Reducing Car Dependence in the Heart of Europe: Lessons from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland

Ralph Buehler

Car ownership and use have been increasing over the past few decades in most of the world’s countries.  The rate of growth in car ownership and use has been especially fast in the developing world.  Recent studies, however, suggest a stagnation or even decline in car ownership, use, and driver licensing rates in some of the highest-income countries. Data on travel mode choice for some specific high-income cities reveal a decrease in the share of trips by car and an increase in the mode share of walking, bicycling, and public transport over the past two decades.  Although their cities have not attracted as much worldwide media attention, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria have been at the forefront of promoting walking, cycling, and public transport through a range of innovative programs—both at the national and local level—while discouraging car use, especially in city centers and residential neighborhoods.  Many of the key programs to improve alternatives to the car were introduced, or first widely implemented, in these three countries.  Moreover, the countries are important because they are home to almost 100 million residents and constitute an important core of Europe’s economy.


This presentation focuses on five cities:  Zurich and Vienna, the largest cities in Switzerland and Austria, and Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich, the three largest cities in Germany.  The presentation examines travel trends since 1990 in each of the cities to determine to what extent they have, in fact, achieved their goal of reducing car dependence. It then describes the range of policies the cities have implemented to create a more balanced transport system, including the car but providing safe, convenient, and inexpensive walking, cycling, and public transport alternatives, and thus increasing travel choices.  The objective is to identify similarities and differences among the cities in transport policies they have implemented and to offer the experience of these five cities for consideration by other cities seeking to reduce car use.


Note: research conducted with John Pucher (Rutgers University), Regine Gerike (Technical University Dresden), and Thomas Goetschi (University of Zurich)



Ralph Buehler, Assistant Professor, UAP, School of Public & International AffairsRalph Buehler is Associate Professor in Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech’s Alexandria Center. Most of his research has an international comparative perspective contrasting transport and land-use policies, transport systems, travel behavior, and sustainability in Europe and North America Ralph is co-editor of the book ‘City Cycling’ (MIT Press) and author or co-author of over 45 peer-reviewed articles in academic journals as well as reports to federal and local governments, NGOs, and for profit industry organizations. Currently, Ralph serves as chair of the Committee on Bicycle Transportation of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies.