Attempt to undo green transport policy becomes an ‘own goal’

An attempt to reverse an environmentally friendly urban transport policy has failed spectacularly in the Swiss city of Basel. An initiative backed by businesses and centre-right parties was not only heavily defeated by voters in a plebiscite, but it spawned a counter proposal that has been publicly approved, setting stricter limits for Basel’s transport for 2050.

Switzerland’s system of direct democracy allows for policy to be set by the people via local and nationwide initiatives and referendums. In 2010 the residents of Basel approved a policy that commits the city to reducing individual motorised traffic by 10% by 2020 and to prioritise ‘slow transport’ - walking and cycling - and public transport. The latest figures suggest measures undertaken since 2010, notably a reduction in parking places, have indeed reduced car journeys, but only by 6%.

In March 2017, the Basel traders association, supported by the city’s conservative parties, put forward two initiatives. Under the slogan in the local dialect ‘Together we travel better’, one sought to cancel the 10% reduction target, the other to force the city to provide a ‘sufficient’ number of parking spaces - these were listed as being for cars, bicycles and motorcycles, but it was seen as a request for more car parking as spaces for cars have been cut back in recent years.

Before putting the initiative to the people, the city authorities and the cantonal parliament had to comment on it. They concluded that the two initiatives were an attempt at rolling back the 2010 commitment to people- and environment-friendly transport, and they decided to put forward a counter proposal. This involved setting Switzerland’s third city on a course to allow only vehicles with low noise and low emissions on Basel’s roads (except transit motorways) by 2050. The exact details of what limits must be met would be decided in future legislation. The only concession to the traders was that the 10% reduction target for 2020 was abandoned.

The chamber of commerce described the counter initiative as ‘absurd’, but while its own initiatives were resoundingly defeated in a city-wide vote earlier this month, the counter proposal was passed by 53% of those who voted. Not only has the attempt to roll back the city’s transport commitment been defeated, but it has had the effect of cementing and expanding the policy.