December 15, 2021

The future of german cities: car-free inner cities

Read the German article here

As of today, there are over 45 million cars on German roads.

With this high number of cars comes a high incidence of congestion, nitrogen oxide pollution, noise complaints, accidents, and much more. Accordingly, the desire for a better quality of life is growing louder and we can only do it with fewer cars in our cities. Having fewer cars would be more environmentally friendly and would make more space in the inner-city to be used for other activities. In Berlin, for example, the “Berlin car-free” initiative is currently campaigning for a reduction in traffic within the S-Bahn ring.

The topic of urban traffic of the future is increasingly interesting to the broad public. The pressure on politicians to take action is steadily increasing, as the right course for sustainable and climate-friendly mobility needs to be set. The mobility of people and goods must be reconciled with new environmental solutions and quality of life.

Alternatives to car traffic are for example a good public transport network, the expansion of cycling routes, and parking facilities on the outskirts of the city. Accordingly, the current focus of transport policy is largely about changing public transport. For example, fleets across Germany are becoming increasingly electrified, public transport is being expanded to include sharing services, and walking and cycling are being strongly promoted.

Car-free places in Germany already exist, but they are few and distant from each other. Meanwhile, major cities such as Hamburg, with the project “Ottensen macht Platz”, are already decarbonizing their city centers. Munich is also advancing with that. It remains to be seen what certain petitions, like “Berlin autofrei” will achieve. But is it possible to go completely without owning a car? Are multimodal solutions the future?

We spoke with Felix Jakobsen, Business Development Director at Zoba.

Zoba increases the profitability of shared mobility operators by automating operational decisions. Zoba’s API-based software provides demand-based dynamic vehicle positioning, charging, battery swapping and routing for the world’s leading multimodal mobility operators in over 150 cities worldwide. Using Zoba, mobility operators can dramatically increase revenue, simplify complex operations and improve compliance with city regulations.

Mr.Jakobsen, how would a major city’s multimodal mix be best positioned?

I think the multimodal mix should be based on several factors.

Primarily, these are distances and routes that have to be covered within the city. Because these define the actual mobility in the city.

In a second step, we should look at public transport. This is often the backbone of mobility, especially for somewhat longer distances in the city. Based on this, various forms of micro-mobility as well as car sharing should be integrated. However, it is also important to provide the appropriate infrastructure and to publicly support these forms of mobility - just as public transport and private car use are currently being massively supported.

And which means of transport are currently not perceived and/or promoted strongly enough in terms of their potential?

In my opinion, all forms of shared mobility are not sufficiently promoted and thus not perceived enough. In the public debate, we always talk about how certain modalities would not replace car trips. However, maybe it’s not the lack of potential of new modes of transportation, but the overpowering promotion of the individually used car. If we look at Amsterdam or Copenhagen, they have long been showing us how things can be done differently. But Paris has also shown in just a few years that a transformation from a pure car city into a city full of lived and loved micro-mobility is possible. Both shared and individually used.

Where do you see the biggest political and regulatory obstacles toward more sharing?

One of the biggest chunks is parking. It is imperative to reduce parking costs for carsharing cars. For both cars and micro-mobility vehicles, it is also important to convert appropriate parking space; into carsharing-specific parking spaces and appropriate parking stations for mopeds, e-scooters, and bicycles.

In this way, we kill two birds with one stone: 1. we incentivize and simplify the use of shared mobility, and 2. we take away space from the privately used car.

In addition, it is necessary to reduce the supremacy of the car by creating more space for other vehicles - in terms of lanes and paths.

Are technical applications perhaps not advanced enough?

I think that technical applications exist in principle. Here, too, we can look to our neighboring countries Denmark and the Netherlands, where uniform technical solutions are in place. The same or similar technical infrastructure could also be used in Germany.

Where do you see both major German cities and smaller municipalities in 10 years’ time? What challenges do you see?

Judging by current policies, one would think that not much will change here in terms of mobility.

However, I think that there is no way around drastic changes in the mobility world, both at the federal level and at the municipal level.

And here it will be inevitable to reduce the privilege of the privately used car. And this will automatically mean significantly more shared mobility. Although I can’t say whether we’ll see autonomous shuttles in big cities in ten years.

However, rural and small-town areas, in particular, are very important for the traffic turnaround, since the private car unfortunately still plays an almost irreplaceable role here. It is again necessary to first expand public transportation and at the same time promote the local economy so that distances are shortened. Multimodal offers can also play a complementary role. We are seeing that politicians in smaller communities in particular are pleased about the establishment of mobility services and welcome them.

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