How are changes in urban mobility being perceived? And what can be done to persuade city dwellers to make more responsible decisions about alternative forms of transport? We talked to Christian Hoffmann, Professor of Psychology at HMKW University in Berlin.
Modern society is currently undergoing some major changes. On the one hand, we are confronted with the challenge of constantly growing cities, whose urban development partly goes back to the Middle Ages. Cities designed for horse-drawn carriages, pedestrians and cyclists are full of vehicles, which have a negative impact on air quality and transport infrastructure, not to mention the space they need to move around and park in. In this context, it can be observed that in many large European cities, motorised private transport is becoming increasingly problematic.
On the positive side of the coin, digitisation is allowing a sharp increase in the technical possibilities that allow us to plan, organise and book mobility in an intelligent manner, with smartphone-based platforms in real time on the basis of on-demand requests. Another trend is that electric mobility is increasingly becoming functional and marketable, both in terms of available products and charging network.
In this scenario, privately owned cars retain a certain level of importance, above all for older generations, for whom they were and continue to be a symbol of independence and freedom. These people will not change their minds quickly, but for today’s young generation things are very different, as evidenced by data showing that fewer and fewer young people are directly taking a driving licence and are less and less willing to own a car themselves. Many younger people feel that car ownership and related investments are more"disturbing" than beneficial to them. In Berlin and London, nearly half of the population lives car-free: this does not mean, however, that these people no longer want to have access to a vehicle; many, for example, take advantage of car-sharing services.
The first thing that prevents change is the existing infrastructure. In many suburban regions and rural areas, public transport and other mobility and sharing services are not yet so comprehensive as to make it easy for someone used to driving a car to switch. People need to receive the right offers and target group-specific information in these sensitive phases, not just an alternative. And this must have low access barriers, both in terms of costs and ease of use. Another important point is visibility in the streets and public areas, to allow people to see that new mobility is possible. Finally, availability is important, because people want to be able to go anywhere at any time, and they associate this possibility with their own car.
Change requires a systematic, large-scale approach, not small initiatives. We need a large-calibre, systemic change in the transport system and the associated spatial planning, for example massive expansion of the infrastructure for sharing vehicles and bicycles. People need to find a convincing answer when they ask themselves “Why is it better to go on foot or by bike?”. Finally, political support is crucial. Pollution-related restrictions and taxes are purely restrictive measures that citizens struggle to accept in a widespread manner unless supported by decisions promoting an alternative.
Prof. Dr. Christian Hoffmann