Public or private transport? The effects of a car-free day.

The Car Free Day program began in the Netherlands in 1956. It was adopted in France in 1997, and within three years it was adopted by various countries in Europe.


Vehicles have become an indispensable part of our lives. 

For vacations, weekends, shopping, and of course to get to work. Despite the cost of gas, maintenance and constant traffic jams, it remains the basic transportation for many people. Rosemary Hiscock and a few colleagues attempted to understand why the car is used so much in a 2003 study. The answer to this question is well known: more autonomy and comfort than public transport, and avoidance of delays and cancellations of public transport. Driving gives a feeling of practicality and reliability, prestige, competence, skill and masculinity. However, the car is an individual means of transport, which emits much more greenhouse gases than collective means of transport. With the alarming release of the latest IPCC report, it becomes more than important to drop our four-wheeled vehicles.


Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is one of the most polluted cities in the world. The main actors of this pollution are motorized vehicles. To try to alleviate this problem, the government has proposed car-free days, the first time in 2007. A 2019 study by Dr. Heidy Rachman and Dr. Lita Barus at the University of Indonesia looked into the impacts of such days on the environment, but not only that. Car-free days have multiple benefits: improving air quality of course, but also minimizing the use of private vehicles and campaigning for public transport.

In order to interpret the results, the levels of PM10, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and nitrogen dioxide were measured. In a second step, a survey was opened to measure the satisfaction of the participants on this car-free day.

It was a complete surprise when the researchers realized that in terms of environmental effects, the car-free day did not seem to have been a huge success. However, this is explained by the way the day was proposed; cars were not banned in the whole city, only one road was closed for a few hours. Most of the inhabitants only took an alternative route. However, the longer-term effects would be beneficial to health, so sustaining a decrease in the amount of cars over time would lead to a healthier lifestyle. In addition, in Jakarta, where street vendors are numerous, a car-free day increases the amount of foot traffic for local residents and allows them to be free of vehicle disturbance; the street belongs to pedestrians.

Car-free days are one-offs, or even non-existent in some cities. But the climate emergency requires a radical change in our lifestyles. However, there is still a lot to be done to make these days an everyday occurrence, especially in terms of improving public transport: indeed, it is unthinkable to ask a whole population to lose the comfort, safety and accessibility that the car offers, hence the importance of working on these elements on public transport, and of making the latter attractive, efficient and inexpensive.