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From the Dorfmobil Klaus project to the reawakened Merano-Mals railway - "Soft mobility" helps to promote tourism in remote areas

Mar 20, 2007 / Swantje Strieder
The major problems caused by transit traffic through the Alps dominate the media. And yet it is all too often forgotten that more than two thirds of traffic in the Alps is home-made. So what are the alternatives? This was one of the key questions put to our team of experts.
Image caption:
Werfenweng ist der österreichische Modellort für sanfte Mobilität, hier wird der autofreie Tourismus wirklich praktiziert.Zum grünen Fuhrpark gehören Elektro-Mobile, Elektro-Scooter speziell für Jugendliche, Gas-Fahrzeuge, Pferdekutschen und ein Shuttlebus. © Vélostation - Chambéry métropole
For many politicians and policy makers optimum transport connections are an essential requirement for favourable economic development, job creation and tourism. On the other hand the environmental impact of road traffic is immense. Noise and exhaust fumes have taken on unacceptable proportions, particularly along transit routes through the Alps, and caused stress symptoms and psychosomatic illnesses among many people living near those routes. That's why taking long-distance traffic off the roads and onto rails is one of the main objectives of the Alpine Convention. The framework agreement was signed in 1991, yet many people living in the Alps are sceptical as to whether this objective can be achieved even approximately within a useful period of time.

Focusing on tourist and commuter traffic
For all its impact transit traffic accounts for only 8% of the total volume because it is concentrated on only a few crossing points through the Alps. Tourist and excursion traffic is responsible for a further 20%. Therefore internal traffic in fact accounts for the lion's share, at 72%. So for once the team of experts commissioned for the CIPRA study concentrated not on transit traffic but on the repercussions of tourist and commuter traffic in its attempt to highlight prospects for traffic problems in the Alps. The team focused on four questions:

o How are mobility and regional development linked?
o What other factors can play an important role in location decisions?
o What eco-friendly transport alternatives are there?
o How can people be made aware of sustainable transport solutions?

The magic word in this specialist field is reachability. It represents the number of opportunities for commercial and personal contacts, the achievable customer potential or the choice of services on offer. The number of inhabitants who can be reached is a good indicator. In Austria for example average reachability (which measures the number of inhabitants who can be reached in three hours) has risen thirty-fold since 1830 as a result of the expansion of traffic systems. As a result of low-cost flights and European long-distance projects across passes such as the Brenner, Lötschberg-Simplon, Gotthard, Mt. Cenis and St. Bernhard average reachability could double again between 1995 and 2020.
Economic growth and prosperity over the past 150 years are been closely linked with reachability. That is why in regional development it is seen as a panacea. Yet the fact that the regional impact can vary greatly and that there are not just winners is often overlooked. Regional disparities can become accentuated. In future the gap separating metropolitan areas and remote rural areas could become even wider. Indeed, metropolitan areas will expand their airports to accommodate new low-cost airlines and extend their railway stations for new high-speed trains, yet these investments into supraregional reachability are only of limited use to remote regions. The big difference in reachability becomes clear when comparing Alpine regions: The inhabitants of the five metropolitan areas of northern Italy close to the Alps, i.e. Novara, Brescia, Verona, Vercelli and Varese, have one hundred more opportunities within a radius of three hours than the five particularly remote Alpine regions of Ravne na Koroškem/Sl, Vaucluse/F, Oberes Inntal/A, Hautes-Alpes/F and Val Müstair/CH. So while good transport connections can lead to more economic growth, they cannot guarantee it. In spite of a good infrastructure around half of all Alpine communities complain of economic stagnation. In fact reachability often seems to be of secondary importance in tourism in particular, the second strongest economic factor in the Alps. As the report of the EU research project REGALP 2004 shows, some prosperous regions have poor transport connections and some stagnating regions have an excellent infrastructure:

Of particular interest are regions which enjoy strong economic growth despite poor transport connections and poor accessibility:

Austria: The central region of Carinthia; the Steyr region of Upper Austria
France: The local and regional centres of the Alpes Provençales and the Alpes Maritimes
Italy: Sondrio

Good reachability is not a universal remedy
The fact that a good transport infrastructure and high levels of reachability are no guarantee of strong economic development is illustrated by the following regions which, despite their easy accessibility, have a weak economic development:
Austria: The tributary valleys of the Wipp Valley (with the Brennerautobahn)
Switzerland: The Emmen Valley and the Brienz region, Goms and the high-altitude regions of the Upper Rhone Valley in the Valais
Italy: The entire south-western part of the Italian Alps (the Cottian und Ligurian Alps) with the Valle di Lanzo, Po Valley, Valle Varaita, Valle Maira and Valle Stura; also the Valle d'Ossola and high-altitude regions around Lake Como and Lake Garda.

One of the biggest difficulties with regional planning is calculating the economic and social consequences, even in the case of sustainable transport projects. The CIPRA study mentions Switzerland's Vereina Tunnel, which was inaugurated in 1999 as a state-of-the-art and particularly eco-friendly passenger and motorail link. The 19 km tunnel for the narrow-gauge railway line in the Grisons connects Klosters with Zernez and Sagliains in the Lower Engadine and has cut the journey time by train from Zurich from 4 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes. Nonetheless the outcome has been sobering: although the railway's piggyback system has proved popular, there has been no reduction in individual traffic. And while freight traffic has partly shifted to rail, transport on the surrounding roads has not decreased. And if air pollution levels have improved, it is due not to the railway tunnel but to the more stringent international regulations for car exhaust emissions. Summer and winter, tourism benefits from many new day trippers and weekend visitors. This has created new jobs in the hotel and restaurant trade. But in the remote regions of the Lower Engadine, guest numbers have not risen. Nor has there been an notable upswing in other economic sectors such as the building trade. So improved reachability alone does not appear to be the key to economic growth. It does not attract new companies and potential employers if labour and other good location-related factors are not already in place due to a small town or a sub-centre.
In peripheral regions in particular simply improving reachability can mean that the existing regional economy is exposed to stiffer competition, and that old-established small businesses are unable to stand up to the overwhelming competition from outside.

In summary it can be said that while better supraregional transport connections have a favourable impact on poorer regions, the discrepancies compared with metropolitan areas are by no means remedied; indeed, if anything there are accentuated. Improved reachability has problematic side effects at the regional level, too. The nature of housing schemes tends to change, with communities with a defined town centre melting away into sprawling settlement areas. The disastrous trend towards urban sprawl is sustained, with the dependency on cars increased further. While more and more shopping centres are built in the open countryside, city and town centres become desolate and die out. The greenhouse gas emissions caused by traffic continue to increase, emissions of particulate matter in inner-alpine valleys especially are often above the limits, and noise pollution reaches right up into Alpine areas.

What's needed are small-scale solutions and low-traffic regional planning policies
In summary the authors of the study reached the following conclusions:

o Parts of the Alps will in future continue to benefit from their central location within Europe and from the expansion of the Trans-European Transport Networks.
o The sizeable regional differences that exist in reachability within the Alps will remain in the decades to come. The divide between regions that are easy to reach and those that are not could worsen as a result of high-speed rail links and the expansion of airports, both of which presuppose a good infrastructure at the hubs themselves.
o For peripheral regions simply expanding transport connections can even aggravate the problems due to increased competition with strong regions. That's why it is important to learn from those regions which enjoy a positive regional economical development in spite of an unfavourable accessibility.
o Regional development depends less on supranational projects than on inner regional transport solutions and regional planning policies which contribute towards ensuring that jobs, shopping, leisure and cultural facilities, and utilities are accessible even in peripheral regions.
o Politicians and planners need a better set of policy instruments for transport and regional planning to put paid to uncontrolled development and the indiscriminate construction of shopping malls in open countryside.

Based on the study's results CIPRA has put forward the following concrete demands to those in position of responsibility in politics and industry:

o Regions which have enjoyed economic development even without a costly expansion in their transport systems should be examined scientifically with regard to their success factors and whether those factors can be transferred to other regions.
o Instead of relying on improving accessibility, it is important to examine whether new economic problems such as stiffer competition for the region might not arise in addition to negative environmental impact.
o Promoting environment-friendly mobility must be at the heart of any transport policy. This means maintaining regional public transport facilities and ensuring that services designed to satisfy elementary needs (provision of local services, schools, kindergartens, etc.) can be accessed without the use of cars whenever possible.
o The promotion of public tourism should support eco-friendly travel to and from resorts and the leisure mobility of visitors. Instead of focusing on improved accessibility, it is important to promote initiatives designed to prolong the duration of stays by guests.

Learning from good examples
In choosing its model projects for "soft mobility" the CIPRA team of experts picked examples which are already well known in other Alpine countries, but which could be of interest in France and Italy, where private cars play a predominant role compared with local public transport.

1. South Tyrol, Italy

The reopening of the Vinschger railway service
The Vinschger railway line in Vinschgau, South Tyrol, had long been written off until it was brought back to life in 2005 after lying dormant for ten years. And all the indications are that the old railway line, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006, is set to be a modern success story. The picture was quite different in 1989. Ferrovie dello Stato, the Italian state railways, had drawn up closure plans. For another two years the steam locomotive ran every Sunday along the spectacular 60 km alpine route from Mals to Merano. Yet between the vineyards and apple orchards of the Vinschgau all the emphasis was on cars, and only tourists bought tickets for train so in 1991 the railway line was shut down. It was only in 1999, after the Italian state railway had handed over the network to the province of South Tyrol, that the astonishing relaunch began.

More passengers than expected
Although the old route is a masterpiece of engineering, after its long period of closure it proved necessary to completely overhaul the 61 bridges, two tunnels and 54 railway crossings, and also install new safety systems. But the railway line built in 1906 is not just a piece of vintage railway nostalgia; it has to be profitable, too. One year after it was reopened the Vinschger railway line already had 100,000 passengers a month, more than the initiators had expected. And what's more the journey time between Mals and Bolzano is now almost as short as it is by car - but without the stress and the traffic jams.

2. Upper Austria

Dorfmobil Klaus Project
They call it "our Klaus". Not because it's a popular name, but because it's the village transport set up by the Municipality of Klaus in Upper Austria. It could also have been named Steyrling or Kniewas, after the names of the widely scattered localities around Klaus. The six-seater minibus has been operating like a village taxi since 2003, except that the car pool is run by a group of volunteers. People had realised that at some point every inhabitant has to go to the doctor's, the church, the town council, the kindergarten or even the supermarket. All they have to do is call up, arrange a time and the minibus picks them up, either at home or at the nearest bus stop.

As flexible as a taxi, but affordable for everyone
The journey costs €1.50, a highly subsidised price. Each passenger should actually be paying around five euros to the Dorfmobil association, but donations and contributions are made, and the federal province of Upper Austria also subsidises the municipal project. The project got off the ground thanks to the Institute for Transportation at Vienna University, with funding from the EU. Unfortunately Klaus has remained something of an oddity in the complicated world of statutory rules and regulations. While it is a public utility, it cannot be insured in the same way as a private taxi or transport company. Liability issues in the event of an accident have yet to be clarified. All this red tape can cause a project such as this to fail. So far the Federal Province has not been able to bring itself to support the Dorfmobil project further. The residents, for their part, hope that good old Klaus will continue to run and run.

3. Salzbuger Land, Austria,
Prize winner of CIPRA's Future in the Alps competition, 2005

Werfenweng - a village goes softly mobile
In Werfenweng the future has already begun - with lots of fun and leisure according to the promises made on the web site of the small community in the Salzburger Land. Werfenweng is located at 900 metres above sea level, on the southern slopes of the Tennengebirge and has everything a tourist could wish for: a picturebook Salzburg landscape, cosy guesthouses and above all an unspoilt environment. When it comes to soft mobility Werfenweng is an exemplary Austrian town: here car-free tourism is a practical reality. No-one is compelled to switch to this alternative mode of transport, but swapping the car key for a SAMO key is made particularly appealing for holiday guests.

Electric scooters and horse-drawn carriages
SAMO stands for soft mobility. With the Eco-Pass, train passengers in particular are able to make use of all the municipality's alternative modes of transport. The fleet includes electric scooters specially for young people, gas-powered vehicles, horse-drawn carriages and a shuttle bus. Almost 80% of hoteliers in the village have signed up to the SAMO scheme, and many local residents have joined in, using their cars for long journeys only. In 2004 Remotion, the conference on eco-friendly drive technologies and mobility concepts, was held in Werfenweng, followed by 30 school trips and specialist seminars. As a result of these efforts overnight stays have risen by 29% since 1997. The number of guests arriving by train has also soared by 28% since 1997. 8,500 rail passengers mean approx. 4.5 million fewer kilometres by car, or fuel savings of some 365,000 litres.