In Focus

Sustainability on the move

New mobility concepts as a contribution to the transport transition

Germany needs a modal shift in transport – with less use of private cars and a greater emphasis on public transport, walking and cycling. Without such a shift – in which carsharing can also play an important part – urban transport will not be sustainable. It cannot be achieved by one single measure: many different instruments are needed (see also “In a jam” on page 8). More sustainable transport behaviour must be both required and encouraged, and it must be incentivised by a variety of means – including by amending the legal and administrative framework and by providing new opportunities for people to adopt sustainable mobility practices. The Oeko-Institut has produced a number of studies that show how this can be done.

Whether people decide on other forms of transport depends largely on the mobility options available close to their homes. “There need to be practical and attractive alternatives to using your own car – alternatives such as cycling, carsharing or good public transport links,” says Dr Manuela Schönau of the Oeko-Institut. With the German motoring organisation VCD and the German tenants’ association, the researcher is exploring the issue of sustainable mobility in residential neighbourhoods in a project entitled “Housing guides mobility” which runs until the end of 2019. “First of all we looked at best-practice neighbourhoods such as the garden town district of Drewitz in Potsdam and the Lincoln estate in Darmstadt,” explains Schönau. “From what we learned about these neighbourhoods we then drew up recommendations for action designed to make it easier for the property sector and local authorities to promote more sustainable mobility. These recommendations include fewer parking spaces for cars and more management of parking facilities, more green spaces and meeting places, 30 km/h zones, good bicycle parking facilities, accessibility, frequent public transport services, rental (cargo) bikes and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. “We also considered which stakeholders could implement such measures – and what processes are needed for this to happen.”

The project, which is funded by the Federal Environment Ministry, shows that a transport transition in a residential neighbourhood requires the close collaboration of everyone involved – housing associations and the local authority, mobility providers and residents. “The reconfiguration often takes several years – that works only with committed stakeholders,” says the researcher. “That is why the project’s regional forums are so important – they enable stakeholders to network and exchange ideas.” It is also crucial to ask residents exactly what they need and want in their neighbourhood, to inform them of all relevant measures at an early stage and to explain the benefits of these measures. The right regulatory framework is also vital. “Rules and regulations can obstruct the implementation of sustainable mobility measures,” says Schönau. “At the housing scheme at Uferwerk Werder, for example, the local authority’s parking regulations required evidence of more than 70 car parking spaces, but only 25 were used.” And of course it is also important for people to re-think their attitudes. “In my view each of us should examine our own mobility and ask ourselves how we can make it more sustainable. This includes being open to new forms of mobility and trying them out – and so perhaps using a cargo bike for the next trip to the supermarket rather than a car.”


The WohnMobil project has also addressed the issue of sustainable mobility in residential neighbourhoods, focusing on communal schemes such as housing initiatives. Here, too, mobility schemes such as the sharing among neighbours of cars, (cargo) bikes and public transport tickets can encourage a transport shift. With the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) and the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW), the Oeko-Institut has worked participatively with two housing initiatives – “Uferwerk” in Werder and “Wohnen am Hochdamm” in Berlin – to develop services for residents. The project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. “The study shows that mobility services linked to housing schemes have environmental, social and economic benefits at many levels,” says Dr Manuela Schönau of the Oeko-Institut. “Here, too, it is important that services are developed with the involvement of residents and are geared to their needs.”


In the Trafo 3.0 project, which is also funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Oeko-Institut has explored the shaping of societal change from a social and environmental perspective. Looking at three areas, the project team analysed what promotes the necessary transformation and what impedes it – for example with regard to e-bikes in urban and regional transport. “We also supported practical initiatives, such as a project in Munich that enables new citizens to try out electric bikes,” says Ruth Blanck, senior researcher in the Oeko-Institut’s Resources & Transport Division. A shift from cars to e-bikes has many positive impacts: it reduces resource use and land take as well as noise and pollutant emissions, and active mobility is good for health. “The e-bike market is growing rapidly, because e-bikes enable people to travel further than on a traditional bicycle and they also make it easier to carry loads,” says the researcher. “E-bikes are also very good for commuters, because you don’t arrive at the office all sweaty.” With the right measures this dynamic can be utilised and taken further: “E-bikes are successful, but we have by no means reached the limit of what they can do. And by comparison with other forms of transport their greenhouse gas mitigation potential is relatively easy to increase.”

Trafo 3.0, in which a number of project partners and stakeholders were involved, shows that transformation is not easy to steer, but there are ways of influencing it. “For example, innovative projects such as e-bike rental schemes can be promoted,” says Blanck. “Ending non-sustainable practices could also have a significant impact – there could be a scrapping premium for mopeds or even a ban on traditional two-stroke machines, of the sort that has already been introduced in some big urban areas in China.” According to the expert from the Oeko-Institut, another key factor in the further success of e-bikes is adequate infrastructure. “With electric bikes, speeds on cycle paths become more varied; this needs to be taken into account in infrastructure planning,” she says. “It means that cycle paths should be significantly wider than they used to be, to allow room for overtaking and also for relatively large cargo bikes. Better cycle parking facilities are also important. This benefits not only e-bikes but cyclists in general – and if more people take to cycling, motorists benefit too, because they don’t get stuck in traffic jams so often. Making this happen is in Ruth Blanck’s view primarily the responsibility of central government and local authorities. “The federal government can create the enabling environment and support projects financially, but implementation must of course be in the hands of local authorities.”


In the multi-year “share” study funded by the Federal Environment Ministry, the Oeko-Institut and the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) have extensively researched the subject of free-floating carsharing. In a free-floating scheme, vehicles are available in a public place for spontaneous use; after use, they can be left in any public parking space. “We looked at who uses this type of carsharing, what inhibits or promotes it and at how electric vehicles are accepted,” says Dr Wiebke Zimmer, deputy head of the Resources & Transport Division. “The analysis also focused on the impact of carsharing on car ownership and transport behaviour and thus on emissions.” During the study, which was conducted in Stuttgart, Cologne and Frankfurt am Main, carsharing users and a control group who did not use free-floating carsharing were questioned four times between 2013 and 2017. The analysis shows that young people educated to university entrance level are over-represented among carsharers and that electromobility is perceived positively. However, carsharing alone does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the number of cars does not fall. “These findings tell us that carsharing schemes must be accompanied by other measures. Examples of the steps that need to be taken if free-floating carsharing is to contribute to more sustainable mobility overall include making private motoring more expensive and creating more space for cyclists and pedestrians,” Dr Wiebke Zimmer explains. And she emphasises again that the shift away from the private car towards more sustainable forms of mobility is possible and necessary. But a single instrument will not suffice.


Sustainable mobility is the focus of the research conducted by Ruth Blanck and Dr Manuela Schönau. Blanck, who studied mathematics at university, develops long-term scenarios for sustainable development of the transport sector and models of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Schönau, who has a doctorate in social sciences, specialises in issues such as mobility in the vicinity of people’s homes, the sustainability impacts of mobility services and digitalisation in transport.