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Car-free Sundays head for the scrapyard

Switzerland experienced car-free Sundays during the petrol crisis of 1973

(Evenements)

Voters have rejected a proposal to ban cars in Switzerland on four Sundays a year.

Opponents had argued that a traffic ban would be economic suicide and could have a catastrophic effect on the ailing tourism industry.

In the end the initiative only managed to garner just under 40 per cent of the vote.

The group behind one the more light-hearted votes insisted its main goal was to give people a sense of freedom on car-free streets rather than reduce pollution.

Alec von Graffenried, one of the initiators of the proposal, said his dream was for four days of rollerblading, cycling, picnicking and street parties.

However, opponents, who included members of the four main political parties, argued that the idea had serious implications.

One of the their main concerns was the impact car-free Sundays would have on Switzerland's economy.

They argued that Sunday was one of the busiest days for tourism, sporting events and the restaurant industry. They warned that business could slump if people were unable to travel freely around the country.

Loss of trade

Barbara Polla, a centre-right parliamentarian, said the economic effects could be catastrophic for some regions, particularly for the many family-owned hotels and restaurants.

"[These enterprises] would lose ten per cent of their income," she said.

"And at a time like the present, when they are just holding their heads above water, a loss of ten per cent of their income would be their death warrant, and we certainly don't want that."

Opponents also argued that there would be chaos at the borders, and bemused tourists would be forced to drive around Switzerland or continue their journey on foot, or public transport.

However, supporters of the proposal said Switzerland's efficient public transport network was perfectly capable of handling the excess demands imposed by car-free days.

They also pointed to 1973, when fuel shortages led to a number of car free days, with no major logistical problems.

swissinfo, Joanne Shields

In brief

The "Sunday Proposal" called for four car-free Sundays a year, to allow people to have fun on empty roads and streets, and enjoy a cleaner, quieter environment.

But opponents of the proposal said it could spell disaster for some tourism-related firms.

They warned that tourists might avoid Switzerland if they reached the border in their cars and then found out about the ban.

Campaigners claimed extensive publicity and the small-scale of their proposal - four days a year - meant disruption would be minimal.

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