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Flying in Europe up to 30 times cheaper than train, says Greenpeace

Europe’s cheap flights and pricey train tickets promote dirty forms of transport, campaigners say, with “outrageous” tax breaks encouraging people to heat the planet as they head on holiday.

Train tickets are double the price of flights for the same routes, on average, according to an analysis from Greenpeace published on Thursday. The campaigners compared tickets on 112 routes on nine different days. To get from London to Barcelona, they found, the cost of taking the train is up to 30 times the cost of jumping on a plane.

Holiday destinations across Europe this week have been baking in deadly heat made hotter by greenhouse gases released from burning fossil fuels.

“€10 airline tickets are only possible because others, like workers and taxpayers, pay the true cost,” said Lorelei Limousin, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace. “For the planet and people’s sake, politicians must act to turn this situation around and make taking the train the more affordable option.”

Flying is one of the most polluting activities a person can do and also one of the hardest to clean up. Unlike eating a burger or driving a car – which have cleaner alternatives such as plant-based meats and electric vehicles – there is no way to fly without changing the climate. Experts have criticised schemes claiming to offset emissions from flying as flawed.

The Greenpeace campaigners found train travel was more expensive than flying, on average, on 79 of the 121 routes they studied. On many routes, there were individual days where the train was cheaper than the plane, even if the average cost was greater.

Trains beat planes on eight or nine of the nine days tested on 23 of the routes. Half of these were deemed “great” for having regular and reliable connections, a good speed and tickets below €150.

The best lines include Lisbon-Porto and Madrid-Barcelona for domestic travel, and Berlin-Prague, Zurich-Vienna and Prague-Budapest for international travel. None of the top international train lines involved the UK, France, Spain or Italy.

Overall, the study was “well done” and considered complexities in the system such as the time of booking, said Stefan Gössling, a professor at Linnaeus University in Sweden who has studied flight emissions. “That said, the findings do not come as a surprise, as air transport is highly subsidised.”

In Europe, airlines pay no taxes on kerosene and little tax on tickets or VAT. Their emissions are only priced for flights within Europe – at a level below the social cost of carbon. A study published earlier this month by Transport and Environment, a green campaign group, found European governments lost out on €34.2bn from poor taxation on aviation in 2022. The “tax gap” is set to rise to €47.1bn in 2025, the report found.

“In short: if you fly, you are subsidised; if you take the train, you are punished by higher prices – as well as the fact that the journey is often longer,” said Gössling.

The aviation industry is responsible for about 2.5% of global carbon pollution but releases other gases that heat the planet further. A study co-authored by Gössling found only 11% of the world flew in 2018, and at most 4% flew abroad.

The International Energy Agency, a Paris-based organisation led by the energy ministers of mostly rich countries, has called on policymakers to “tax aviation according to impact, acknowledging that only a minority of the world flies”. It has also recommended they scale up sustainable aviation fuels.

Greenpeace demanded that governments introduced “national, simple and affordable climate tickets”. In 2021, Austria started to sell such a ticket that covered all public transport in the country for the price of €3 a day. In 2020, Luxembourg became the first country in Europe to provide free public transport.

Campaigners also called for the phase-out of airline subsidies.

“Planes pollute far more than trains, so why are people being encouraged to fly?” said Limousin.

Source: The Guardian