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Future of mobility Transport planner explains: Why private cars will disappear from our cities

Immer mehr Bürger rebellieren gegen Staus und schlechte Luftqualität, die Städte müssen sich schnell ändern.
Immer mehr Bürger rebellieren gegen Staus und schlechte Luftqualität, die Städte müssen sich schnell ändern.
© Canetti / Getty Images
Christian Haas heads PTV, a global leader in traffic planning software. We spoke to the expert about how cities can manage the future of transport and how citizens' anger is driving politics.

Mr. Haas, the traffic situation in city centers is changing dramatically - it's getting more crowded, cities are responding with radical concepts. Corona has given a short time-out, but the current developments will continue after that.

More and more people and goods are on the move in our cities today. Corona has actually amplified some effects. Think of the increasing online orders. The number of delivery vehicles in cities is growing rapidly, with increased second-row parking. To avoid gridlock and improve air and quality of life for residents, a shift in thinking must occur. Urban planners are still strongly focused on the car, but we need alternatives. For example, a safe and attractive cycling infrastructure, even better public transport and a clever combination with new mobility services.

Cars, delivery vehicles, bikes, e-bikes, cargo bikes and scooters - it's getting pretty crowded on the roads. We are experiencing a renaissance of the bicycle, boosted by e-bikes. In addition, there are new means of transport. In Fact it's getting more crowded on the streets, because not everyone is switching from his car to a bike. If pedestrians switch to scooters and bikes, will traffic on the roads increase?

The percentage of vehicles that are not motor vehicles is actually growing steadily. It is a big challenge for cities to integrate these developments into existing traffic. New forms of transport such as scooters are probably more of an alternative for previous pedestrians or public transport users - less so for car drivers. Most urban planners do not yet have a solution for this issue, because the entire mobility ecosystem "city" is becoming much more complex at an unprecedented speed. To be able to orchestrate this interaction, a holistic approach is needed.

At your company PTV, you offer consulting services, among other things, to support this process.

PTV Group is a global software player. We work in three segments: mobility, transport and consulting. In the field of mobility, we offer software products for modeling and simulating traffic and urban infrastructure. This includes the analysis of mobility data to evaluate mobility concepts in urban areas and to develop new solutions. Our goal is to make cities fit for the future and sustainable. From the optimization of bicycle infrastructure to location planning for charging stations for eMobility. Of course, we are also intensively involved with the megatrends of tomorrow, such as planning for autonomous vehicles.

You are in the special situation of being active in the areas of transport, i.e. mobility, and working for transport service providers.

In the field of transportation, we support our customers from the logistics sector in mastering challenges in the transport of goods. DHL, for example, uses our software to plan the most efficient routes for their fleet. Our route planning tool is used to optimize over one million routes per day worldwide. This saves 40,000 tons of CO2 every day. Crucially, we combine the fields of traffic and transportation. If you look at the road, you can see how closely these fields are interlinked in practice. Because with the boom in e-commerce, the requirements for fast delivery in the city are also increasing. Our USP is that we know the requirements of cities and logistics and can optimize both.

Christian Haas leitet seit November 2019 die PTV Group. Die Firma entwickelt und vertreibt Simulationssoftware für Verkehr, Mobilität sowie Logistik.
Christian Haas leitet seit November 2019 die PTV Group. Die Firma entwickelt und vertreibt Simulationssoftware für Verkehr, Mobilität sowie Logistik.
© PTV / PR

What should cities do to solve the current dilemma?

There is no "one size fits all" approach to transportation concepts. Cities are very different. What works in Hamburg is not easily transferable to Stuttgart or London. But cities face similar challenges: Citizens are visibly demanding a better quality of life through environmentally friendly and efficient solutions. Corona was a trigger here. The lockdown showed many people how much more livable a city can be with less traffic and more space for people.

The state is spending large sums of money to get citizens to switch to an e-car. Is that helping the cities?

E-mobility is an important step, but it certainly won't solve all the problems. If we simply switch from the internal combustion engine to the e-car in private transport, neither the number of vehicles nor the dust pollution in the cities will change. Only the air quality improves, which is an important aspect. A decisive lever is the additional switch to electrically powered delivery traffic and public transport such as eBuses, which are already a reality in many cities.

Let's take a concrete look at the inner cities. Does the private car - whether it is electric or with a combustion engine - have a future there?

More and more cities around the world are banning private cars from the city - not immediately, but in the long term. This makes sense in terms of sustainability and an improved quality of life. This process must be planned precisely so that alternatives can be offered: From public transportation to rental bicycles to defined pedestrian zones. Cities need to build a corresponding infrastructure that encompasses more than just traffic. One buzzword here is the "15-minute city," where everything can be reached in 15 minutes by bike or on foot. In the long term, I also see autonomous and electric vehicle fleets complementing public transportation - even if that takes some time.

And what does the path to the city of tomorrow look like?

One of the most important aspects is that cities themselves take the lead in terms of mobility in the future. The task now is to determine which direction they want to take and how quickly. The industrialized countries have set themselves ambitious climate targets - these require decisive but also efficient action. Many officials in Europe's major cities are now ready to do this. I'm thinking of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, for example, who is taking a very proactive approach. It won't happen overnight, but it can happen much more quickly if you want it to.

Anne Hidalgo wants to ban motor vehicles from Paris and convert a large part of the streets to make them more people-friendly. What are the challenges - in Paris as elsewhere?

The challenge for policymakers is to understand the increasing complexity of their cities in terms of mobility. The challenge is to find solutions that combine efficiency and sustainability. Cities themselves must bring about this turnaround. From the citizens' point of view, these are the requirements for mobility, safety and, of course, health - all of which are points that actually make a city more livable. It is important that the public and private sectors cooperate closely here. For this reason, we are currently working on a new format, a mobility summit in various cities, to bring the different players in a city together around one table. The aim is to develop ideas together on what the smart city of the future should look like. Which measures bring added value for citizens in terms of quality of life, sustainability and intelligent mobility? This is not primarily a question of money; the decisive factor is the will to get started. In Paris, we've already come a long way in this regard.

That's where you and your company come in. How do you intend to help?

With the help of our software solutions, ideas and measures can be quickly checked for their feasibility. I'm reminded of the "Pop Up Bikes Lanes" - in some cities, colorful lines were simply painted on the streets without any prior consideration of the basic principles and effects on the rest of the traffic. Where do new bike lanes make sense and are safe? How do I have to switch my signal systems to ensure a good traffic flow for all road users? Such questions can be simulated in advance with our software. We build a digital twin of a city, a complete three-dimensional model into which we incorporate different data streams and simulate traffic situations. With the help of this virtual twin, I can simulate traffic policy measures and read off the consequences. You could completely redesign a square digitally, make it into a park, for example, and then see how the traffic develops.

Probably not so good?

Implementing a new measure will probably initially create chaos in the square. With our software, you could next simulate which accompanying measures can prevent this chaos. What impact will a bicycle lane have, for example? How can mass transit solutions or a modified traffic light system help? We can clearly determine here what effects certain measures will have and deduce whether set targets can be implemented. 

What role will bicycles play? Particularly with additional electric assistance, they can quickly cover long distances in the city.

We are currently launching a new product - the Bicycle Planner. With this tool, municipalities can intelligently plan bicycle routes: both efficient bicycle expressways between municipalities and improved infrastructure on urban routes. I believe that the bicycle will become very important within the city, because it combines the trends of health and environmental awareness. Scandinavia and the Netherlands have long since shown what a sensible infrastructure can do in terms of acceptance by the population. I see bike potential for individual transport, but also for transporting packages. In addition, there will be micro-vehicles between bikes and cars. And let's not forget the next technology stage: drones will transport parcels in the future and eventually people as well. In the end, it will be a matter of creating an attractive mix of the new possibilities.

Traffic is one issue for cities; air quality is another. Perhaps even a pressing one, because there are clear requirements here at EU level.

Cities need to take the sustainability issue very seriously. Many have a problem with air quality. In our digital twin, cities see directly mapped how the respective traffic and congestion situation affects air quality. When you see this clearly visualized, you quickly understand where the shoe pinches. In recent years, many responsible parties have been made aware of the problem, and the need for action has been recognized. The public is also demanding new approaches.

We have now spoken of the cities, referring to the inner city. In commuter traffic, public transport is still essential. What trends do you see here?

Local transport is facing major challenges, today due to Covid, in the future certainly due to more home offices. In Germany, Corona has led to suburban locations in the countryside becoming more attractive again. Public transportation has a chance if it manages to connect rural areas more intelligently to metropolitan areas. To this end, local public transportation will no longer be purely public in the future, but will work together with private providers. In the future, autonomous vehicles and shared mobility will offer the opportunity to integrate rural regions into public transportation in a sensible and barrier-free manner. Intermodal solutions - whether bus, train or robotaxi - will increase the attractiveness of rural regions.

One final question, how do you actually get around?

I was very car-savvy before I came to PTV. That has changed in the last year and a half, because I naturally realize problems differently than before. This "seeing how things play out" has changed my perspective. I've been driving a pure e-car for a year now, so of course this has also changed my usage behavior. I was more of a sporty driver before. With the e-car, I drive much more relaxed and with more foresight. Of course, the car will remain an important means of transportation, but its importance will decline, especially in metropolitan areas.

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