Create more incentives
Why do metropolitan regions have to reimagine mobility?
In the wake of the unbridled urbanization of our planet, the world is “becoming a city.” Up to 100 million people might be living in the metropolitan region of Lagos, Nigeria, by 2100, according to some forecasts. And urban residents want to remain mobile. New ideas have to be put into action to meet this need in increasingly cramped conditions. That’s the only option. Urban transportation has to contribute its fair share also to the “green deal,” in other words to becoming carbon-neutral, plus reducing noise and other stress factors, which requires new thinking in terms of mobility besides other aspects. Stakeholders are obviously willing to engage in this process, as shown, for instance, by the existence of events like our ITS World Congress in Hamburg at which policymakers and other players representing society, business and science will get together to discuss specifically these topics and challenges, experience practical examples, and develop ideas for Smart Mobility and digitalization of transportation.
Does the fact that every city has a unique character and challenges mean that unique mobility concepts are needed, or do universal solutions exist?
There are solutions that, based on developments, experiences, technologies, business models and political strategies and regulations, can be applied to and used by various cities and regions. They probably account for 60 to 80 percent of all existing concepts that can be derived from tests and real-world laboratories.
What factors have to be considered in concept modifications?
First of all, the existing infrastructure and the financial situation. The technological development level of the region, along with urban planning, social and cultural requirements, plays a role as well. The need to carefully gauge the wishes and needs of the local population is another very important factor. You’ll never be able to hit the bull’s eye at once in all of these respects – arriving at an optimal solution always requires some readjustment and further development.
Urban travel using diverse means of transportation
Bus or train, scooter or (shared) car? But why “or?” The “fluid” change between different means of transport, as shown in the Audi vision depicted in the cover image, is what makes a new form of mobility so attractive. A close-meshed network of hubs at train stations or in residential areas is an important prerequisite. Even more important is a cross-provider app enabling users to plan, book and pay for their trips across all means of transportation.
Sharing systems for cars, bikes, electric and conventional scooters, plus ride sharing services and carless zones – in Hamburg, for instance, various Smart Mobility and digitalized transportation projects are currently being field-tested. What findings have been obtained with them?
These projects have generally produced very good findings, although practically any experience in a pilot testing program is positive – even if it should actually be rated negatively, because analyzing concepts and ideas just theoretically does not achieve the set objectives. What matters is their practical application on the road in an exchange with users – and by that I explicitly mean not only technical aspects and operational implementation. Exploring people’s acceptance of the applications and involving them in the process is at least equally important. Our experience has shown that it always takes a while for users to adopt new offerings – which may be shorter or longer, depending on the age group.
Many new mobility concepts have a question mark about their economic viability attached to them. Where’s the money for transportation transformation supposed to come from if normal revenues don’t cover the costs?
When it comes to infrastructure and urban development the required budgets will largely have to be appropriated by policymakers. The acquisition and provision of comprehensive data – which, by the way, I feel is a crucial factor of mobility transformation – has to be another predominantly official undertaking so that project developers and providers of mobility services will have unrestricted access to the data. However, the technical and operational implementation of new mobility services should be left up to the private sector. Whenever private-sector initiatives prove to be conducive to achieving stated objectives but cannot immediately be implemented in cost-effective ways, the public sector has to investigate if political, structural or financial support is necessary. Ultimately, citizens always foot the bill – either through taxes or through ticket and purchasing prices. I think that’s only fair because in the end all of us are responsible for meeting the climate goals as a task for society as a whole.
In spite of available alternatives, many urbanites aren’t switching from cars to other forms of transportation. Will regulatory actions such as speed limits, reduction of and price increases for parking spaces or city toll fees be necessary to transform transportation? Or should a further improvement of alternatives be pursued?
All of the aspects you mentioned are parts of a big “tool kit” that can – and actually has to – be used if we want to reduce CO2 emissions. But generally speaking, it’s always better to establish a change in mobility behavior by means of incentives rather than bans. Even at this juncture, we can tell that more and more citizens view carbon-neutral mobility as a strong incentive. Going forward, this mindset will be reflected in people’s choices of transportation and related travel behavior. Citizens will soon realize that sacrificing the use of their own cars is not tantamount to sacrificing good and convenient mobility – and may even be an improvement especially in urban areas, both in terms of convenience and costs – and for the environment anyway.
That said, will the automobile be phased out?
To avoid this risk, the automobile as an element of mobility has to keep reinventing itself and seek and find its place in a city’s mobility mix. The automobile is always in competition with other mobility systems and the industry will have to embrace this challenge in the future even more so than in the past. Let’s face it, this challenge includes the reassignment of public space in the interest of quality of life and amenity value in cities and neighborhoods, which reduces the space available to cars. However, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that in many parts of the world the automobile, for instance in sprawling cities in North America, is still a backbone of mobility due to a lack of public transportation alternatives. This is where the automotive industry can make a key contribution to achieving climate goals with zero-emissions powertrain technologies.
Underground urban travel
Modern subway lines frequently incur “astronomical” costs of some 300 million euros per kilometer. Not all cities can afford such investments. That’s why in all of Africa only Cairo in Egypt and Algiers in Algeria have an underground metro network. The Asian island republic of Indonesia, with 264 million inhabitants ranking in fourth place of the world’s most populous nations, received its first subway only in mid-2019, a 16-kilometer section in the capital city, Jakarta, with construction costs amounting to 2.6 billion dollars. In other cities such as Rome the subsoil prevents a close-meshed metro network.
In the context of transforming transportation toward a carless society and in addition to an extensive mobility offering, how important is a cross-provider app enabling users to plan, book and pay for a trip from the point of departure to the desired destination with a single click?
That has to be the goal. In Hamburg, like in other cities, such an app connecting conventional local public transportation with new “mobility as a service” offerings combined with short bus and train service intervals is the core element of a forward-thinking transportation strategy. Switzerland is already doing this on an interurban level in an exemplary way with a ticket system for all transportation operators. Failure to achieve this in Germany would have detrimental consequences. Unfortunately, firmly established structures that we definitely have to crack are obstructing rapid progress of this development.
Biking and walking are the cheapest and most eco-friendly forms of getting from A to B. The shorter the distances, the more attractive are both. That’s why planners favor the urban development concept of the segmented city in which residents have access to anything they need in everyday life within 15 minutes. Is that a model that should catch on?
Yes … but it will take time because urban development is a marathon. However, I’m sure that in the future we’re going to see more neighborhoods again where people can take care of all the things that they need in daily life locally. The corona pandemic and the resulting mobility restrictions plus the experience of working from home have noticeably intensified this trend.
The automobile as an element of mobility has to keep reinventing itself and seek and find its place in a city’s mobility mixMobility expert Harry Evers
The ITS World Congress visits Hamburg
From October 11 to 15, 2021, urban mobility will be showcased in Hamburg. The Hanseatic city and the Federal Ministry of Transport will co-host the event that ranks among the leading international platforms in the field of intelligent transportation systems and services (ITS). Since 1994, experts from transportation, logistics and IT have been meeting at the annual ITS World Congress in different major cities to engage in an exchange of ideas and to test examples from the field. Previous hosting cities have included Seoul, Sydney, London, Beijing, New York and Tokyo.
Many big cities are grappling with major topographical challenges such as hills and rivers, while in others the subsoil does not permit construction of subway systems. Are cable cars or similar concepts a key to the solution?
In hilly cities like La Paz, Bogotá and Mexico City, cable cars have proven to be efficient alternatives that can be established in cost-effective ways. Ferries, especially those that operate autonomously and with zero emissions, can be a good complement to an urban mobility mix as well.
What about drones? Flying taxis in particular seem to be rather unpopular. For good reason?
You know, I basically evaluate and approach new topics and technologies with an open mind. Immediately rejecting ideas without investigating if they merit a chance to prove themselves is counter-productive. “Urban Air Mobility – UAM” not only refers to flying taxis that have a clearly defined application and significance in the context of a general transformation of mobility. Uncrewed drones that will be able to render valuable, socially-relevant services in countless applications will be a lot more important. Take, for instance, the transportation of tissue samples or other medical cargo between hospitals currently being tested or the delivery of pharmaceuticals in regions with less developed infrastructure like Africa enabling vital supply services. Other potential uses include traffic monitoring and control functions or early warning systems of forest fires. Such applications with social relevance will ensure that drones will be meeting with generally high acceptance by the population.
Urban cargo hauling
Businesses and people in future mega cities have to be supplied with goods – therefore, urban logistics has to pursue new pathways just like passenger transportation does. In port cities like Hamburg, systems such as the hyperloop or maglev trains can rid the roads of container traffic – even in interurban hauling. For pallet-size shipping, experts are investigating the use of XXL-size underground pneumatic tube systems.
What hurdles will driverless vehicles such as Hamburg’s HEAT shuttle project have to overcome before they can be used across the board?
First of all, aside from their technical development, legal approval is an important hurdle. In 2016, an amendment to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic paved the way for this technology on a global scale. However, many countries are still lacking an extensive and effective regulatory framework. Germany has now declared itself a pioneer and plans to become the first nation in the world to migrate vehicles from research into the real world. According to the Federal Ministry of Transport, 2022 is targeted for bringing vehicles with autonomous driving functions into regular service. With HEAT, Hamburg is currently gathering valuable experience supporting this aim. Among other things, more than 30 traffic lights have been equipped for Car2X communication in the public traffic space and tested on a proving ground in various projects. In autonomous and connected driving, on-board sensors and lidar and radar systems additionally assist the vehicles, which also communicate with their surroundings. The new 5G mobile communications standard will be used there as well and enable further applications. There’s still a way to go in many technical and regulatory areas and I really hope that, considering the consistency with which we’ve been testing and validating future mobility solutions so far, we’ll be successful in that area, because this much is clear: autonomous vehicles are going to make a significant contribution to road safety. In 2019, 91.4 percent of all accidents involving personal injury in Germany were attributable to human error.
The massive increase in delivery traffic is posing a growing challenge to urban mobility. What ideas exist in that area?
Urban logistics faces similar challenges as passenger transportation and is addressed by corresponding approaches: zero-emissions powertrains, autonomous driving, efficient and reliable mobility. Both areas will therefore be mutually supportive in their evolution. A number of exciting relevant projects will be presented at the ITS Congress. As a port city with a large proportion of delivery traffic, Hamburg is an ideal test bed for innovative solutions in real-world service. At the ITS Congress, we’ll also be able to showcase special reference projects and ideas: a hyperloop system for hauling cargo, an autonomous magnetic levitation train for container transportation and an underground XXL-sized pneumatic tube system for rapid transportation of palleted goods are just some examples of the demonstrations.
A final question: will an agile transportation policy have to drive mobility of tomorrow or will forward-thinking concepts and ideas automatically gain traction?
It always takes both: continuity and a policy framework, plus an exciting story of a concept that makes sense to people and is desirable. Transformation, no doubt, will only be achievable with the full backing of the whole population.
Airborne urban travel
So-called Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is going to conquer the airspace in metropolitan areas. Electric drones are going to haul both cargo and people from A to B, fast and without traffic jams. A mix with other means of transportation, as shown here with the Schaeffler Mover, is conceivable as well.
Harry Evers is a degreed engineer and as a freelance consultant has been focused on innovative technologies and applications relating to mobility for more than 30 years. Since 2018, as the managing director of ITS Hamburg 2021 GmbH, a subsidiary of the city of Hamburg, he has been responsible for preparing and organizing the World Congress.