Dr. Susanne Böhler-Baedeker
Dr. Jens Ramsbrock und Michael Niedermaier
Dr. Veit Steinle

Higher, faster, further – Mobile amidst traffic chaos

Dialogue Forum on 21 February 2013

If we are to remain mobile in the future, our traffic system must change fundamentally. This will not only require a stop to the use of fossil fuels but also the development of new concepts that people will actually accept. The technological, economic, political and psychological obstacles to be overcome in reaching this objective were the object of discussion at the second session of the Dialogue Forum series entitled "The (im)mobile society – Ready for the future?" that took place on 21 February 2013.

Almost 51 million road vehicles were registered in 2011 in Germany. The global figure was roughly ten times as high. If the prognoses are correct, 1.5 billion vehicles will be on the roads throughout the world by the year 2030. But even now, we don't have enough space in the cities to accommodate them. In many of the metropolitan areas, traffic often stagnates more than it flows, and the rising emissions are threatening our climate. The search for solutions is proving difficult. Not only must technological hurdles be surmounted, but we all must part with old and comfortable habits to which we have grown used. "Many different instruments will be required to compel people to change their way of transportation," Dr. Susanne Böhler-Baedeker is convinced. The Research Group Co-Director at the Wuppertal Institute pictures an environmentally friendly system that assures people's mobility but remains payable at the same time.

Emissions must sink significantly
Alternative drive systems such as electric motors or fuel cells are only becoming effective over a very long term. But time is running out: "If we want to achieve the goal of a maximum global temperature rise of two degrees by 2030, we must reduce traffic emissions by a factor of three," explains Böhler-Baedeker, outlining the task before us. Half the cuts, she says, can be achieved by new technologies, the other half by behavioural changes. For this, an innovation and client initiative in the local public transport is required. "People actually need to want to travel with public transport more strongly."

Michael Niedermeier, environmental expert for traffic issues with the ADAC Automobile Club of Germany, has a similar outlook. "If you offer an attractive local public transport system, the citizens will make use of it." In Munich, for example, a substantial proportion of the traffic increase over recent years has taken place in the public domain. The rigid distinction between the car and public transport is becoming increasingly blurred anyway. "More and more people are intermodal when moving around, using different means of transport and increasingly travelling by bike or by foot," the expert informed us. In his opinion, industrial countries such as Germany have a role model function to fulfil, so that people in developing countries don't make the same mistakes as we have. "It is therefore not only necessary to develop vehicles that are more efficient in consumption but also to look at alternative fuels." However, the trend in recent years has been going towards increasing numbers of larger cars, which cancels out the technological progress made in energy consumption.

New paths in drive concepts
Automobile manufacturer BMW has decided on a dual approach to ensure future mobility. "We call it Evolution and Revolution," explained Dr. Jens Ramsbrock who is in charge of the project ActiveE at the innovation department for electromobility, BMW Group. "On the one hand, the classic vehicles are being optimised in regard to their efficiency, while we are also blazing new trails in regard to drive concepts on the other." One example is the i3 Concept, a purely electrical vehicle with extremely low CO2 emissions, which is supposed to go into serial production at the end of 2013. "We consulted pilot consumers and found out that 80 to 90 % of daily car journeys can be performed by e-vehicles. This is motivating for us manufacturers," says Ramsbrock pleased.

National Platform for Electric Mobility
However, there is still a lot to do. Germany wants to have one million e-cars travelling on its roads by 2020,  at the moment there are just about 5000. "The Government has set itself the goal of becoming the leading provider and market for e-mobility," explained Dr. Veit Steinle, General Director of Environmental Policy and Infrastructure, Departmental Policy Issues at the German Federal Ministry of Transport. A national platform has been founded together with the industry to pool all the resources available. Steinle considers the greatest obstacle to be the lack of electric cars being offered by the German manufacturers. However, Ramsbrock points out that this is due above all to the lack of demand on the part of the consumers.

Steinle is decidedly affirmative in responding to the question of whether more should be done to promote mobility in view of the much-feared traffic chaos. Mobility, he says, allows participation in social life, guarantees the free exchange of goods in an internationally interwoven world and is the elementary prerequisite for growth and prosperity. As experts are anticipating a massive increase in traffic in the coming decades, efficient haulage networks and logistic systems must be promoted. "At the same time, the energy concept has prescribed that by 2050, energy consumption in transport must be reduced by 40% in comparison to 2005," says Steinle. In 40 years' time, urban traffic should even be able to get by almost completely without fossil fuels.

Consumer behaviour decisive
In addition to the limited range of cars on offer, ADAC representative Niedermeier also sees psychological hurdles paving the way towards greater e-mobility. "I'm not certain how the consumer will react – whether we will have an iPhone effect, where people perceive electric vehicles as progressive and environmentally friendly and are prepared to spend significantly more money on them, or whether a type of organic meat mentality emerges, where everyone thinks it's right, but then buys their pork steaks in the supermarket for one euro." Changing people's behaviour cannot be done quite as quickly as some people think, Steinle points out. However, he can at least see positive developments. "Young people in the metropolitan areas are no longer as interested in owning a car as before. The companies have recognised this and are successfully pursuing other paths such as car sharing."

Not only automobile manufacturers will be faced by completely new challenges in the future but also urban planners. "The increasing use of intermodal transportation systems will require protracted urban restructuring in the cities," predicts Böhler-Baedeker. Strong town districts with small-scale supply infrastructures must be created or cycling paths leading into the city centres. A task that can certainly not be accomplished within the next few years. And the question of how such infrastructure measures should be financed still remains. Already today, there are massive remediation requirements. The Federal Government alone would need approximately three billion Euros just to refurbish all the derelict bridges in Germany. A sum that the budget of the Federal Ministry of Transport cannot accommodate at present, says Steinle.

If and when consensus ultimately rules in the issue of whether the transition should be made easier for people, one thing still applies: you can think up all sorts of wonderful scenarios. But they are no use if they don't suit the vast majority of people, regardless whether they live in cities or in the countryside, whether they are young or old. This makes it so difficult and costly to resolve the transportation problems. Finally everyone of us has to accept change and carry the burden.

The next Dialogue Forum will take place on 19 March 2013 under the title of "Will climate change get the better of us – Or can we beat it?".

CB, 5 March 2013