For almost a decade, cars were seen as symbols of personal freedom and wealth. Thanks to powerful advertising campaigns from the automotive industry, owning a car quickly shifted from being something only attainable to the upper class to the norm in personal transportation. Affecting more than just middle class and wealthy individuals, national economies even became dependent on the automobile industry.
Today, privately owned cars are a global problem. The environmental crisis and a rapidly growing urban population are forcing us to rethink our car-centric narrative. In order to transform our approach to mobility, governmental action is as important as individual awareness.
Andreas Knie, a political scientist at the Berlin Science Center for Social Research, sat down with us to talk about shifting attitudes towards mobility – something we believe is essential to transforming our society.
Professor Knie, we’re here to talk about “shifting the mobility narrative”. What does that mean?
A new mobility narrative embraces the idea of a “good life”. That essentially means a life spent travelling less frequently and over shorter distances. We can build and redevelop our cities and suburban communities to create the prerequisites for that. Shifting the narrative also means refocusing the future of mobility on the development of a multi-faceted public transportation landscape. Private automobiles are simply not the technology we’ll need to support the ‘good life’ of the future.
How has sustainable urban mobility been achieved in this future scenario?
A future mobility scenario will include multiple options: all cars are shared cars to be combined with PT, cycling, walking and other mobility modes. This is not a scenario of scarcity, but one of abundance and a higher quality of life on a small planet. In cities, motorized transport will be slower, with 30 km/h being the standard speed. This will help us create multifunctional streets and city spaces. We will build our lives and cities more around bikes and public transport than around cars.
Which institutional changes have to be made to shift us towards sustainable mobility?
Two of the most important changes are actively dismantling car-centered infrastructure and increasing regulation. That includes both drastically reducing the amount of parking spots in cities and transforming roads for cars into ones used by cyclists, public transportation and micromobility. It also means making other transport modes faster while making cars slower. Most importantly, regulation should favor shared vehicles over private vehicles.
Ghent’s city center is car-free thanks to regulation.
How can the private sector collaborate with policy makers to encourage new regulation?
Regulating micromobility is necessary, but private car traffic needs to be regulated first. Private players should be more actively engaged in reducing the number of cars on the streets in cities. For example, shared mobility service providers should work together with municipalities to expand their service area beyond the city core.
“Many mobility cultures are already changing.“
Close cooperation between these MSPs is necessary to create and enhance a seamless user experience. Private sector players can also actively embrace broader sustainability goals by improving the sustainability of their vehicles (e.g., in the case of e-scooters).
What about digital infrastructure – how can we ensure that the digital realm is inclusive and fair to all?
We need new regulation for the digital realm. It’s the new basic infrastructure of our world, and everybody needs to have equal access. Power should not, as it is currently, be concentrated in the hand of a few companies. Data monopolies need to be broken – public data trusts could be an option for the future. Private players should actively innovate towards minimizing the data footprint of individual users.
How can cities and companies help change behavior and attitudes towards mobility?
In many ways, the spread of digital technologies is already leading to a change in behavior. To steer these trends in the direction of sustainability, regulatory and political action is key. When space is redirected away from cars, individual behavior, as well as social norms relating to mobility, may change more quickly than expected. Many mobility cultures are already changing, but these changes are not yet obvious, as regulatory and spatial frameworks are still designed for cars. The key challenge is to increase public acceptability of policy measures that redistribute public space. Mobility service providers can play a key role in this: By increasing the availability of alternatives, policy measures to reduce car traffic seem more acceptable to users.
Eight e-scooter companies launched the Micro-Mobility for Europe (MMfE) coalition in March 2021.
What three words or phrases best describe sustainable mobility to you?
Cities without private cars; public transport reinvented; more mobility with fewer trips.