German climate group calls for higher parking charges

The German Environmental Aid Association is urging local governments to implement significant hikes on parking fees for residents who park near their homes.

A sign for residential parking in Frankfurt am Main.
A sign for residential parking in Frankfurt am Main. Photo: Bildnachweis picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The association wants charges to be set at a rate of €1 per day – or €360 per year – to help relieve congestion in cities and encourage drivers to think twice about car ownership.

Currently, they argue, huge SUVs are allowed to park in many public places for just a few cents a day, and the low fees have slowed the transition to more eco-friendly forms of transport.

In many residential areas, especially in large cities, parking is only allowed with a resident’s parking permit, which can cost as little as €10 per year. This allows people who live in the area to park for a minimal cost within walking distance of their home. 

Compared to the cost of bus and train tickets, a fee of €360 per year for a parking permit would still be low, the DUH argues.

A survey by the environmental aid organisation showed that only five federal states allow municipalities to charge “reasonable fees” for residents’ parking permits. Municipalities such as Erfurt, Cologne and Stuttgart are also permitted to impose higher fees but have so far decided not to. 

In contrast, the environmental aid organisation sees regulations in Freiburg and Tübingen as models for residential parking. Freiburg charges car owners an average of €360 per year for ordinary cars, which goes up to €480 per year for SUVs and pick-ups.

Meanwhile, Tübingen charges €120 for ordinary cars and 50 percent higher (€180) for particularly large cars. The city’s Green mayor, Boris Palmer, had originally wanted to set fees at €360 per year but was forced to back amid opposition from the city planning committee. 

At the time, Palmer was accused of waging a “personal campaign against cars and their owners”. 

Tübingen Mayor Boris Palmer

Tübingen Mayor Boris Palmer arrives at a press conference in torrential rain. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

READ ALSO: German city mayor plans to hike up parking charges by 600 percent

‘Public space is scarce’ 

In mid-2020, the Bundestag and Bundesrat overturned a nationwide cap on residents’ parking permits of €30.70 per year. Since then, states and municipalities have been able to regulate fees for urban neighbourhoods with a significant shortage of parking space.

“Public space is scarce and increasingly contested,” says DUH Federal Director Jürgen Resch.

“Every year, the number of cars registered in Germany increases by half a million. At the same time, registered cars are getting longer, wider and heavier. Despite this, residents in most cities are allowed to deliver their huge SUVs and pick-ups to public spaces for only 8 cents a day.”

This is only a fraction of the fees charged in many cities abroad, the DUH says.

The think-tank Agora Verkehrswende also thinks residents’ parking in Germany is too cheap.

“The fees neither correspond to the costs nor the actual benefits,” it says in a paper presented in January. A resident parking permit in Stockholm, for example, costs around €1,300 per year.

READ ALSO: Does German desire for transport efficiency trump environmental concerns?

States mull higher fees

As part of its campaign, the German Environmental Aid has distributed green, yellow and red cards to federal states that represent their parking policies.

Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia all received a green card for allowing cities to charge reasonable fees for residents’ parking.

Bavaria, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein received a red card since they haven’t yet decided whether to give municipalities more options on parking charges.

According to the DUH, all other federal states – Berlin, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Saxony – stated that they were planning a new parking fee regulation, but were currently still discussing the form it would take. This group of states were therefore given a yellow card.

In Hamburg, the regulation has already been adapted, but the DUH believes that the new rate of €65 per year is still too low to bring about meaningful change. Therefore, Hamburg also received a yellow card from the environmental aid organisation.

In Berlin, SPD, the Greens and Left Party agreed in their coalition agreement to increase the cost of resident parking permits to €10 per month by 2023 at the latest. Currently, a resident parking permit costs €10.20 per year.

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Will Germany’s motorists and cyclists ever learn to live with other?

It's more important than ever that Germany's two distinct tribes - drivers and cyclists - learn to accept each other rather than being stuck in constant road rage, explains Brian Melican.

Will Germany's motorists and cyclists ever learn to live with other?

Another week, another discussion about whether Germany has become too bike-friendly or, on the contrary, is still a country where the car is king – a cruel monarch who, day in, day out exacts a deathly toll on cyclists, pedestrians, and indeed anyone who likes to breathe air. To those of us with a high proportion of Germans in our Twitter feeds, this debate is nothing new; now, thanks to the fact that the populist think-pieces of Bild are now available in English (Who knew?), the long-running ideological slanging match between drivers and riders is now there for all to follow. Oh, joy!

For many who move to Germany, the country appears, at first sight, to be firmly in the grip of cyclists. Especially in the university towns of the flat north such as Münster, Göttingen, or Braunschweig, the sheer number of visible bikes is remarkable, and even in Hamburg and Berlin, there are cycles lanes seemingly everywhere along which a constant stream of ruddy-cheeked individuals plying their pedals, making liberal use of their bells. Coming fresh from London or Paris, the contrast is striking – and you run a not insignificant risk of being mowed down when standing on the wrong bit of the pavement.

Yet to those who move here from Amsterdam or Copenhagen, Germany looks like a place where cyclists are treated as an unwelcome nuisance by traffic planners and as fair game by unscrupulous motorists with a pronounced taste for speed. The very fact that most cycle lanes are on pavements, for instance, strikes them as strange. Surely the best place for bicycles is well away from pedestrians? What is more, the large amounts of the carriageway space taken up by cars – either in motion or stationary – seem jarring coming from countries which have long prioritised cycling over driving in built-up environments.

As ever, the truth of the matter lies somewhere in between. And, as so often, we Germans have a marked tendency get into endless, cyclical arguments about points of principle and prove unable to learn to live with our contradictions.

READ ALSO: Road rage in Berlin as cyclists clog streets in pandemic

Cyclists at a demonstration in Düsseldorf in May.

Cyclists at a demonstration in Düsseldorf in May. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | David Young

Speeders’ paradise and cycling favourite

For Germany is, in traffic terms, contradictory. It is at once Europe’s automobile mecca, with the continent’s largest car industry and famously speed-limit-free Autobahns. It’s also one of Europe’s foremost cycling nations in which families routinely bike miles for weekend recreation and the country that gave the world Standlichtfunktion (rear bike lights which remain on when stationary). It’s home to various premium and mass-market manufacturers, behind only China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands in terms of bicycle production and export.

This becomes clear when comparing the bikes Germans ride to those of our European neighbours. Generalisations being odious, the average UK bicycle is a mountain bike poorly suited, in typical British fashion, to the use its owner is making of it: that’s why London businessmen ride into work with their suits in grubby rucksacks with tell-tale streaks of mud up the back and why they are continually scraping around for batteries to put in clip-on lights which inevitably fall off and smash halfway. French households, if at all, have sleek, spotless racing bikes reserved for sporting use in the evenings and at weekends. Otherwise, city-dwellers use widely-available rental bikes – unless it is raining, too warm, too cold, or too windy, or in any other way preferable to not do so. On the other end of the scale, the Dutch and the Danes have workhorse bikes which can fit everything from small children and large dogs through to IKEA flat-pack furniture.

READ ALSO: German state ministers push for Autobahn speed limit

The average German bike, meanwhile, is an all-in-one mountain-cum-city-bike (“Trekkingrad”) with the attention to practical detail for which the country is famous: fitted dynamo-driven lights as standard, a frame over the back wheel onto which weather-proof saddle bags can be clipped, and mudguards over both wheels; it will have at least 21 gears, the highest of which will enable someone in good physical health to do at least 15mph on flats and, increasingly, an electric motor to help it go even faster. Germans build bikes like they build cars: to get you and your stuff comfortably and speedily from A to B. This, by the way, explains the increasing popularity of the pedelec cargo-bikes at the root of the current controversy: they do more or less all the things a car does.

High standards – whatever the transport mode

And this is the nub of the issue: Germans – whether in cars or on bikes – have high standards when it comes to transportation and are congenitally impatient (see also queuing behaviour and ALDI cashiers). When in our cars, we expect to be able to bomb down pot-hole free roads at a minimum of 30mph (and preferably more) and then immediately find a parking space wherever we end up; any impediment to our right of way is taken as a personal insult; pedestrians must cross at designated points or risk death.

READ ALSO: Is it ever acceptable to cross the road at red light in Germany?

People drive on the Autobahn in Laichingen in Baden-Württemberg.

People drive on the Autobahn in Laichingen in Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Puchner

And when on our bicycles, we Germans exhibit exactly the same traits: we expect absolutely obstacle-free cycle paths and bike lanes, ample stands and racks wherever we dismount, and are genuinely angry when anyone – on four, on two wheels, or on foot – gets in our way. To give you an idea of just how exacting we Germans are of each other here: I was once, in the driving Hamburg rain, tailgated all the way down the bike lane along Glacischaussee by a woman who, when we stopped at the lights, told me that my mudguard was “antisocial” (asozial) because it, in her opinion, didn’t go far down enough over my back wheel, meaning that she was getting spray in her face. It simply didn’t occur to her to just ride further back or overtake me.

Unfortunately, of course, there is nowhere near enough space in German cities for both those in cars and those on bicycles to be able to drive and ride exactly the way they would like to at all times – without, that is, getting rid of pedestrians entirely (potentially one thing the two groups might agree on). And so we are stuck with groups of road and pavement users shouting abuse at each other (“Verkehrsrowdy!” – road-hog; “Schleicher!” – slowcoach) rather than learning to show consideration, adapt to sub-optimal conditions, and react to unforeseen circumstances. In my own view, the sooner we ban cars entirely from city centres and reclaim the streets for those of us using healthy, emissions-free transport, the better; in the meantime, however, life is too short to be shouting at each other – and could be even shorter for some of us if we all keep trying to do top speed in the same spaces.