The Role of the Municipal Fiscal System in the Traffic Increase in Conurbations

The Role of the Municipal Fiscal System in the Traffic Increase in Conurbations


J-M Gutsche, Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg, DE



The constantly growing volume of motorised traffic in conurbations continues to cause political dispute about how to find and pick the most suitable measures to be taken. A closer look to the driving forces behind the trend towards a more and more car-depend society leads to the conclusion that most of the decisions being highly relevant to the transportation and mobility patterns in urban regions are made far outside the transportation sphere and mostly without any thought spent on the traffic effects they cause.

One of the these areas of high traffic-relevance is the municipal fiscal budget. Just as their citizens also municipalities do react very sensibly to the financial effects their decisions have on their own budget. But many municipal decisions taken under severe financial considerations shape the daily mobility decisions of the inhabitants. This is especially the case when new housing developments are planned. A travel survey I conducted 2000/2001 in the Greater Hamburg regions among close to 2.000 households in recently constructed homes, show how much people?s modal choices as much as the distances they travel daily react to the location and planning decisions taken or approved by the municipalities. Important factors are the location?s distance to important working places, its integration into the existing urban tissue, the amount of close-by shops and services and the quality of public transportation.

Seen from a transportation planner?s point of view it would be preferable if municipalities would - as far as possible - give preference to those locations for new developments where the needs of its future inhabitants (getting to work, doing shopping, getting the kids to school, meeting friends, ...) could be satisfied with the lowest possible amount of individual motorised transportation. In practice, this would mean for the municipalities to step back from highly traffic generating development projects, to favour other, more integrated developments or even to let a neighbour community having better locations to offer step in for the amount of new houses demanded by the market.

Reality in German conurbations is the opposite. Oftentimes planning decisions are taken or development request of investors are approved even though these projects generate enormous amounts of car traffic. In a study on the Berlin-Brandenburg region in 1998 I tried to identify the reasons behind these decisions by systematically interviewing mayors and decision makers in planning administrations. The result was a whole range of factors, including such soft but strong motivations as the prestige of being an ?active and growing community?.

One of the most important factors identified in the study was the financial component. Most communities have high fiscal expectations regarding a zoning decision for new housing developments. While these expectations mostly refer to the additional revenue (e.g. income tax, federal subsidies and tax equalisation, ...) the estimations on the costs side are oftentimes rather flux.


Association for European Transport