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What a welcome

Expats are to blame for the increasing number of cars in Basel – that is the view of Basel’s urban development board. The population had mandated the city’s administration to reduce road traffic. Now those in charge seem to be looking for scapegoats.

Commentary by Martin Pütter

Sometimes it seems to be a blessing in disguise that newcomers with English mother tongue find it hard to get to grips with German. Thus they are spared the welcome that the city of Basel issued this week, a welcome that was eagerly taken up by Basel’s largest newspaper, the Basler Zeitung (BaZ).

Under the headlines “Basler lieben Autos” (Baslers love cars, front page) and “Mehr Autos auf Basels Strassen (More cars on Basel’s streets, city & region section) the BaZ said that immigrants in general and expats in particular are responsible for the rise in the number of cars in the city of Basel. This number, however, is supposed go down, as voters had decided at the ballot box in 2010 – mandating the city’s government to reduce motorised traffic on Basel’s streets by ten percent overall.

Some might say that, with its current political leaning, it is not surprising that the BaZ seized on the argument that immigrants and expats are to blame for the rising number of cars. But why do the city’s developers attribute the increased number of registered vehicles to expats? It was Thomas Kessler, head of urban and cantonal development, who told the BaZ that many well-educated immigrants come from countries like the USA and Germany where, as he said, cars are part of the culture. And in the same article Kessler is quoted a little later as saying: “They (the expats) regard Basel as a paradise for car drivers (…). They are amazed how little traffic there is in Basel.”

Whether Basel really is such a paradise certainly remains open to debate – depending on the point of view, opinions might differ widely. But to blame certain parts of the population for the growing number of cars? Quite a few expats are certainly aware of how reliable public transport is in the Basel area – but do they all know it? Kessler is quoted by the BaZ as saying: “They do not know how well developed public transport is here.” One might conclude that the city is failing when it comes to informing expats about this.

The way the BaZ describes it, it is not just the expats who are to blame for the growth in the number of cars. For second- or third-generation immigrants from South-East Europe, the paper writes, a car is a must, a status symbol. And also, according to the BaZ, families in the well-off Bruderholz residential area with their many second cars are part of the problem. One could gain the impression that scapegoats are being sought for policy failures in reducing traffic. One might also say that this looks like a case of “BSE” – which in this particular instance has nothing to do with mad-cow disease. The abbreviation also stands for “blame somebody else”.

One Response to “What a welcome”

  1. John Hyland says:

    My own personal experience showed the forsaking of a car here in Basel since 4 years, because the public transport system is excellent.
    I had been a car driver since I was 18 (1984) in the UK

    The first thing I noticed after arriving in Basel was the compact size of the city…

    (a phenomenon due to the historical separation of Basel Land from Basel Stadt, unlike Zurich the city amenities are not spread out in “an Urban Sprawl”)

    …made car ownership for commuting uneconomical, I also noticed the ratio of car ownership among my Expat friends as only 1 in 3

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