Cities and Municipalities are Shaping the Urban Mobility of Tomorrow, Whether They Want to or Not

After the ruling on possible driving bans, cities and municipalities are on track to implement and enforce what has been missing elsewhere. Ultimately, it is in their hands: they have the data, they manage the public space for any kind of infrastructure, and they decide which vehicles and services can gain access. Cities and local authorities don’t just have the mandate, but are responsible for reconciling citizens’ entitlement to effective mobility solutions with their right to clean air. It is entirely in their power how this should be designed, as the necessary technology, concepts, and partners are readily available.

The Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG) has been clear on its ruling on driving bans: clean air for citizens is not an optional extra. Decision makers and designers in the public realm must ensure that residents and visitors of urban areas no longer inhale polluted air. As a last resort, inner city driving bans will be put into place if the pollution levels in cities are not reduced drastically.

So-called “nudges” are significantly more effective than bans. Nudges encourage people who are “effort-economical“ to make wise decisions. Wide and beautiful bicycle lanes make you want to jump on your bike instead of plonking into a car seat. Cities and municipalities are the catalysts that encourage citizens in urban areas to switch to clean and collaborative mobility concepts by themselves. Others are already miles ahead: Paris, London, Shenzhen, Vancouver, Copenhagen. The names of cities that have chosen the road not taken, in part because constraints in the form of congestion and smog there, were at times even more extreme than in German cities. The advantage for city planners, members of parliament, and mayors of German cities is clear. These cities are examples around the globe of a “proof-of-concept”, decision makers can look at what has worked elsewhere, and what has failed.

Dictating the means of transportation is difficult to reconcile with liberal democracies. Citizens will rarely accept their favourite means of transportation if they are told to take it by officials. But according to a study by Inrix, we are stuck in traffic jams in Stuttgart, Munich, and Hamburg for more than 50 hours. Other sources report up to 70 hours. The Lisbon study has also revealed that three on-demand shuttle buses, embedded in existing public transport, replace 100 private cars. With such numbers in mind, it’s surprising that our preferences are not more inclined to new mobility solutions. What else has to happen in Germany before people move out of their mobility comfort zone?

Before leaving the car in the garage and switching to networked and electrified mobility solutions, we need to be nudged a little. Humans don’t give up ritualised habits easily, and the acceptance of new, smart mobility solutions therefore has to factor in comfort and personal space, simplicity, and how quickly one would get from A to B. Once new mobility solutions can trump old ones in these perimetres, private cars will become the exception in urban areas.

Municipalities often refer to the emptiness of their funds, but the economy as a whole has the funds for a traffic turnaround. Municipalities must demand the fair distribution of financial resources. In terms of the economy, infrastructure investments in charging stations and digitisation are paying off: a calculation based on comfort, safety, availability, and cleanliness of urban mobility will lead to the conclusion that every cent that a municipality has in its charging infrastructure pays off twice or even threefold.

Cities as drivers of change

The digitisation of mobility requires networked hardware and, above all, software that ensures that individual offers do not compete parallel to one another, but can instead network intelligently. The prerequisite for this is not just the corresponding nationwide data lines, but also the cooperation of companies, public transport and cities. We need regulated framework conditions for dealing with mobility data: everything depends on bundled and retrievable mobility data. The absence of this is an enormous barrier to innovation. The challenge is not so much in what is technically possible. It requires visionaries who not only bring the various stakeholders together — from local transport operators, to software companies and ride-sharing providers, to city planners — but also propose new regulatory frameworks, technical standards, and cooperation amongst themselves.

Contrary to popular belief, the judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court is not directed against towns and municipalities. Rather, it emphasises its special role and importance in our society. They have the power to shape the future by uniting cities and engaging in meaningful dialogue. The tech, concepts, and partners are all there. What is needed is cooperation, financing, implementation. And above all a clear ambition with a pinch of impatience.

Dirk O. Evenson is managing partner at evenson, the consultants on digital transformation, sustainability. and urbanisation at the interface of business, politics and society. He is also the director of New Mobility World (NMW), the world’s largest mobility, transportation, and logistics platform for experts, designers, and decision makers from the business, science and research and the public sectors.

This article was published in The Beam #6 — Subscribe now for more