Issue: September 2014, Transport and climate action – How to achieve sustainable mobility?

In Focus

“The quality of the experience must improve”

Interview with Dr Konrad Götz (ISOE)

If we want people to choose sustainable transport options, we have to offer them something in return, says Dr. Konrad Götz. That includes convenient car sharing, pleasant and attractive railway stations, drinking water fountains and city centre seating. In this interview with eco@work, the mobility expert from the ISOE Institute for Social-Ecological Research in Frankfurt explains how mobility in urban and rural areas can become more sustainable and what he means by “quality of experience”.

Dr. Götz, are the Germans still in love with their cars?
It’s clear that in high-density urban areas, more and more people are moving away from car ownership. In cities like Berlin, the number of households without a car is increasing. That’s because there’s a good public transport system which people find very convenient. The emotional attachment is also decreasing: cars are no longer the status symbol they once were.

But surely in rural regions, many people will be reluctant to get rid of their cars.
Sustainable mobility in rural areas is an important and, at present, a hotly debated issue. It’s a major challenge. Many regions, such as Brandenburg, are depopulating, so funding a local public transport system is problematical. But at the same time, the population density in rural areas is too low to support solutions such as car sharing. Commercial operators would not make a profit here.

What are the options?
Unfortunately, we mainly have makeshift solutions at present. For example, there are sporadic “on demand” bus services and smaller vehicles providing public transport. In some places, there are already some non-profit citizens’ bus services. At some point in the future, it may even be possible to set up car sharing schemes based on driverless vehicles: they would simply turn up, and off the user would go.

What about the cities: how can more sustainable mobility be achieved in urban areas?
From the user’s perspective, mobility culture needs to be multi-optional and, in technological terms, inter-modal. It still has some way to go, however; for example, interconnected mobility is still far from perfect. In Frankfurt, where thousands of people come to the trade fairs, there is no guidance for pedestrians arriving at the station. There also needs to be a measure of integration between cycling and car sharing; that means providing secure cycle parking at car sharing centres, or a facility for transporting bikes on the vehicles themselves. And let’s not forget that we need to improve the design of sustainable transport. The fact is that every design has a direct impact on use, whether the product is a computer, a bus stop or a bike rack. The quality of the experience also needs to improve, both at railway stations and in city centres.

What do you mean by “quality of experience”?
We must create spaces that are both attractive and convenient for people. People living in cities are far more likely to go for a walk if we offer them drinking water fountains, adequate public toilets and comfortable benches when they want to take a break. They are much more likely to use their bicycles to move around the city if there are good cycle paths available, perhaps even a pleasant riverside cycle route. And they are more likely to use the underground rail network if the trains and stations are pleasant and inviting.

That sounds like a good offer for users. Do you expect anything from them in return?
Yes, of course. Car drivers must get used to keeping to the speed limits. We need to ensure that traffic flows steadily – in cities and on the motorways. We also need to ensure that our cyclists have good road sense and don’t put other road users at risk. In my view, it would be very helpful to have proper cycle awareness courses, but spot checks and penalties certainly have a role to play as well.

Thank you for talking to eco@work.

The interviewer was Christiane Weihe.

Further information about the article

Dr. Konrad Götz
ISOE – Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung
Hamburger Allee 45
D-60486 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Tel.: +49 69 707 69 19-21


Dr Konrad Götz has been a research scientist at the ISOE Institute for Social-Ecological Research since 1995. He currently works in the Mobility and Urban Spaces Research Unit, specialising in mobility research and the empirical study of society and lifestyles. He is also ISOE’s Coordinator for Strategic Consultancy. He is a member of various bodies, including the German Transport Club (VCD) Scientific Advisory Council and the steering group of the Swiss National Research Programme: “Options for Controlling Final Energy Consumption”.

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