Sunday's vote: cutting traffic in half

At the weekend the Swiss will vote on a proposal to halve traffic in the country. Critics of the initiative say the proposal makes no economic sense, and that it will be detrimental to employment.

This content was published on March 8, 2000 - 17:14

At the weekend the Swiss will vote on a proposal to halve traffic in the country. Critics of the initiative say the proposal makes no economic sense, and that it will be detrimental to employment.

With 3.5 million cars for 7 million inhabitants, Switzerland is one of Europe's most motorised countries. But with such mobility come the inevitable scourges of air pollution, sound pollution, and traffic-jams.

Official statistics show that the Swiss spend more than 33 million hours a year stuck in traffic. The estimated cost of this time-wasting is said to be more than SFr1 billion.

With a view to redressing the situation, the Swiss will be asked on March 12 whether they want to halve the number of vehicles travelling in Switzerland within the coming 10 years.

Despite wanting to improve the environment, road safety, people's health and quality of life, the initiative is seen by critics as bordering on the naive. Peter Briner, a senate member for the Radical Party dismisses the idea outright.

"The proposals are totally unrealistic; nobody has said exactly how halving traffic can be carried out. Imagine, you would have to establish laws, which establish quotas, which limit miles individually, it's not practical," he said.

The supporters of the initiative say their goal is not for people to give up their cars altogether, but rather to halve the number of kilometers travelled in cars and trucks. They aim to do this by improving public transport, hiking petrol prices and putting a levy on car use. At the same time they want to encourage car-sharing, cycling and walking.

Dieter Steiner, a former professor at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology, is a member of the committee behind the traffic-halving initiative. He firmly disagrees with those calling the proposals unrealistic.

"Is it realistic, then, to expand the motorway system in Switzerland and build a second tunnel in the Gotthard? If we keep building more roads, we will attract more traffic," he said. "It's simply a vicious circle."

Environmentalists and left-wing groups are largely in favour of the proposals, saying that they pave the way for more pragmatic moves towards keeping the lid on traffic in the country. Those opposing the initiative, like Briner, say that economically, it makes no sense at all., and that there are up to 300,000 jobs at stake, mainly in the automotive and tourism industries.

Steiner, for his part, dismisses that argument. "Experience shows that every sum invested in public transport produces double the amount of that invested into road traffic. Additionally, jobs would be created in tourism, given that one of our measures is to promote resorts which are car-free."

The initiative's supporters say that despite the ridicule most opponents have heaped on the proposals, the Swiss people's concerns for health and the environment should not be underestimated.

By Juliet Linley

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