It’s not all about technology

transforming the traffic system requires a new mobility culture

The future of the German car industry largely depends on whether it can achieve an ecologic change of course. The demand for vehicles that are neither taking climate targets nor emission limits of nitrogne oxide into consideration will probably not remain stable. Restrictions for importing German cars to China are an indication thereof. The industry reacted to this development by again presenting innovative electric vehicles besides numerous technical novelties on this year’s international automobile fair (IAA). But technology is not everything. The necessary traffic transformation demands a new mobility culture for society as a whole.

Similar to the energy transition, a new mobility culture means a change towards a more environmentally friendly system that can solve a number of problems: The emission of climate and health damaging pollutants must be reduced and the quality of life in the cities has to be enhanced. Noise, polluted air and neighborhoods congested with parking cars should be a thing of the past. “But if we want to change the traffic system we also need to talk about changing the mobility culture” says Konrad Götz, mobility expert at ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research. “Things will not change as long as we only count on technology.” More than anything else behavioral patterns are an important requirement for a comprehensive and sustainable change of mobility.

Letting go of familiar daily routines

According to Götz, many people don’t realize that the current idea of individual traffic – one car for one person stuck in traffic – is no longer contemporary. “People are clinging to an element of German daily life that doesn’t anymore coincide with climate protection goals and with the aim of preserving a certain quality of life for future generations. Future-orientated mobility means more flexibility to fulfil wishes and meeting demands with as little traffic and side effects as possible for health and nature.

Götz is convinced that the necessary conditions are available to put that kind of mobility into practice. But society is not sufficiently making use of the potentials offered by the digital age. “Digitalization is still widely understood as something that replaces people by technology”, says Götz “but digitalization rather provides the opportunity for a creative use of technology that helps to achieve self-determination”. It has already been possible for a considerable time to combine all means of transportation with the help of smartphones and apps and to use bikes, e-bikes, public transport and occasionally cars to move around in an environmentally friendly manner.

Changing awareness through new experiences

Young city-slickers are increasingly taking advantage of these multi-optional offers. Konrad Götz sees this as an indication for a change in mobility culture. For the youngsters in cities having their own car proves to be less and less important. But since in Germany a major part of distances is still travelled by car, alternative means of traffic like car sharing have to be more strongly promoted enabling customers to give it a try – and this does not only apply to cities. “Only when people get a chance to gain their own experiences with flexible, linked-up transportation, a change of awareness can happen which will in turn lead to new daily routines beyond having one’s own car in the garage” observes mobility researcher Götz.

For the state of Hesse, ISOE-researchers Jutta Deffner and Konrad Götz have analyzed key elements for a transformation of the mobility culture. They introduced their results on the 15th Hessian Mobility Congress during the International Automobile Fair (IAA) on September 15, 2017.

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