flopped in his attempt to decongest the city when he ordered matatus out of the central business district (CBD) last year.

In his push to end perennial traffic jams, Sonko ordered matatus out of the CBD by setting up designated places where they will pick and drop off passengers but that was met by stiff resistance from public transport operators who even threatened to go on strike and leave commuters stranded.

Sonko would back down from his hardline stance only promising to come up with an all-inclusive workable formula that will ease traffic but up to now, nothing has been forthcoming.

Sonko is not the first to attempt to decongest Nairobi. Successive regimes have tried and failed, some even going for benchmarking tours to some of the world’s best cities to learn how they deal with the menace only to return with empty stories.

But Sonko can perhaps draw some lessons from Germany where its citizens do not have to wake up early to beat traffic or leave the office very late when the jam has subsided like many people do in Nairobi.

The German government came up with an excellent public transportation system aimed at dealing with the traffic menace that has helped keep their cities moving, making their economy the best in Europe and fourth in the world.

To begin with, private vehicles are discouraged from the city centre with people encouraged to use public transport which is efficient and pocket-friendly. To ensure this is enforced, parking slots are scarce in German cities and the few available are costly.

Indeed, your biggest problem may not be navigating cities, but finding someplace to stash your vehicle reasonably close to your destination. In most German cities, you will have a good selection of parking facilities. There is the ubiquitous on-street parking as well as off-street parking lots (Parkplatz), above-ground garages (Parkhaus), and underground garages (Tiefgarage).

However, the prices will make you think again. Unlike in Kenya where you pay a one-off parking fee of Sh300, in Germany, it is hourly.

“A park garage in major cities like Berlin, Munich or Frankfurt cost an average of between €3-4 (Sh360-480) per hour and €20 (Sh2,397) for the day. But within the same cities, there are parking zones which have different tariffs.

There are areas with limited parking of two hours and costs 50cts (Sh60) per 12 minutes meaning you pay Sh600 in two hours,” Tobias Schmidt who works as a taxi driver in Frankfurt told this writer on a German visit recently.

This prohibitive costs have discouraged most Germans who own cars from the city centre and instead of losing money and time finding a parking slot, they have embraced public transport which is one of the most efficient in the world.

“We have small trains which move within the city and the high speed trains which move from city to city called Inter City Express (ICE).

We also have subways (underground trains) and buses which can be found anywhere near residential areas and all you have to do is find your way to the nearest train or bus station,” said Antonia Korn who works with Bundesliga International the company that runs the German league.

Public transport

She added: “Public transport is cheap and tickets can cost between €2-3 (Sh240 and 360) depending on your destination and can be purchased at nearby agents or machines.”

Because the public transportation systems in Germany are usually regional, a train ticket is also valid for a bus. For instance, the S-Bahn (rapid transit railway system) in Berlin is a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, the national railway, but it is also part of the Transport Association Berlin-Brandenburg (VBB).

That means a ticket bought at an S-Bahn station is also valid for buses and U-Bahn (underground trains). If you buy a ticket from a bus driver (normal practice in Berlin), it is also valid for the S-Bahn, as long as you use it within two hours of your purchase.

It is therefore very practical to live in any large German city or metropolitan area without owning a car. Even medium-sized cities have good public transportation networks that use buses, trams, and urban/suburban rail lines to move people around.

“I do not own a car because I do not need it and there is public transport which is cheap and convenient. I work in Frankfurt but live 30km away and I use the train everyday. Cities like Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich are some of the most expensive in the world and there is no need to pay a lot in rent and other bills when I can live comfortably in a smaller town,” said Korn.

It is a system that has got Germany moving and cases of perennial traffic jams are unheard of, something Kenya is still struggling with.

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