Insights

An Interview with Dr. Christoph Ploß: Member on the Committee of Transport and Digital Infrastructure

© Tobias Koch 2020

Read this article in German.

The differences between regulation and practice

Together with the Hamburg tech company Wunder Mobility, we publish a monthly Mobility Policy Newsletter. The focus is on all questions concerning mobility, regulation, and technology. On our blog we now publish the next article from the newsletter:

An interview with Dr. Christoph Ploß MdB, member of the Committee for Transport and Digital Infrastructure, about the regulatory challenges of mobility change and how we should respond to the differences between city and country.

Let’s start with Hamburg, with your hometown: Hamburg is considered a pioneer of innovative mobility in Germany. As next year’s ITS World Congress will take place in Hamburg, many state-of-the-art, innovative products will be presented. To what extent are we prepared in Germany in terms of regulation for this type of innovation? What must happen on the political side to provide sufficient support and encouragement?

You can see that mobility is changing rapidly. At the same time, however, some laws are still influenced by the spirit of the 1980s or 1990s, when these forms of mobility did not even exist. That is why I think it is urgently necessary to adapt the legislation accordingly and also to preserve new mobility services, such as ridesharing, in law. Up to now, this has only been possible by means of a so-called experimental clause (note: §2 (7) of the Passenger Transport Act), which limits the approval only to a certain period of time and does not allow for investment and planning security. We must change this if we want on-demand services to become more important in the mobility sector. That is why I am also lobbying for the Passenger Transport Act to be revised and for these services to be given a permanent legally secure framework.

Autonomous driving plays a major role in this context. What form can the regulatory framework take and to what extent must the European level be involved in this topic? Even for innovations that are still unknown today - how can we give new ideas a legal framework so that they can develop well?

I believe that Vision Zero i.e. the goal of reducing the number of road deaths to zero, can only be achieved by driving autonomously. Human error or inattention is still the main cause of accidents. Of course, this raises the question of what the regulatory framework should look like and who is liable, for example, if there is an accident. At this point, I would urgently call for these issues to be coordinated very closely, at least at the European level. Especially as it is often forgotten, such as when we talk about the expansion of the hydrogen or electric charging station infrastructure, that we live in a Europe that fortunately has no borders and that cross-border traffic will increase again, especially after Corona. In other words, it is of little use if everything has been clarified in Germany, but as soon as a road user comes to the Netherlands or to Austria or Poland, he suddenly faces very big problems and perhaps can no longer drive his car. That is why I urgently recommend that this be coordinated at the European level.

Can Germany take on a pioneering role in this?

This is very desirable. Due to our strong automotive industry, we naturally have a great interest in making rapid progress in this area. The Americans are very far along in terms of test kilometers. However, I believe that we have a stronger technology and that the German automotive industry will have greater success with building cars, that meet all the demands that come with it.

The key to this development is infrastructure. This must be sufficiently developed to enable autonomous driving. This is currently the case - if at all - only in cities, but not in rural areas. How can we master this break between the city and the countryside?

In practice, we find that in certain cases we would need one law for the cities and one for the rural areas as we have different conditions. When I look at the rural areas, it is completely illusory to have a good subway and suburban train system everywhere, because the need is perhaps limited to two or three people in the evening on certain routes. In terms of the cost-benefit ratio, you won’t be able to afford it. Accordingly, the passenger car will play a major role, at least in the deep rural areas. Ultimately, we have to think accordingly: The further we go into rural areas, the more individual mobility will be needed. At the same time, we have to ensure that we offer the possibility of using public transportation at the town borders by integrating on-demand services or Park&Ride - and thus ensure that there are opportunities to switch the mode of transport.

Among other things, they demand that we in Germany must link climate protection with our economic strength, and that this should not be mutually exclusive. What role must mobility and above all the classic car manufacturers in Germany play in this?

I think that we should combine climate protection with economic or mobility policy. This should not be seen as a contradiction. Unfortunately, many people still do see it as a contradiction and ask questions such as: “How can I make cars climate-friendly?” I would always advocate that we invest heavily in a charging station infrastructure. In the Bundestag, we are currently in the process of ensuring that we have 100,000 charging points in Germany by the end of the legislative period if possible through subsidy programs and incentives. There are various reasons why, for example, hydrogen has not yet become established in the passenger car sector. But one of the reasons is that it often takes several hundred kilometers to reach the next hydrogen filling station. Therefore, this will only work by expanding the infrastructure, and then more and more will switch automatically. We have the classic “chicken and egg problem” here.

One final question: If you could implement your ideal mobility concept right away, what would it look like and what do you think are the first steps necessary to get there?

We would have a very well developed underground and suburban train system that runs autonomously, is always on time, and is coordinated. Especially in large cities, the majority of citizens no longer own vehicles, they would use public transport or on-demand services.

And if we go a little further out - to my own home located in a rural area in Schleswig-Holstein - individual mobility will indeed play an important role even in 10 or 15 or 20 years’ time. Hence, it’s very important for cars to be climate-neutral. My ideal vision is: Transportation is very closely connected, is becoming quieter, emissions-friendly and everyone watches via app or smartphone - possibly in a few years, there will be completely different means - which is the ideal means of transportation at the moment.

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