“Urban mobility will be electric”
July 2018

“Urban mobility will be electric”

By Marcus Efler
How are we going to get from A to B in our cities of tomorrow? Exploring this question is part of Daimler futurist Prof. Marianne Reeb’s job. Here she provides some answers.

Ms. Reeb, are you still able to enjoy walking and shopping in the heart of a city completely relaxed or do deficits in urban planning catch your eye around every corner?
Well, you’re a futurist 24 hours of the day – and of course the phenomena you describe will also catch your attention. In Berlin, for instance, pilot projects for shared spaces are already up and running …

Shared spaces are streets on which all street users, without separation, utilize the same space and, accordingly, cars have to travel at low speed – a little like living streets, correct?
Yes – and on Maaßenstraße, for example, a street reduced from six lanes to one, the concept doesn’t work at all. Everyone is frustrated, people can’t find places to park anymore, shops are waiting for delivery vans in vain and patrons are staying away from restaurants: a typical case of good intentions, but with poor results.

Essentially, though, shared spaces are a core element of many future visions of a livable city, aren’t they?
Yes, they are, too. But, let’s face it, there’s no such thing as a concept that fits any and all needs. Arterial roads cannot be converted into living streets. Instead it’s necessary to look for solutions that work in the places for which they’re intended.

Sharing, for instance, can apply to automobiles as well …
Car sharing is one of the key approaches to easing the burden on cities. There’s no need to take one’s child to school in the large SUV the family uses to go on vacation in. A small city car is enough. In the future, there’ll be a lot more flexible mobility offerings specifically tailored to the respective use case. Obviously, we won’t be able to buy all of them. On the other hand, the automobile will retain the fascination it exudes as a technical product people would like to own. One does not exclude the other.

“Urban mobility will be electric”© Daimler
Stuttgart 2036

The Daimler “Stuttgart 2036” scenario: The geography is very special. The city originally developed in a basin and is now sprawling into the surroundings. Many access routes to the city center are heavily frequented downhill roads. In the vision of the future, access to the city will only be granted to zero-emission vehicles for which toll fees will be charged as an additional control measure. In the area of local public transportation, a cableway system is conceivable enabling flexible boarding without interrupting the service as a whole because the pylons will also serve as access points. A tunnel bus will use the empty space above the street to augment public transportation. Sensors and artificial intelligence will enable a harmonious coexistence of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

When it comes to acceptance of shared cars, are there any country-specific differences?
Yes there are, due to culture. Europeans tend to act as a group, so the concept works there. Americans see themselves as “lone rangers,” so everyone wants their own car. Actually, that’s what Asians want too – but in China, for instance, an increasing number of regulations makes it more difficult for people to buy cars for personal ownership, so they use car sharing systems instead.

In the scenarios shown here, you’ve combined many diverse solutions. For instance, we’re seeing a cableway. Those systems are pretty popular in South American big cities …
There they primarily serve to connect the favelas with the downtown areas. But they can make sense in European cities as well. Compared with other systems, they can be built quickly at relatively low cost and don’t consume a lot of traffic space.

The city toll you’re proposing, though, is not a really low-priced solution: 98 euros … will personal mobility become a luxury product?
No doubt, seeing that is a little shocking at first. But it’s based on the idea of a dynamic price model. When nothing’s going on, for instance at night, it may even be free. But when everyone wants to drive their own car, then it’ll be expensive. At that time, you can switch to another means of transportation.

If switching were only so easy …
Hassle-free switching between various means of transportation is very important. Convenience is the key to people’s acceptance. It has to be fast, without long walks in between, and payment systems have to be standardized.

“Urban mobility will be electric”© Daimler

The Daimler “Shanghai” scenario represents the rapidly growing cities in the Asian region that reach an enormous density due to vertical construction. In structures like these, local public transportation becomes even more diverse. “Urban micro e-mobility” is a discernible trend. For affluent citizens, automated transportation using drone copters will be an attractive airborne option to escape the urban chaos on the ground. Parking spaces will become increasingly valuable and compacted, resulting in parking systems (park towers) with optimized space utilization.

Will new forms of living and working possibly decongest passenger car traffic as well?
Obviously, the growing number of people not working according to a rigid nine-to-five schedule helps as well. Office hours have become increasingly flexible, people can work from their homes and modern forms of communication replace commutes.

Perfect! Everyone stays at home and all traffic problems are solved …
But sometimes you have to be on site. You can’t always use Skype. Personal conversations remain essential. I’m just coming from a meeting where it was very beneficial that I was personally present.

Is the commuting system changing – living on the outskirts, working in the city?
Yes, there’s definitely a trend of people moving back into cities. It also includes families that would like to live in a house of their own – in developments where many smaller townhouses are built on the same lot. These people then of course have shorter commutes.

  • 4 pillars
    form the foundation of forward-thinking mobility planning at Mercedes-Benz: Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric.
  • 81 children
    at a time are planned to be taken to school by “Jouley,” an electric bus from Daimler’s U.S. subsidiary Thomas Built Buses starting in 2019. The vehicle has a range of up to 160 km (100 miles).

Or might be able to walk? Wasn’t there also some discussion of an idea to concentrate all the key things of an urban environment – residential areas, offices, shops, cultural life – in small, decentralized neighborhoods?
How much sense would that make? People specifically move to the city because these things are available in the center. You can’t put an opera house into every neighborhood.

What role will electric vehicles play in the city of the future?
A crucial one. Future urban mobility will be electric. You can only achieve clean air with locally emission-free vehicles. Everyone who’s ever spent a day in the smog of Beijing knows that. With incentives for electric vehicles and bans on vehicles with IC engines cities intend to force people to switch. That’s beginning to happen in Germany as well.

​Convenience is the key to people’s acceptance

Daimler futurist Marianne Reeb

Autonomous cars are the ­other frequently discussed alternative at the moment. How would that affect urban mobility?
Autonomous cars will be part of mobility – as a kind of personal and public transportation mix. When a school bus with a driver picks up children today it could be replaced by kind of a large automated taxi tomorrow – which would still be better than all parents personally shuttling their kids.

Will residents trust autonomous cars cruising around without a driver between their children playing in shared spaces?
Well, first of all, it’ll be a while before the technology is ready to be deployed and safe enough. The test drives in urban areas so far have taken place on selected routes under controlled conditions. And it’s also going to take some time before people will trust the technology. I remember a funny case in Japan where a subway line was automated. In the first few months, a driver was still sitting in the front seat. Although he had nothing to do, people felt more comfortable. Once he was gone, the seat became the most popular one with the passengers.

“Urban mobility will be electric”© Daimler
Los Angeles

The Daimler “Los Angeles” scenario shows a future city defined to the max by automobile traffic. The extreme extent of urban sprawl will continue to necessitate personal transportation in the future. However, central areas will only be open to passenger cars and trucks with eco-friendly powertrains that will be sharing the available traffic space with small and autonomous vehicles for transporting passengers and goods.

Will local public transportation have to reorganize itself?
It’ll have to become smarter and more flexible. What would be the sense in having huge buses that in spite of their size were jam-packed during rush hour but near-empty most of the time? That’s a waste of resources that could be put to good use. Why not haul goods with them as well? In the context of urban mobility, we always think only of people but goods account for a major part of it as well. In the past, a mail truck would arrive in the morning and today there’s a parcel delivery service rushing down the street every few minutes.

A consequence of the growing mail order business …
Yes, too. But many delivery vans and trucks are only half full when they start their runs.

In the future, individual parcels are supposed to be delivered by aerial drones …
I’m very skeptical in this respect. If just ten percent of freight transports were shifted into the air there’d be such a whir up there that you wouldn’t want to be or live below it.

On the ground, acceptance of personal mobility seems to be dropping as well. Are the days of the car-friendly city over?
I wouldn’t view that in black and white. Often the same people that live in the city are the ones that drive cars. The cities will have to strike a balance. In the future, they’ll be facing even fiercer competition for high quality of life than before and a smart mobility offering is a very important part of this.

How fast will cities change?
As our CEO, Dieter Zetsche, says: The way change occurs often resembles the ketchup bottle effect. Nothing will happen for a long time at first, and then it’ll happen all at once.

The interviewee
“Urban mobility will be electric”

The “Society and Technology Research Group” has been in existence at Daimler for 30 years and Prof. Marianne Reeb has been on board for 20. As “Manager Future, Life, Mobility” of the Research & Development department, Reeb, who has a doctoral degree in business administration, is one of the people responsible for corporate futurology. One of her first forward-thinking topics was car sharing. “But that never really flew because in the 1980s you still had to book a car telephonically three days in advance.” She also lectures on topics of cultural and social change for the Cultural Work degree program at University of Applied Sciences Potsdam and lives in Berlin and Stuttgart.war das Carsharing. „Das ist aber nie richtig geflogen, denn in den 1980er-Jahren musste man das Auto noch telefonisch und drei Tage vorher reservieren.“ An der FH Potsdam lehrt sie zudem kulturellen und sozialen Wandel am Studiengang Kulturarbeit. Sie lebt in Berlin und Stuttgart.