Some days ago a piece of news circulated and generated lots of discussions. It regarded the intention in Germany of reducing the costs of train tickets while increasing the flights ones as travelling by air is considered more polluting than rail.
For some months now the topic of sustainability has become hot and the protests seen in many European cities during this September confirm it.
Of course, I am very much in favour of a more sustainable lifestyle and actually in EPN Consulting we have made Sustainable Transport one of the key topics of our consulting services. However, supporting sustainability doesn’t mean that we should neglect rational thinking or objective evaluations.
Some European countries considered the German intention worth exploring and actually a train can carry about 700 people whereas a short-haul plane can host up to 180-230 people (depending on the aircraft). But this assessment should include at least a widespread high-speed trains network, otherwise travelling by train – and on business – would consume too much time. It is true that with trains we usually depart and arrive in city centres whilst with planes we have to go to airports that are normally located in the cities outskirts (the larger the city, the farther its airport) but things are not that easy to take a balanced decision.
Choosing the travel mode between air or rail (in this case I intentionally don’t consider other modes) depends on a number of parameters: time of the appointment, air/train timetables for reaching that destination, frequency of the services, location where we live in relation to train station or airport, transport facilities/infrastructures to reach either the station of the airport, travel tickets cost, transport facilities/infrastructures to reach the appointment venue, etc.
Due to these high number of parameters, it is very difficult to say which mode is better and therefore thinking in terms of taxation is, in my opinion, unfair. According to that, what about travelling by coach? In recent time we have become familiar with the German-based Flixbus : their ticket prices are very low, there is a plethora of destinations available, but it takes ages to reach destinations when travelling through Europe on them; besides, these services are currently run by diesel coaches, thus not a sustainable transport solution as many claim.
The main focus really should be on how to improve the mobility in our cities, reinforce public transport services to make the use of private cars not any more viable. When assessing transport, governments should not think of taxation only: it won’t solve the issue of improving the air quality of our planet.
EPN Consulting Founder & CEO