We joined the who’s who of the mobility world at the Future Mobility Summit, hosted on the EUREF Campus in Berlin by the Tagesspiegel. At the centre of the Summit stood the question of what the mobility of the future might look like, what barriers we are currently facing, and how Germany can become a world leader in this department by investing in technology. The speaking points focused on whether the future will be electrical, emission-free, digital or completely detached from humans. Speakers debated if driving bans be avoided, what are the new mobility concepts for urban and rural areas, and which option will manage a breakthrough before the other – charging stations or electric cars.
The second-day plenary started with Reinhard Müller, CEO of EUREF, explaining that the campus itself produces so much CO2-free air that it provides the entire city of Berlin with 76 minutes of CO2 free air. The location was therefore rather fitting, as on it startups and students can try to replicate the successes they are experiencing there on a larger scale, so that not only a small hub in Schöneberg can boast with having reached environmental goals of 2050 already, but expand this to the entire city, or even the entire country.
Peter Altmeier, the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, spoke about the contrast between the hierarchy of needs today and decades ago, and how access to mobility contributes to one’s sense of freedom. With 8 billion people now wanting the same things and wanting accessibility to the same privileges, how do we prevent our cities being clogged and suffering under emissions? According to Altmeier, “the mobility of the future will be digital and connected”, but that much of it is in the hands of the consumers. They are the ones with an influence on the market. Politicians and experts can debate the future of mobility and which standards should be set all they want, but in order for Germany to create sufficient jobs to assure a future, the country needs to become seen as spearheading new technologies by not only buying the cars of the future but also producing them. And here the market itself will need to co-exist to create something better for the future.
One of the main topics of discussion was the disparity between mobility concepts for the city and in the country. Dr. Kristina Bognar argues that infrastructure is lacking in the countryside, thus employers should encourage their employees to charge their cars at work. Sabrina Meyer of door2door instead says the districts themselves have to do more for the people living in the countryside. One has to ask what the needs are in the various districts, and how the population there can take a more active role in deciding what mobility needs could help them. One solution to the lack of consumers in the countryside is to pool mobility services: what else needs to be moved? How could one combine the delivery of packages with bringing kids home from school?
For the cities, Fabian Ladda of Uber offers the alternative of a multimodal movement. With an increased environmentalism, cars no longer being the status symbols they once were, and the significance of the smartphone for mobility, Uber is an alternative to the 1.2 billion cars in the world that spend 95% of the time not being used. Kerstin Stark of Changing Cities e.V. proposed a more low-tech answer: the humble bicycle. Their aim is to make bike riding safe and easy for everyone, and thus have the bike take the place of the car in cities, such as it has in cities like Copenhagen.
The problem is that there is an overload of offers in cities, but a huge lack of mobility alternatives in the country at the moment. Additionally, new ideas in Germany have to fight against the Personenbeförderungsgesetz (PBefG), as the law is inflexible and it takes up a lot of time for new startups and SMEs to adapt their innovations. door2door themselves had difficulties getting their project in Freyung off the ground because of the restrictions imposed on them. This scares of possible collaboration with various districts and provides an unnecessary additional barrier.
Everyone agrees that the future of mobility will be connected and digital. But no one can agree how to get there, and what technologies might be best. Add to this the consumers’ desire to want it all, whether they are living in the countryside or in the city, and an unwillingness to compromise on these desires, and you have another hurdle that the future of mobility needs to clear. As Gernot Lobenberg of the eMO said, everyone wants to be mobile, but no one wants to be stuck in traffic. We’ll have to see what the future decides.