Swiss government urges traffic vote rejection

Environment minister calls on public not to back March referendum call for road traffic halving

Switzerland's environment minister Moritz Leuenberger has made an impassioned appeal to the Swiss public not to back a proposal due to be put to referendum on 12 March that all road traffic should be returned to 1970 levels by 2010. In a statement released this week, the minister warned that the measure, if approved, would force the government to take undemocratic steps, would harm the economy and undermine Switzerland's hard-fought association agreement with the EU (ENDS Daily 2 December 1998).

The referendum has been sparked under Switzerland's popular initiative system, which allows any citizen to make changes to the constitution if they can first obtain signatures from at least 100,000 voters and then win a national referendum by a simple majority. The proponent of next month's vote is a transport-environment NGO called Umverkehr, which launched its campaign in 1994 and achieved over 100,000 signatures by 1996.

Under the proposal, the number of kilometres travelled on Swiss roads would have to be halved by 2010, which would bring them back to levels seen around 1970. Subsidiary requirements would include introduction of an "ecobonus" tax on petrol consumption, support for car-free urban zones and for wider public transport networks and car "pooling".

Observers suggest the plan's chances of being passed successfully are limited, but Umverkehr claims that its campaign is essential since the government has failed to implement a raft of recent environmental laws. The group says its plan would be cost-neutral, and could benefit the economy by creating 50,000 new jobs in public transport. It also claims that there would be little effect on the public. "Very few people in Switzerland actually drive cars," a spokesperson told ENDS Daily today.

Follow Up:
Umverkehr, tel: +41 1 242 7276. Swiss environment ministry press release.

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