Living without a car in Vienna

12 Oct

Once again something from today’s Kurier.

In the city section the Kurier reported on an apartment complex built 13 years ago in Vienna’s 21st district where the rental contracts require residents to commit to neither owning a car nor using one regularly over a longer period of time. Over 700 people have chosen to live this way, filling the complex to capacity.

This is possible, in part, because of Vienna’s exceptional public transportation. But the Viennese mentality, with its deeply-rooted ambivalence about cars, also supports the creation of such a space. The Viennese, for the most part, accept the taxes and so on that make owning and driving a car in Vienna (and Austria) very expensive. For years they have resisted the various campaigns to get car drivers to rebel (although the system of parking permits recently introduced by the red-green coalition currently governing Vienna have finally managed to anger them).

One of the greatest advantages of signing away one’s right to a car should be rather obvious. The money that otherwise would have gone into building a large garage for residents has instead gone into landscaping, which includes large green spaces and even a goldfish pond, and nicer communal rooms for events with even a shared bike repair workshop in the basement. (Well, you would need that, wouldn’t you. ;-))

The assumption was that such an apartment complex would attract a certain kind of person–someone who might choose to have greater control of how the work around the complex is done–and that has been borne out. This means that the work of the Hausverwaltung (the property management, usually outsourced to a specialized company) has been taken on by a group of residents, saving all of them about 1/3 of the usual costs–and the incredible frustration that most Viennese experience when dealing with such a body.

There are, of course, tensions. About 10% of the people do own cars having, as one resident expressed it, “… all the advantages of the facilities without sticking to the rules, and thereby taking away the chance for someone else who would be interested in living in the complex.” In addition, as a kind of co-op housing arrangement residents have the option to buy their apartment after a specified number of years. The no-car rule doesn’t seem to apply after purchase, which another resident said “waters down the concept of freedom from cars.” And there are some political tensions. The initial plan has Green Party written all over it. There’s some feeling that the “Reds” (the Social Democrats, for decades the indisputedly dominant party in Vienna) don’t stand behind the concept and will not be building more in the area–too afraid of losing power to the Greens in the district, according to some of the residents.

That said, in a side bar the Kurier reported on seven new housing projects, scattered around Vienna and supported by the Social Democrats, which will marginalize the cars. For example, the garages will be built on the edges of the developments, leaving the central green spaces free from cars, and residents will have all kinds of other options like car-sharing and free yearly passes for public transporation in their first year of residence.

Out of interest I checked some car ownership statistics because I have the impression that the number of cars in Austria has jumped dramatically since I arrived 25 years ago. The data I could find doesn’t bear this out, but then the earliest year I could find numbers for was 2003, 15 years after I arrived. Since I went to the trouble of getting it, here it is:

In 2003 there were about 4m cars on the roads in Austria (with a population of 8.1m that makes not quite half a car per person ;-)). In August 2013 there were 4.6 m cars and a population of 8.4m making it a little more than half a car per person.

Clearly this would be more interesting if I could make some comparison to the USA, for example, but when I tried to get the data I received the following message: “Due to the lapse in government funding, sites, services, and all online survey collection requests will be unavailable until further notice.”

Thanks to Statistik Austria for the information on car ownership and population ( ).

The information about the apartment complex in the 21st district comes from the article “Ein Leben (fast) ohne Auto” by Josef Gebhard and appeared in the “Chronik” section of the Kurier on 12 October 2013.


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