Car-free day fails to put the brakes on commuters

Not everyone opted for alternative forms of transport.

More than 100 Swiss towns and cities have taken part in this year’s international car-free day, which met with limited success.

This content was published on September 22, 2004 - 14:54

The “In Town Without My Car” campaign was designed to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home and travel to work by public transport.

The French-speaking part of Switzerland took the lead on Wednesday, accounting for around 50 of the 116 municipalities taking part. The total was double the number for last year.

However, police in Geneva said the promise of free public transport had failed to persuade many commuters to ditch their cars.

“The number of accidents has doubled compared with Tuesday, up from four to eight,” noted a police spokesman.

Police in the capital, Bern, where the city centre was closed to traffic, said numerous motorists had been caught by surprise, leading to tailbacks.

This year marked the first time that towns in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino had taken part in the campaign, which was launched in France six years ago.

But a transport spokesman in Lugano said traffic remained slow-moving.

More commuters

Supported by the European Commission, the campaign was coordinated in Switzerland by SwissEnergy, a government programme set up to ensure the country achieves its energy and climate policy targets.

According to SwissEnergy, the number of people commuting by car in Switzerland has risen from 20 to 50 per cent since the 1970s.

The organisation says the increase in mobility causes major difficulties, ranging from traffic jams to environmental problems, particularly in cities.

Organisers of the car-free day set out to promote “intelligent mobility”, showing people how to ease congestion and pollution by means of voluntary measures.

Various activities were planned to draw people’s attention to the existence of viable alternatives to the use of cars such as bicycles and public transport.

“These car free days sensitise the population to the problems of mobility,” said Vincent Kaufmann, an expert in urban sociology and mobility at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

“They are very important, because they allow citizens to better understand the measures taken regarding the politics of transportation.”

Success or failure?

Noelle Petitdemange, spokeswoman for the non-governmental Transport and Environment Association, said her organisation supported the campaign, but questioned whether it would be seen as a success or not.

“Such a campaign day is not enough,” Petitdemange told swissinfo. “Traffic in cities ought to be restricted all year round. Car-free cities will never be a reality in Switzerland, but authorities can limit traffic in cities.”

Kaufmann agreed that one day of action would not lead to a change in mentality.

“Such campaign days also pose a risk, because they give the authorities an opportunity to feel good and not deal seriously with the problems,” he warned.

Joël Grandjean, spokesman for the Touring Club of Switzerland (TCS), said he thought the event was totally unnecessary.

“TCS is opposed to the very idea, in order to prevent car-free days from being introduced at a legal level,” he said.

“The traffic problem can only be solved by involving the government, the cantons, the municipalities and particularly planning.”

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The number of people commuting by car has greatly increased over the past 30 years.
23.3% of the working population travelled to work by car in 1970.
This figure had increased to 49.2% in 2000.

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In brief

La Rochelle in France organised the first “In town, without my car!” day in 1998.

More than 1,000 European towns and cities participate in the international campaign, which forms part of European Mobility Week.

In North and South America, only Montreal and around 20 cities in Brazil have organised a car-free day. In Asia, only Japan and Taiwan are taking part.

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