Insights

An Interview with Kirsten Lühmann — Transport Policy Spokesperson of the SPD Parliamentary Group

Read this article in German.


A discussion about the SPD prioritization of cabs within the framework of the Passenger Transport Act

Especially in rural areas, many are dependent on their cars and cannot benefit from mostly urban, new forms of mobility. How can we support the mobility change in rural areas as well, and how can politics respond to the different circumstances between urban and rural areas in this context?

In my opinion, we will not be able to do without individual mobility altogether - nor is this absolutely necessary. There will always be situations in which we need a car, especially in rural areas. The problem is rather that people sometimes use their own cars - especially those with internal combustion engines - in situations where there are alternative options.

For example, there are many routes, such as to the workplace, doctor or supermarket, that can be mastered without any problem using an electric motor. However, this is not being used. This is due, among other things, to the lack of charging station infrastructure, especially in the private sector. Public charging infrastructure projects have been strongly supported in the past, but the expansion of charging stations in the private sector has not. We, therefore, need legal clarification that enables private infrastructure on the one hand and a corresponding funding culture on the other. At the same time, it is important to create alternatives to the private car altogether, such as the (cargo) electric bicycle. Here, too, the infrastructure is still lacking to enable people to move safely between different locations via a sufficiently dense network of bicycle paths. This must change.

A lot is happening in public transport as part of the mobility transformation. Some projects, such as the use of community buses in rural areas, should be incorporated even more consistently into our mobility concept. The same applies to the reactivation of rail transport in order to use it for commuter and school transport. However, further development of local public transport projects in rural areas often fails due to a lack of funding from municipalities.

This must change in order to create the possibility of leaving passenger cars behind. The amendment to the Passenger Transport Act has been under discussion for a long time and is being drafted. What do you think still needs to change in the parliamentary process? Where do we need to make changes?

One reason for the amendment is to modernize the rules for cab and rental car transport, because these are still from a different era without sharing, Uber, or the like. It is already difficult to ensure that these rules, such as the obligation to return, are adhered to. It is further complicated by the fact that providers such as Uber, for example, see themselves only as an intermediary of a service. For the SPD, this is the problem with digitization: everyone is shirking their responsibility. The amendment aims to change this so that the intermediary is responsible not only for the service itself but also for the way in which the service is provided.

At the same time, we as the SPD give priority to the cab sector and want to protect it because cabs are part of public transport. This means that they always have a secure income through fixed tariffs, but at the same time, they are obliged to be available even in times of low traffic - even if it is not worthwhile from a business point of view. For the cab industry to be properly protected, it needs to be clearly distinguished from other forms of service - such as rental car services. There are still a number of points in the new Passenger Transport Act that need to be defined more precisely, or where we need to agree on concrete criteria and figures. However, in my opinion, the major points of this law have been set in the right direction.

One way or another, however, I am sure that we will not have found all the pitfalls before this law is passed and that we will therefore have to look at it again after two or three years to see whether everything is working as we envisage.

The grand coalition has implemented most of its plans from the coalition agreement in the mobility sector. You will no longer be a member of the next Bundestag. Which projects do you think your “successors” should take on? Where do you see the greatest challenges?

First of all, we need to continue the expansion of digitization, especially 5G, on transport routes: First, to establish data exchange among mobility providers and with municipalities. On the other hand, to create conditions for automated or autonomous forms of operation. We also need a mobility app. An app that bundles price distribution among the various providers so that the user only has to make one payment. Providers must not be allowed to get in the way here because of possible data secrecy. This is much more about a responsibility for society as a whole that must be fulfilled.

With a view of ecological change, we also need to promote alternative drive systems and synthetic fuels.

This is the only way we can really get closer to the goal of reducing CO2 emissions. The 130 km speed limit on highways can also contribute to this.

Finally, it will also be necessary to initiate a redistribution of traffic space without focusing exclusively on the goal of a car-free city. A large part of the traffic space is used by motorized individual traffic alone. We need to reverse this trend, and the federal government must provide the means to do so.

If you could implement your ideal mobility concept right now, what would it look like?

You have a mobility app that allows you to step out the door and book door-to-door and only have one payment process. So you always have the option of using an alternative mode of transportation instead of your own car - whether it’s the pooling vehicle, the city bus, or public transit. In addition, in my ideal mobility concept, the traffic space would be designed in such a way that it offers more room for bicycles and pedestrians and less for cars instead.

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