Mobility is the age of the car coming to an end?

How people get around affects the quality of life, the economy and the environment of a society. How is current mobility changing??

Goods and passenger transport have a decisive influence on quality of life and prosperity. the importance of mobility in daily life is reflected in the fact that, for decades, germans have spent an average of around 80 minutes per person per day and around 15 percent of their consumer spending on mobility. On the other hand, the effects of everyday traffic, for example air pollutants, affect the quality of life and CO2 emissions from the transport sector are a major problem. In addition, the mobility sector and the vehicle industry play an important role in employment: no other major industrialized country in the world produces as many cars per capita as germany.

The transport issues discussed almost daily in the media and the public sphere include the problems of the railroads as well as approaches to CO2 pricing, poor air quality, diesel driving bans, the future prospects of the German automotive industry or emerging mobility concepts. The automation and new digital solutions stimulate future fantasies. Together with supposed changes in the attitudes of younger adults, there is the impression that "disruptive" innovations will be introduced in the near future changes to be expected in traffic.

"The impression that rapid change is currently taking place in the German transport system is deceptive."

However, the impression of a rapid change currently taking place in the German transport system is deceptive. There have been significant changes, such as increases in cycling, the use of public transport and the continued growth of car sharing. But the private car is still dominant for passenger transport, as is the truck in logistics. Accordingly, motor vehicle traffic plays the largest role in overall traffic-related environmental pollution, so that the term "traffic turnaround" can be used to describe it in essence, a trend reversal towards declining car mileage is usually meant. What are the current key trends and how will they develop in the future??

Passenger transport: a car for everyone?

Decades-old growth trends in car ownership and mileage in motorized private transport are currently continuing in germany. The number of cars in Germany has grown relatively steadily by half a million vehicles a year over the last two decades, from 450 cars per 1.000 inhabitants in 1998 to 560 cars per 1.000 inhabitants 2018. Even in most major German cities, the number of cars per capita has continued to rise over the past decade.

Cohort effects among senior citizens play a role in this growth in car ownership. In the 60+ age group, generations that have lived without cars are still being replaced by younger cohorts who are taking their automotive habits with them into old age. This development is the main driver of the strong increase in mobility among senior citizens in Germany and, above all, of the increase in car mileage among this group. It is foreseeable that this process will continue for another one to two decades. Surveys of senior citizens also show that individual mobility is of the utmost importance to this group – for most of them, giving up their driver’s license for reasons of age is out of the question.

However, the cohort effects in senior citizens’ automobility explain only about one-third of the growth in car ownership in Germany. Two-thirds of the increase in car ownership is attributable to the growing number of second and third cars in households of all age groups. Whereas people used to share a car in the household, more and more households now have a car of their own for every male and female driver. This development diametrically contradicts the idea that there is a widespread social trend toward sharing rather than owning vehicles. Despite the undisputed successes of car sharing, the mainstream trend is still in the opposite direction.

"Young adults have hardly lost any of their driver’s licenses in the last ten years."

Only among young adults do somewhat different developments emerge. A slight decline in car mileage and car ownership can be observed here over the last 20 years. However, there is a risk that this development is overestimated and overinterpreted as an expression of new preferences among young people (replacement of the car as a status symbol, constant digital accessibility and others). In fact, contrary to widespread belief, the number of young adults holding driver’s licenses has hardly declined at all over the last ten years. A look at the youngest generation of road users also makes it clear how automotive lifestyles are shaped from childhood onwards: riding in a car is now the most common means of access to kindergarten.

one of the decisive factors for the dominance of the car in passenger transport is that the real costs of automobility, at around 30 cents per car-kilometer, including all fixed and variable costs, are very low today by historical standards. in 1950, germans had to spend just under ten percent of their average daily per capita income on a liter of gasoline. By the early 1990s, this figure had fallen to approx. One percent. Among other things, the ecological tax reform at the turn of the millennium initially contributed to a rise in fuel prices. Since then, however, efficiency improvements in vehicles, the trend toward cheaper and more fuel-efficient diesel, the drop in crude oil prices after 2012 and, not least, massive wage increases have meant that the cost of a car kilometer in real terms is now about the same as before the ecological tax reform.

Freight transport: the hype about the last mile and rolling stock on the road

Driven by e-commerce, the volume of parcel deliveries is growing by almost 10 percent a year. More and more customers want precise and fast deliveries, which requires the use of small vehicles in combination with warehousing or goods handling in urban centers. In addition, innovation in last-mile services continues, for example through digitally assisted planning or cargo bikes with new types of drives. In the future, not only books, electronics and clothing could be delivered to private households, but also foodstuffs. If this happens, small-scale delivery traffic, which currently accounts for about three percent of urban traffic, could skyrocket and become a serious problem. However, growth is also hampered by a shortage of drivers, returns management and the high costs of delivering to households.

In this situation, air and land drones, automation in driving and handling, parcel stations, new light commercial vehicle concepts and much more are seen as components of new last-mile concepts. While some solutions are also extremely positive from an environmental point of view (e.g. cargo bikes, parcel stations), others run the risk of massively increasing energy resource consumption (drones). Which of these solutions will ultimately prevail depends not least on the cost of resources and on regulation.

From research& teaching 6/19

Due to the dynamic nature and daily visibility of delivery traffic, people tend to overlook the fact that freight traffic is primarily interregional and even transcontinental traffic. Two-thirds of vehicle kilometers and three-quarters of road freight transport performance on German roads are attributable to long-distance freight transport – mainly heavy trucks and semitrailer trucks and above all on the autobahns. Road freight transport is the backbone of modern industrial supply chains, but it also poses major problems: one in four fatal road accidents involves a truck, heavy commercial vehicles cause one fifth of road transport’s CO2 emissions, and are a major cause of wear and aging road infrastructure.

Inland waterways and rail are significantly more efficient than trucks in terms of energy consumption and manpower. Nevertheless, the growth observed for rail freight in recent years is mainly due to increasing transcontinental trade and the associated seaport-hinterland transports. Above all, the aging technical, organizational and regulatory system of rail freight transport stands in the way of a stronger competitive position for rail in other segments of freight transport as well. For example, many small technical adjustments have been made over the decades, resulting in unnecessarily complicated, slow and inflexible operations. The legal framework is similarly complicated, making it difficult to find competitive transport solutions by rail.

Future: more or less traffic due to new technology?

Technical innovation in automotive engineering, through digitalization and the new mobility concepts it makes possible, are on everyone’s lips. This is linked to the hope of reducing the environmental impact of transport without noticeable cuts on the part of users. Digitization solutions can replace physical transport (home office) or bundle it better (car pooling). But everything that makes mobility cheaper and more convenient also leads to increases in traffic. The example of online retailing also shows this ambivalence: on the one hand, there is the possibility of declining shopping traffic on the passenger mobility side; on the other hand, there is the massive growth in delivery traffic.

"It is not yet possible to predict whether digitalization will help reduce traffic."

The bottom line is that it is not yet possible to predict whether digitization will help to reduce traffic volumes. So far, traffic surveys have not observed any decline in passenger transport demand that can be meaningfully linked to digitization. In freight transport, too, it remains doubtful whether further bundling effects can be realized through better planning systems – long-distance freight transport has already been optimized too extensively for this purpose. Only on the "last mile There is still potential for bundling – through cooperation, mergers and logistical changes.

Digitization is also one of the main drivers of the emergence and spread of new forms of transport services. For example, car sharing has received a significant boost from the increasing market penetration of smartphones. Ride service providers such as UBER or MOIA see themselves as platforms that bring customers and providers together and use algorithms to pool customers and optimize trips. It is foreseeable that more such services will emerge in the future. These new mobility concepts are particularly prevalent in metropolitan centers and often claim to contribute to solving urban mobility problems by helping to reduce parking pressure and mileage. However, experience from the USA shows that under unfavorable conditions, existing public transport customers in particular migrate to the new providers. But even if this can be prevented, it is uncertain whether such new mobility concepts will contribute to a more sustainable urban transport mix and a reduction in car mileage to any significant extent.

The key question here is whether a mix of alternative modes of transport is so attractive to users that they will forgo private cars. As long as the private car remains at the doorstep, it is still the most comfortable and at the same time the most cost-effective means of transport for a large proportion of users and most use cases under today’s framework conditions.
One of the most important current focal points of research in traffic science is what conditions must be in place for this to change. In addition to the costs of the various means of transport, parking availability and management or the coordination of new services with conventional public transport are decisive levers here. The impact of these services is therefore largely in the hands of policy makers.

What will change as a result of automation??

In the context of digitalization, vehicle automation is also to be expected. A distinction must be made between two development paths that may run in parallel in the coming decades: automated private cars on the one hand and automated mobility services on the other. From today’s perspective, the consequences of completely automated private cars can be estimated relatively well. Cars are likely to open up new user groups that are not yet able or allowed to drive. In addition, it is likely to become more attractive compared to other modes of transport, as the travel time can be used differently. Estimates show that the consequences of automated private cars would be comparable to those of a tax exemption on fuel.

The effects of automated mobility services ("robotaxis"), in which users are transported by automated vehicles that can also move on to the next user empty, are much harder to assess. Scenario-based estimates exist of what would happen if all private car transport were replaced by such shared shuttles. Compared to today’s vehicle population, only about ten percent of vehicles would be needed for this purpose. These could then circulate automatically on the roads and cover the capacity requirements during peak hours.

"The disappearance of the private car seems unlikely."

Although such scenarios are possible, they appear unrealistic under today’s conditions. To break even, automated mobility services would need to be offered for 30 to 50 cents per person-kilometer (at today’s prices). This is more expensive than the average cost of a private car kilometer today. Under these conditions, the disappearance of the private car seems unlikely. serious estimates therefore assume that such automated mobility concepts will achieve a certain market share – but coexist with the private car, which is likely to continue to dominate.

Automation will have drastic consequences for road freight transport. While the railroad today has approx. If rail has a 30 percent cost advantage over trucks, it will lose that advantage with automated truck traffic on long-distance routes. From the point of view of logistics, rail would not be better than road for any decision criterion. A collapse of rail freight transport would be the likely consequence, with only block trains carrying bulk goods and long-distance "combined transports" remaining are likely to remain on the roads. At the same time, the automation of road freight transport is likely to increase transport distances by 10 to 30 percent, with simultaneous centralization in production and logistics. To prevent these unsustainable developments, rail must be seamlessly integrated into logistics chains with the help of automation and digitalization, without disadvantages for customers.

Where are we headed??

Despite the growth of rail transport in recent years and one or two success stories of new mobility concepts, the transport system is still dominated by road vehicles. Under the prevailing conditions, there is much to suggest that little will change in the next few years. The problems associated with this are obvious. At the same time, many supply innovations have the potential to contribute significantly to changes in the transport system and also to the achievement of sustainability goals. However, this potential will only be realized if the framework conditions are designed in such a way that the particularly sustainable concepts prevail.

Therefore, when looking into the future of transport, the question cannot be "what is in store for us??", but rather "where do we want to go and how do we steer in the desired direction??". The design of the framework conditions, from infrastructure to regulation, will be decisive in determining how the technology of the future will change the transport of the future.

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