Calling for connected mobility in cities
More and more people are living in cities, a trend of increasing urbanization that can be observed in the industrial world and developing countries alike. The people in those cities are demanding more mobility in densely populated areas – a combination of factors that has ramped up pressure on traffic systems in urban spaces. More mobility for even more people requires new solutions if we are to avoid ending up in constant gridlock.
Difficult traffic conditions for commuters
The TomTom Traffic Index reveals the world’s congestion hotspots. Drivers in Istanbul, for instance, undertaking what should be a 30-minute commute in free-flowing traffic, end up spending up to 125 hours a year sitting in traffic jams! In Germany, Stuttgart is the city with the heaviest traffic: journeys take 30% longer compared to free-flowing traffic – a delay that increases to as much as 65% in the evenings. This negative trend is becoming more and more pronounced – in many cities, traffic flow is getting worse – see the chart for a sample set of German cities.
Is there a way out of the traffic jam?
Considering the gridlock on roads, public transport options such as trams and buses take on increasing importance. Large cities have seen a decided increase in the use of these mobility options. The number of cars per inhabitant is already much lower in cities than in less densely populated areas. Still, it seems public transport alone is not enough to tackle the congestion problem – even though many stick to individual traffic for convenience or flexibility reason. Demand for individual mobility is stronger and the barriers to using public transport are too high.
New alternatives arise
Over the past few years, we have seen the emergence of new forms of mobility that are attracting growing numbers of users, especially in inner cities. Car sharing and bike sharing in particular enjoy increasing popularity. This is bound up with the trend among younger city dwellers to be less interested in owning things, especially owning cars. Sharing schemes such as Car2Go and DriveNow are being offered in more and more cities. Although they help reduce the burden on infrastructure only indirectly (whether a person is driving in their own or a shared car makes no difference to the traffic flow), they provide major relief when it comes to parking. It must be noted as well, that these singular services do not attract enough people to solve congestion issues within cities.
The growing importance of environmental factors
City planning is beginning to factor in environmental concerns and related climate protection objectives. Fine particulate emissions are becoming more and more of a problem around the world. Major European cities have already instituted driving restrictions. For example, vehicles in Paris are permitted to drive only every 2nd day (distinguished by whether the registration number is odd or even). Pictures of Beijing on smoggy days make for a powerful and immediate statement on how unhealthy the air in a city can be. There’s no doubt that the main sources of heightened emissions differ by region. Looking at Stuttgart as a modern metropolis in an industrial nation, we can see that there is considerable room for maneuver, especially in terms of industrial and traffic related CO2 emissions. The pollution generated by traffic in Stuttgart (CO2 emissions) has remained more or less at the same level over the past 15 years, whereas the emissions generated by commerce, trade, and private households have been scaled back significantly. Given the overall rise in traffic, a standstill in emissions is already kind of an achievement. But this shouldn’t stop us thinking about innovative solutions to reduce the emission levels even more.
New business models and technological developments
Car sharing and bike sharing can make a key contribution to protecting our environment – especially when integrated into a joint scheme together with public transportation and car parking. Several car sharing providers emphasize electromobility as a major feature of their offering. As electromobility becomes more developed and achieves more wide-scale penetration by way of plug-in hybrids – and in cities, by way of e-bikes and e-scooters as well – a portion of today’s driving with internal-combustion engines can be replaced by electric drives, thus reducing pollution. But further improving the efficiency of conventional internal-combustion engines also helps cut emissions even if the volume of traffic remains the same.
At the same time, investment in further public transport options has to happen over the long term and requires very high levels of financing. For example, four kilometers of light rail in the Stuttgart suburbs (the Freiberg-Benningen route) cost 30.8 million euros. In times when public budgets are already strapped for cash, only a few cities manage to make a convincing argument for this level of spending. A shortcut out of gridlock that also succeeds in bringing about a substantial improvement in environmental statistics cannot be found by considering the various modes of transport separately.
Improvements are achieved when modes of transport are considered in combination, not individually. The goal should be threefold: spread the take-up of low- or even zero-emissions mobility technology as far as possible, use existing infrastructure as efficiently as possible, and keep the economic damage caused by gridlock as low as possible.
How can we make this a reality?
We have to connect the various modes of transport with one another to form urban mobility platforms. This increased convenience will make it easier for people to use existing environmentally friendly transport options and facilitate more efficient mobility. Possible approaches include offering other aids in addition to connecting different modes of transport. An example of this would be a solution that provides commuters from the suburbs with all the information they need to find the most efficient route to work, based on their precise location and real-time data. If these urban mobility platforms are linked to other concepts, such as e-government offers or convenient payment options, the resulting combination could prove an essential companion in people’s daily routines – and one that enjoys widespread acceptance.
Do you see any other ways for connectivity to sustainably drive mobility in urban spaces?