In cities, the mobility transition has already begun.

For more than a decade now, private vehicle use in large German cities has been on the decline. At the same time, more people are getting around by bicycle, on foot, with public transport and through carsharing. Developments like these – fuelled in part by societal trends such as lower car ownership rates and fewer young adults with driver’s licenses – have influenced the transport options that are in demand.43
Alongside traditional urban mobility options, whose mainstay continues to be public transport, new forms of individual transport are being driven by digitalisation, including collaborative services such as carsharing, ridesharing, and bikesharing. These services have brought with them new types of infrastructure: intermodal mobility hubs, bicycle parking, charging stations and the like. The growing spectrum of mobility services gives city dwellers a range of interlinked alternatives to private vehicle ownership without restricting their personal mobility. These trends will help expedite the meeting of climate targets in the transport sector, and should be accompanied by policies that encourage and solidify them.

The commercial transport of goods and services – the lifeblood of any city – poses more difficult challenges. The rapid rise of online sales has led to an explosion of local deliveries. The increase in traffic creates additional noise and air pollution, requires more land use and takes a heavy toll on infrastructure. Cities must devise policies to address these challenges, and, in some cases, will need innovative solutions.44


43. See Ahrens, G. (2013) and DLR, infas (2010).
44. See Difu (2014).

  • Attractive cities are not car friendly

    The paradigm of the car-friendly city, a product of the early post-war era, made the automobile the focal point around which modern life turned; ecology and the needs of pedestrians and cyclists frequently came in second. This paradigm has since run its course. One reason is a change in values. For instance, 82% of Germans surveyed today want to live in cities and communities where owning a car isn’t a necessity.45 Today’s guiding principles focus more on environmental and social concerns. The goal of creating liveable cities – attractive places to visit, live and work – has garnered increased attention as cities compete to attract businesses and skilled workers.46

    A crucial catalyst for creating liveable cities is to enact modern urban development and traffic planning policies. A key aim in this regard is to minimise the distances to be travelled.47 Denser housing combined with mixed-use urban development reduces traffic.48 This allows people to make shorter trips, decreases delivery distances, reduces land consumption and leads to a range of new mobility services. When infrastructure formerly dominated by car traffic is repurposed for cyclists and pedestrians while roads and parking lots are converted into parks, people once again become the focal point.49 What is more, such planning can lower the cost of maintaining urban infrastructure and operating public transport – thus easing the burdens on government and household budgets alike.50

    45. See BMUB, UBA (2015), p. 35.
    46. See Engel, B. (2015).
    47. See Difu (2011b).
    48. See Gehl, J. (2015), p. 87.
    49. Ibid.
    50. See FGSV (2013)

  • From public and non-motorised transport to the mobility network

    Reliable and convenient public transport remains the backbone of climate friendly urban development. It is indispensable for the quality of life in urban areas and for the functioning of cities and regions. It provides safe and affordable mobility options for everyone and ensures accessibility, even as it is significantly better for the environment than other motorised means of transport.51

    The development of electric mobility stands to make public transport even more attractive. Electric buses are quieter than conventional buses and produce no local emissions. Accordingly, they can increase public acceptance for routes and stops in dense residential areas. Moreover, in comparison with diesel-powered bus fleets they can improve air quality, especially in inner cities  with high concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.52

    In the coming years, public transport will continue to change as new trends and developments emerge. Information technology is one example that is already changing how people get around. The mobility options it has generated – including shared-mobility services, intercity buses, etc. – are being integrated with traditional forms of ecomobility such as cycling and public transport. Smartphones and the Internet make this integration possible (Insight 5), offering people quick, on-the-fly access to various forms of transport.

    New and traditional means of transport will be combined to form comprehensive “mobility networks” (see figure 3.1). These networks blur the lines between public and private transport and enable users to determine an optimal combination of various mobility options without relying on vehicle ownership. This does not mean that cars should be banished from cities; on the contrary. They are an important component of the mobility mix. The growing numbers of carsharing and ridesharing options provide reliable transport while lowering private vehicle usage. The frequently voiced concern that collaborative services will cannibalise public transport is misplaced: carsharing users are loyal public transport customers, and vice versa.53

    This transition in urban mobility will also affect how people travel from cities to other places. As more and more people use the new mobility networks for everyday commuting, the value of owning a private vehicle just for holidays and occasional jaunts to the countryside will decline, while rental cars and train services will seem more appealing. As a result, the way people travel longer routes will change for the better.

    A key factor for ensuring the public acceptance for mobility networks like these is the nationwide expansion of mobility services. They must be made available not only to inhabitants of big cities but also to people who live in the outskirts and in small towns. Moreover, the mobility options must be reliable, easy to access and affordable for all. To achieve this, public transport systems require a stable framework, especially when it comes to funding. This might necessitate the reform of municipal transport financing laws or the introduction of a local public transport tax. At any rate, it is an urgent challenge that Germany’s federal, state and local levels must address as soon as possible.54

    51. See Gies, J.; Deutsch, V.; Beckmann, K. J.; Gertz, C.; Holz-Rau, C.; and Huber, F. (2016).
    52. See Difu (2015).
    53. See Topp, H. (2013).
    54. See Gies, J.; Deutsch, V.; Beckmann, K.J.; Gertz, C.; Holz-Rau, C.; and Huber, F (2016).

  • Cities benefit from pedestrian and bicycle traffic

    Walking and cycling are affordable, healthy and inclusive forms of transport. They do not emit greenhouse gases and pollutants, require less space and are relatively quiet.55 Moreover, most cities with a large percentage of cyclists experience less traffic congestion.56 As a result, walking and cycling are central factors in environmentally friendly transport and the quality of urban life.

    As a mode of transport, bicycles have witnessed a sharp rise in popularity. The number of trips people are taking by bike is growing, as are the distances covered.57 At the same time, people who rely on bicycles to get around tend to keep their destinations local.58 This reduces distances travelled without restricting mobility.

    For the success of the mobility transition, it is crucial that these positive developments continue, even in the face of possible public resistance. Cities must create safe and needs-oriented infrastructure systems for bicycles. When good bike paths are available, people will use them, and the number of cyclists will grow. Walking brings similar benefits to cycling, though only recently have urban planners turned their attention to pedestrians. Creating the right kind of infrastructure – uninterrupted networks of tree-lined paths, say – would encourage this trend. Together, walking and cycling can increase the share of non-motorised transport by over 50%. Even the freight transport sector can contribute, with electric and electric-assisted cargo bikes representing an as yet unexhausted potential.59

    55. See FGSV (2014).
    56. See Tomtom Traffic Index (2016).
    57. See BMVBS (2012).
    58. See Difu (2011a).
    59. See FGSV (2014).

  • Fewer private cars means more public space

    Urban space is limited and thus valuable. The way it is used determines whether a city is a liveable and desirable place to be. But competition for space among different groups of residents and travellers can lead to conflicts.

    Motorised private transport claims the largest amount of public space. Measured by modal split, this type of transport occupies a disproportionate share of the urban environment, and plays a predominant role in how roads are designed and public space is used (figure 3.2). In terms of the common good, parked vehicles represent “the least necessary” utility and the one “most likely to be changed.”60

    In many cities, big and small, demand for parking exceeds capacity. This negatively affects the quality and attractiveness of cities (e.g. due to double parking, blocked bicycle lanes, etc). Moreover, parking spots tie up municipal funds that are not necessarily recoupable through parking fees.61 However, municipalities have powerful instruments at their disposal to free up space and steer use. These instruments include parking space management and the promotion of carsharing.

    Parking management plays a key role in planning integrated transport systems. Its policies shape traffic flow and land use and can, say, restrict available space, prioritise parking for deliveries and residents and reduce noise and air pollution.62 Yet German municipalities possess limited leeway in setting parking policy. They can determine which parking zones are subject to fees, yet parking fines are set at the federal level. The same goes for the pricing of resident parking permits. In towns such as Zurich, Amsterdam and Edinburgh, municipal authorities have more room to maneuverer. Parking management in German cities would be more effective – better able, say, to reclaim urban space for public use – if they had more freedom to determine local policies.63  

    Another important instrument to free up space is the promotion of car- and ridesharing, a type of individual transport that serves the common good by lowering private car ownership and reducing the amount of space devoted to road transport. Empirical studies of various large cities have found that a single carshare vehicle can replace 8 to 20 private cars.64 A comparison of the costs that a carsharing company must pay for a public parking space with the average cost of a residential parking permit reveals that private cars, which remain parked 23 hours a day on average, receive significantly higher levels of public subsidisation than shared vehicles. Carsharing companies pay between 25 and 85 euros a month for the use of a public parking space. Free-floating operators pay even more. By contrast, the average two-year resident parking permit costs between 20 and 30 euros.65 In order to promote carsharing, cities should also review existing fee structures, especially in areas where carsharing needs encouragement. To this end, Germany’s states and municipalities should take advantage of recent national carsharing legislation, which makes it possible for local governments to designate parking spaces for carsharing vehicles.

    Both these measures – parking management and carsharing – can help strike a balance between competing interests in the usage of urban space and move away from the typical focus today on specific modes of transport. As a result, they can increase cities’ ability to compete internationally for residents, workers and businesses.

    60. DStGB. Quoted in AGFS (2012), p. 63.
    61. See Bracher, T.; Lehmbrock, M. (2008).
    62. See Becker, U. (2016).
    63. See DST (2016).
    64. See BCS (2016).
    65. See the written report issued by BCS.

  • Freight transport, too, can be carbon neutral

    The volume of urban freight transport has risen much more sharply in recent years than predicted, and it can be assumed that it will continue to grow in the future. In particular, exploding online sales have greatly increased the size of the courier, express and parcel (CEP) industry. In 2015, there were just under three billion CEP shipments in Germany, or 5.9% more than in the previous year. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of CEP shipments increased by 74%.66 This rise has been accompanied by a growing volume of freight and passenger traffic.67

    This growing volume of vehicles has not only slowed down traffic and made the roads less safe. It also has increased the amount of harmful pollutants released into the atmosphere (Insight 12). Most freight transport in Germany is performed by diesel vehicles, which are responsible for 80% of Germany’s traffic-related nitrogen dioxide emissions. For several years now, levels of nitrogen dioxide at most outdoor monitoring sites in Germany have exceeded those defined by the EU air quality standards enacted in 2010.68 As a result, in 2015 the EU opened an infringement procedure against Germany. If Germany doesn’t take effective action soon –for example, by enacting driving bans for diesel vehicles – the EU will impose high fines. Moreover, environmental organisations have filed multiple suits against the German government over air pollution levels, putting additional pressure on policymakers.

    The brief outline of freight transport sector underlines the urgent need for action at the municipal level. In its 2011 White Paper “Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area,” the EU Commission recommended that countries “achieve essentially CO2-free city logistics in major urban centres by 2030.”69 The solutions needed to meet this target have already been found.

    The first solution comes in the form of sustainable approaches to city logistics. Typically, these approaches plan streamlined collection points for goods outside urban areas. Digitalisation is likely to improve such systems through shipper-independent bundling, which cuts down on the number of trips (Insight 5). There is also the option of distributing goods from the collection points using light trucks and depositing them at urban hubs. From there, electric-assisted cargo bikes can be used to deliver goods to customers. Pilot projects have shown that a multimodal distribution of goods is economically feasible.

    The second solution is the use of light-duty electric vehicles for the transport of goods urban areas. The urban routes used by CEP providers are quite suited for this purpose, because in addition to being efficient and streamlined, most of them are also within the battery ranges of electric vehicles. Moreover, intelligent systems can be used to charge parked vehicles overnight at the depot.70

    Using electric vehicles for inner-city deliveries benefits the community in many ways: it requires less space (especially if electric cargo bikes are used), reduces noise, and makes the streets safer. Smart, climate friendly urban logistics planning also helps shipping companies by decreasing the number of delivery runs, creating efficient distribution paths and saving costs.71

    Nevertheless, municipal strategies for implementing approaches are still necessary. Such strategies, including diesel driving bans or truck guidance systems, can help cities in various ways to keep freight traffic out of sensitive areas.

    66. See BIEK (2016).
    67. See Difu (2014).
    68. See UBA (2017b).
    69. EU KOM (2011), p. 144.
    70.See TAB (2012).
    71. See Difu (2014).

  • Cities need more support

    To usher in sustainable mobility, cities need to develop their own visions, define goals and take action. This requires a willingness to experiment and try out new, sometimes unconventional ideas.72 Municipalities must steer bolder courses than they have in the past if they hope to bring about lasting change. Communities must ask themselves: in what kind of city do we want to live? And how can technological change serve the city and not the other way around?

    The transformation of urban transport systems is mostly a task for municipal planning. Cities know the challenges and problems they face; in many cases, solutions are already available. What stands in the way of transformation is not so much lack of knowledge as implementation. How can policymakers and other public officials best work together in dealing with the transformation? How can cities systematically adopt the many complicated measures required for the transformation instead of merely carrying out individual pilot projects?

    Comprehensive approaches, such as integrating urban development with traffic system planning, are crucial for achieving the desired effects of sustainable mobility and avoiding negative consequences. But the inclusion of planning beyond the city limits is important as well. Especially at a time when cities and local municipalities are under more and more pressure to cut costs while maintaining or even improving the quantity and quality of service, intercommunity cooperation has become vital.73

    Such cooperation requires human resources, money and time. But it also needs alliances between government, administration, the private sector, the citizenry, academia and the media to ensure broad support for and public acceptance of policy aims. The conditions governing action vary from city to city. There is no one ideal strategy that applies everywhere.74 This does not mean that decision-makers have to reinvent the wheel every time. There are many good approaches that can be transferred from one city to the next. But this requires experts, opinion leaders and ministries to gear information to the local authorities receiving it.

    Municipalities may have authority over local planning, but they are often restricted in implementing it by existing traffic regulation and the Public Transport Act (Personenbeförderungsgesetzes, PBefG). Hence, they rely on the states, the federal government and the EU to push for the introduction of integrated concepts for urban development through coordinated programs (both in terms of policies and across ministries), knowledge sharing and hands-on projects. The municipalities need reliable funding of local transport (Insight 10) and a greater range to manuever.75,76 Incentive systems that encourage local officials to try out new, sustainable forms of mobility and put them into practice is a smart way of helping municipalities innovate.

    But what cities need most of all is legislative stability. Germany must pass so-called experimentation clauses that facilitate municipal action, especially when testing temporary or flexible policies (Insight 5). Germany’s federal road traffic regulations (Straßenverkehrsordnung, StVO) and possibly the road traffic regulations of the German states must be amended to enable innovations without time-consuming repurposing of public policy. The measures and instruments used for implementation must be flexible, but they must also deliver an appropriate contribution to environmental protection, to climate change mitigation and to the common good.

    The success of the transition to sustainable mobility will be decided not only by cities. New mobility services must have a stronger presence in the regions surrounding large cities in order to ensure as many people as possible can get where they are going.

    72. See DST (2016).
    73. See Beckmann, K. J. (2013).
    74. See Difu (2015).
    75. One example for an expanded range of municipal action is setting the price of resident parking permits. As it stands now, federal guidelines prevent municipalities from aligning permit fees with, say, the economic value of inner-city areas.
    76. See also DST (2016)

Stay in touch. Subscribe to our newsletter.