New transportation concepts should lead to fewer people using cars. Jürgen Pietsch, professor of urban development and intelligent technologies, explains how we will get from A to B in the future.

By Nora Marie Zaremba

Jürgen Pietsch researches sustainable urban development at the University of Hamburg and loves his bicycle.


How easy is it today to get from one place to another without your own car?

If I live in a city and if all public transport is well coordinated, then I can get around very easily and without long periods of waiting. If I want to travel to Berlin as quickly and as cheaply as possible, for example, I start by entering the destination into my mobile phone. I can use services such as Carsharing or Car2go to get to Hamburg central station, where I catch the Inter City Express to Berlin. Then I either get on the S-Bahn or jump on a hire bike, depending on where I need to go. Things already run smoothly in terms of transferring from one means of transport to another. However, in order to save on energy as well we need to improve communication between the individual transport elements.

Like traffic lights turning green when a bus is approaching?

Right. That is achieved with an integrated traffic signal pre-emption system. This sort of interconnectedness between traffic lights and vehicles prevents unnecessary stopping, saving on petrol – or electricity in the case of electric vehicles.

Are new mobility concepts crucial to the success of Germany’s switch to renewables?

Actually, these are two different things. The switch to renewables is all about saving energy, but electric cars consume electricity. So at first glance these two concepts seem contradictory. What binds them together, however, is that they are both about moving away from the use of fossil fuels.

It is clear that the switch to renewables is becoming more expensive than anticipated. Will that slow down the development of more environmentally friendly transport?

That remains to be seen. The federal government wanted to see one million electric cars on German roads by 2020. That target has now been lowered, but even without the current criticism of the switch to renewables, enthusiasm over electromobility has definitely died down. Electric cars were unable to live up to the expectations of their users. They are more expensive than conventional cars and charging their batteries is still problematic.

Why are we not seeing the introduction of innovative transport ideas such as maglev trains in Germany?

Germany is the market leader in embedded systems, i.e. devices with integrated chips. This is how traffic lights can operate automatically and how trains can work without drivers. The only question is whether this technology will actually be introduced here in Germany. I think it certainly will be in the long term. People care about their cities becoming more attractive, and new transportation concepts certainly improve the appearance of a city as they lead to fewer private vehicles on the roads. With a good transport network in place, more reduced-traffic areas can be introduced.

Are there any cities that can serve as a role model?

Copenhagen aims to be carbon neutral by 2025, and the coordination of buses and trains there is already very good. In addition, a lot of people travel by bicycle, so “bicycle highways” have been built. Zurich is also interesting, because there all sectors of the population travel by bus and train – from bankers to nurses.

So environmentally friendly transport is also a question of personal attitude?

The Swiss, for example, began discussing environmentally conscious transport very early on, when it was still something of a side issue in Germany. For the good of the environment, I should ride my bike or use public transport, but I also have to enjoy it. Only then will I feel encouraged to leave my car at home.

What is the next step in intelligent transport?

Introducing chips for all public services, or the option of holding smartphones up to reading devices.

And if I don’t have a smartphone? Will I be left stranded in the future?

In my opinion it won’t be a problem – soon everybody will have a smartphone. I think those people not living in cities will be at a greater disadvantage, because in small towns and in the countryside these new transport concepts will not be economical.


Testing out tomorrow’s modes of transport (English subtitles)

Nora Marie Zaremba explores whether alternatives to private vehicles are already a viable option.