Emerging technologies will challenge whole industries and transform the way we travel
About Martin Randelhoff: Fascination for transport and mobility since early childhood
Martin Randelhoff is the founder and publisher of the impactful german blog Zukunft Mobilität where he talks about all topics concerning transport and mobility. In particular, he discusses how we can successfully build sustainable and efficient traffic systems and how our cities and our transportation will look in the future. Randelhoff is also a research associate at the Technical University in Dortmund and advises companies and institutions on urban development and transport planning.
These topics have fascinated him ever since he was a 10-year-old boy. At the train station in his hometown of Hof, Randelhoff regularly waited on a bridge stretching across the trackbed for his commuting father to return. From this bridge, he could also observe all activities happening on an adjacent container terminal.
These early observations arguably already shaped his decision to later study “transportation economics” in Dresden. This was also where he published his first articles. In the meantime, “Z/M” has established itself as an essential source of information in German-speaking countries.
Additionally, he provides his approx. 13.000 followers on Twitter with the latest news and also uses this media channel as a discussion board.
Mobility and transport are not the same things
Frimeso: How do you define the term “mobility”?
Randelhoff: Mobility is my opportunity to change locations to satisfy my individual needs. When I’m hungry, I need food that I have to get from the store. My secondary need for mobility derives from the primary objective of getting some food.
The difference between transport and mobility is that I have to use one of the different modes of transport to get to the store. If I live right next to the store, I can go by foot, if not, I’ll need a different means of transport.
As distances have become bigger, the demand for transport has enormously increased. On the other hand, the level of mobility has remained almost the same. We take 3.3 trips a day. Women in their 30s mostly make 4, 4 journeys, as they are often still in charge of childcare. 85% of the population is mobile, 15% is immobile and never leaves the house. In total, we are on the move for 72 minutes.
Mobility, working, and business travel in times of COVID and thereafter
Frimeso: To what extent has the mobility of people in general changed with the emergence of the COVID crisis?
Randelhoff: In March and April of 2020, there was a substantial decrease in mobility. People stayed at home and clustered their errands. This development has levelled out at where it was in “pre-COVID times” during the second and third waves. There is practically no difference to be noted anymore. There is a shift, though, from public transport to individual means of transportation, such as bikes, cars, and walking.
Frimeso: What impact will the COVID crisis have on our mobility and transport habits in the long run?
Randelhoff: COVID was a turning point for transport and mobility. By now, home office is seen as a possible alternative to traditional work at the office. In the long run, it’s likely that many people won’t have to come into the office every day but will work from home for one or two days a week.
For business travel, there seems to be the consensus that many one-day business trips for one meeting aren’t needed anymore. Digital possibilities are simply too great.
Climate protection as a central point of the shift in mobility and transport
Frimeso: Everybody talks about climate protection. So, what are the critical aspects of the German climate change policy concerning business travel and commuting?
Randelhoff: One of the top priorities is strengthening Deutsche Bahn by expanding its infrastructure and providing the funds to buy more trains. (Note: On this topic, refer to the interview with Jan-Wolf Baake, DB, Head of Sales for Business Clients.)
In road transport, a lot is being done for infrastructure development to charge electric vehicles with renewable electricity. However, there are still a number of questions to be answered here.
Frimeso: You write that CO2 emissions in transportation couldn’t be lowered yet. Why is that?
Randelhoff: Since 1990, transport is the only sector we haven’t managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for.
Our mileage has increased significantly since 1990. Potential savings from increasingly efficient engines were compensated by purchasing progressively larger vehicles. During the last years, we have benefited from an enormous level of prosperity. The result is that households now own several cars and enjoy traveling to distant countries by plane. In addition to that, there is much more exchange between companies in Germany. We also see an increased exchange of services and goods within the European single market. Equal rights for women, which were long overdue as such, resulted in two employees per household commuting to their workplace. Bottom line, there are several societal factors that you can’t simply solve using technology.
Gas is actually cheaper today than it was 18 years ago
Frimeso: You also mention that the current prices of CO2 have no incentive effect. How expensive does gas have to be for people to change their driving habits?
Randelhoff: Charging for CO2 emissions in transportation would definitely have a positive incentive effect. Polluters would be charged with the consequential damage they caused. This creates incentives to reduce CO2 emissions.
With the energy tax, fuel taxation actually already exists. The intention was to guarantee that there would be an annual cost increase of 2%, either through an increase in the price of crude oil or through a corresponding increase in energy tax. In fact, the last time taxes were increased was 18 years ago. Due to inflation, gasoline and diesel are actually cheaper today than they were in 2003.
There would have to be a substantial increase in those CO2 prices. Introducing a CO2 price of 8 cents, as it’s planned, is far from sufficient.
Electric cars: advantage through efficiency
Frimeso: Will electric cars completely replace fossil-fuelled vehicles? Or are there still alternatives for competitive forms of propulsion?
Randelhoff: Both the EU‘s requirements and reconstructing measures within the automotive industry indicate that most new registrations will soon be for electric cars. Plus, various manufacturers have already announced that they are now developing the last generation of combustion engines.
For passenger cars, battery-powered engines have a big lead that nothing will be able to catch up with for a while.
Roughly speaking, there are two categories of engines: engines that run on fossil fuels and engines powered by renewable energies. Then, there are several subcategories. Each of these technologies has a different efficiency level and energy rate. The bottom line is that an electric car can go up to 4 kilometers further than a vehicle with a combustion engine and up to 8 kilometers further than a vehicle powered by synthetic fuel. Hydrogen and synthetic fuel will also be significantly more expensive due to costs for conversion and transportation.
The future of our cities – less space for cars, more space for others.
Frimeso: In the cities, the goal is to make people use public transport more or motivate them to use their bicycles. Looking at German cities, however, space is limited. How can this still work?
Randelhoff: When you aim to promote other means of transport, cars will have to give up space. This is done, for example, by creating more zones with a speed limit of 30 km/h or with structurally isolated infrastructures for the remaining modes of transport. Often, you can save on parking spaces or give up a moving walkway. It takes four months for people to get used to the new situation, and a new balance will be created. Today, cities are considered residential spaces, where a large part of economic activity occurs. To be competitive, cities have to become more attractive – thus, it’s not only a question of immediate environmental protection.
“Electrification and automation will drastically change transportation.”
Frimeso: What will transport be like in 20 years?
Randelhoff: Electrification and automation will drastically change transportation.
The change in engines will be heard, seen, and smelled. Non-motorized transport and transport using LEVs (Light Electric Vehicles) will increase and diversify. Examples are e-scooters, e-motorcycles, e-bikes, air cabs in rural areas, or electric cabin scooters with 6 or 8 seats for public transport or private use.
For freight, we’ll see more drones and delivery bots on the streets. Rescue helicopters could be replaced by rescue drones. Yet, there won’t be a complete change in vertical transport mobility. It would simply cause too much of a stir to have aerial devices permanently flying overhead. In addition, these means of air transportation consume a lot of energy, which contradicts climate protection goals.
Automation of transportation will have an even more significant impact on transportation and private car ownership. Offering modern mobility involving autonomous vehicles will ensure that many people will do without their personal cars and the associated costs.
Frimeso: When will we be driving autonomously all over the country?
Randelhoff: I don’t want to dare make a prediction. Automation will first creep up on us with certain features of comfort and convenience that we already know today. Then, at a later stage, we will experience fully autonomous driving. But plenty is happening already. The company Waymo already offers fully automated ridesharing in the USA. Other companies like Gaussin in France are successful in truck container management automation. In Germany, legislators are already working on the first law to govern automated driving for real-world operations.
In addition to that, automated transport will need to be accepted socially. It will be necessary to determine how to utilize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages. For example, sensor technology will cause autonomous vehicles to travel slower than our passenger cars do today. If pedestrians know that a car will stop when they enter the roadway, they will take advantage of that. Will that be banned? Or will we end up with new versions of car-centric cities? Will we have to rebuild our cities to accommodate this? There is still a lot to be worked out there.
The future of business travel: Hotels will strongly be affected by automation.
Frimeso: How will automation impact our way of traveling for work?
Randelhoff: Business travel transport will change drastically. There will be fewer domestic flights. Overnight stays in traditional hotels will lessen. At night, you will simply enter the sleeping cabin and take an overnight trip to your destination. In any case, it remains to be seen to what extent people will travel at all. Much will be possible with virtual reality from people’s offices or homes.
However, as social beings, people will continue to travel, but trips will be more efficient.
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