Mobility Atlas: ‘It is not about completely abolishing the car’

"It is not a question of completely abolishing the car. Especially in rural areas, the car will remain important for the time being. But individual mobility must also be feasible, comfortable and affordable without a car. Because not everyone can and wants to drive a car, be it because they are too young, too old or physically restricted," said Stefanie Groll, who was responsible for the drafting of the report. [Pavel Vinnik/ Shutterstock]

Europe’s railways stretch over 217,000 km and its motorways total about 77,000, while 329 major harbours and just as many airports are in operation. How can such a vast infrastructure network be turned into a transport system that will make mobility completely climate-neutral by 2050 at the latest? EURACTIV Germany reports.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation published its “Mobility Atlas” on Tuesday (5 November), which paints a picture of a future in which mobility could be much more flexible and possibly cheaper than it is today.

The study detailed the situation of the transport sector in Germany and the EU, highlighting urban transport, new jobs, e-fuels, air pollution, rural areas and even drones that deliver parcels.

Fast charging stations and free public transport

As Europe’s number one automotive market, Germany will have to undergo a radical change to achieve a transition in the transport sector. That is because the transport sector is responsible for 20% of Germany’s total emissions, 95% of which emanate from the cars’ exhaust systems.

The goal, which already exists, is to reduce these emissions by 40% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. There is still a long way to go. Although engines are becoming increasingly energy-efficient and cleaner, this will be offset by an increase in the number of cars on the roads.

Many European countries want to set an end date for the combustion engine: in October a coalition of eleven EU member states led by Denmark demanded a ban on conventional cars by 2040 at the latest.

Germany’s ruling Grand Coalition (CSU/CDU and SPD) has promised to build one million new charging points for electric cars by 2030, as part of its proposed climate package.

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“It’s a good thing that the charging situation is to be improved. Now, it will depend on where charging points will be located, the time it takes to charge, as well as the need to ensure payments will be made easy,” the study’s responsible consultant, Stefanie Groll, told EURACTIV.

“Who wants to have to wait two or three hours at a service station until the car is charged? There is a need to ensure charging stations are fast,” she added.

Motorists continue to be concerned about e-cars having insufficient range. However, most routes in everyday life are such that the battery capacity is sufficient, according to Groll.

There are currently around 20,650 public and semi-public charging points in Germany. This means that twice as many e-cars can be charged as are currently registered in Germany.

There is also an extensive charging network in the EU, even though there are still large gaps, especially in the east. On average, one can find a fast-charging station every 60 km. And information about these can also be found using a mobile app, for example.

But e-cars are only one part of the solution – because it is also about freeing cities from the vehicles that take up a lot of space. There is no shortage of approaches and local solutions.

Some cities are even experimenting with free public transport. In the Estonian capital of Tallinn, for example, buses and trains are free, as is the case for people over the age of 65 throughout Hungary. In Vienna, the “one euro a day” model has been working for years.

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“It is not a question of completely abolishing the car. Especially in rural areas, the car will remain important for the time being. But individual mobility must also be feasible, comfortable and affordable without a car. Because not everyone can and wants to drive a car, be it because they are too young, too old or physically restricted,” Groll added.

“In rural regions, too, buses and trains are the backbones of sustainable mobility. Besides, there are new offers for the so-called ‘last mile’. Think of pooling and sharing. This does not necessarily have to come from the state, but the state should guarantee this mobility cheaply and at a low threshold,” Groll continued.

In concrete terms, this would mean a combination of flexible mobility such as car-sharing or e-scooters together with an expansion of bus and rail networks that are also easily accessible for people with disabilities.

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Railway lines from the imperial era

But what about international traffic?

It is crucial to revive the railway system, which has been neglected in many places for many years.

“A considerable part of the railway network dates back to the imperial era. Because of the worlds wars, a lot was destroyed but not necessarily rebuilt. Sometimes only a few kilometres are missing to close gaps and thus shift traffic from road to rail. A well-known example is a bridge between Colmar in France and Freiburg in Germany,” explained the leader of the study.

The Connecting Europe Facility, an EU fund for cross-border projects, has been significantly increased accordingly. The aim of this programme is to improve the integration of transport, energy and digital infrastructures in the EU, also for sustainable economic growth. The EU has heavily increased these funds and will be pouring many more billions into the coffers.

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From 2021, the budget is to be increased from the current €30 billion to €42 billion. Critics say that this is too little compared to the infrastructure investments of China’s “New Silk Road”.

Besides, the EU’s efforts to date have concentrated too much on prestigious high-speed lines. Instead, money must also be available for the local railway line between two villages.

There is also still a lot to be done in cross-border rail transport. For there are still different track gauges and safety and guidance systems between the member states. As a result, trains often can only take very specific routes to neighbouring countries.

The EU has been calling on EU member states to harmonise their train systems for years. But the national rail network operators show no interest in making their national networks available to foreign competitors, according to the Mobility Atlas.

“Transport routes are the lifelines of economic systems. That is why European networking and sustainable, joint infrastructure projects are all the more important,” Groll concluded.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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