“We must reinvent mobility”

Michael_Cramer square CroppedMichael Cramer of the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport talks about the imbalance between transport modes and the lessons from “Dieselgate”.


A lot of innovation is happening in transport right now – headlines about self-driving cars and electric vehicles abound. Are we finally on the path towards sustainable mobility?

Cramer: Billions are still invested in forms of mobility that ruin our climate. And it’s still all about cars. Without reinventing mobility we will not be able to stop climate change. A veteran German politician, former Munich mayor Hans-Jochen Vogel, said it well as early as 1972: “Cars are murdering our cities. Those who sow streets will harvest traffic”. Even if one day all cars will be electric, they will still be murdering our cities. When all cars are self-driving, they will still be murdering our cities. We must reduce emissions, sure. But it’s not only about energy efficiency, we must also reinvent mobility as a whole. 90% of car rides in German cities are shorter than 6 kilometers. These are ideal distances to go by tram, bus, bicycle or to walk. Electric cars are being subsidized with billions of Euros – indiscriminately, regardless of the real effect. By comparison, peanuts are given to support the use of electric bicycles or of cargo bikes, where they could have a real impact – cargo bikes could take over half of inner-city deliveries. Neither is there enough investment into the electrification of rail. The interests of car manufacturing are still dominating policy decisions.

But all car companies are busy rethinking their business models. Most are taking a broader view and branch out into areas like Mobility as a Service. Is your description not outdated?

The car industry must change much faster if it really wants to avoid the fate of the large energy utilities. Those ridiculed renewable energies for decades and now find themselves rather wrong-footed. Edzard Reuter, who was boss of Daimler-Benz from 1987 to 1995, warned thirty years ago that car manufacturers would only survive if by evolving into providers of mobility. In those days, Daimler-Benz not only built cars but

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“It’s still all about cars” (Foto: Oran Viriyincy)

also trucks, busses, trams, light rail trains, high-speed trains and even bicycles. His successor sold all those activities. Today, automotive companies are completely dependent on car sales, while they could have profited from the global boom in trams and light rail, for instance. I don’t see much innovation coming from big players who can hardly budge; it will be small and agile companies that plant the seeds of change.

What about the institutions that set the rules under which innovations either thrive or fail – do governments and regulatory agencies also need to become a little more agile?

Let me be a little cynical: No, they really don’t need additional agility. They need to discover what it means to be agile in the first place. One way of becoming more flexible, reactive and creative is to listen less to lobbyists. Take the “Dieselgate” scandal. We Green members of the European Parliament had to go to enormous lengths to get an inquiry going into the tempering with emissions tests. This inquiry has found EU member states and the European Commission guilty of negligence. The committee of inquiry proposed to set up an independent body with responsibility for controlling vehicle emissions. The Parliament’s transport committee, which I shared at the time, voted for this proposal as well. But it was  subsequently killed in the parliament by organised interests who lobbied deputies with the spectre of job losses in their region.

 

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Cycling freaks (Foto: ITF)

What is the lesson from that for you, as a policy maker?

It is hard to stomach that Diesel is still subsidised in many countries, despite being much more harmful in terms of NOx, NO2 and particular matter than standard petrol. Half a million people die as a result of particular matter, NOx and NO2 emissions every year in the European Union. Imagine our drinking water would be polluted like that – there would be immediate action. Not for the air we breathe. Europe’s political institutions – the Council, the Commission, the European Parliament – must work harder. If after this criminal fraud we can’t abolish subsidies for Diesel, we shouldn’t even be using the word “sustainability”.

Ultimately, are you an optimist or a skeptic regarding the future of human mobility?

A bit of both. We have all the opportunities in the world. When I started out in politics, I was treated as a freak because I advocated cycling as a mode of transport. But it is now a reality. In Copenhagen more than 50% of all inhabitants cycle to work. In Berlin, the number of cyclists has doubled over the past ten years, and without major policy interventions. People will do what is right, and that is my hope.


 

Michael Cramer is Member of the European Parliament for the Green Party.  He chaired the Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism from 2014-17 and remains on the committee. Cramer also heads the parliamentary platform “Rail Forum Europe” and initiated the 10 000 km-long Iron Curtain Bicycle Trail from the Baltic to the Black Sea. On 2 June he will discuss new business models in transport and  the role for authorities with other experts at ITF’s 2017 Summit on “Governance of Transport”. Part of the Summit pogramme is a bicylcle tour led by the mayor of Leipzig.

 

Decarbonising Transport

by José Viegas, ITF Secretary-General

Humans don’t enjoy being stuck somewhere. We like to move, go places. In fact, man values this mobility so much that he created extraordinary tools to get from A to B, starting with the wheel and not ending with the airplane.

We value our freedom of movement because it generates such incredible value for us. Imagine for a moment that all the means of transport you’re using have disappeared. Not that easy to get to work. No fresh groceries in the supermarket. You’ll need to walk to the doctor despite the sore knee.

Conjecture? For you. But for millions, lack of access to transport – and therefore to the things that transport provides access to – is a reality. There are still children that don’t go to school because they can’t get to school. It’s the same for health services and jobs.  And it’s true for the larger economy as well – well-connected countries tend to thrive; those that do not struggle to bring their goods to world (or indeed national) markets.

The freedom to hop in a car

We won’t be easily persuaded to give up the freedom to hop in a car or on a plane. On the contrary, billions of people in the emerging economies are discovering the advantages – and joys – of modern-day mobility. If anything, global demand for transport will grow.

In itself that is not a bad thing – but only if we manage to, among other improvements, decarbonise transport.  Today, our mobility is almost completely driven by fossil fuels. Even the electricity for electric cars or for trains often comes from coal or oil-powered plants. Compared with other sectors, transport emissions make up almost a quarter of all CO2 emissions from fuel combustion (pdf) – by 2035 it could reach 40%, which would make transport the world’s largest emitter.

The link between mobility and harmful CO2 emissions must be broken if we want to continue to remain as mobile as we are. If governments were forced to limit mobility in order to save the planet, the economic, political and human costs could be huge.

Back to the future

The better way is to provide carbon-free transport. In around 1900, the majority of cars in New York City were electric – let’s go back to the future. Improved or new technology alone will not solve the problem. To decarbonise transport over the next 35 years or so, all the levers we have at our disposal need to be aligned towards this goal, many of which are outside the transport sector: digital connectivity and 3D printing may make some passenger and freight transport superfluous in the future, and urban land use policies can be improved to reduce the need for urban motorised travel.

The International Transport Forum is launching a major initiative to help achieve this alignment. Anchored in the ITF’s Corporate Partnership Board (CPB), our Decarbonising Transport project will provide decision makers with an effective tool to develop a road map towards decarbonisation, and then help to navigate it. It will allow governments and enterprises to test and gauge the impact of individual actions in a highly complex and interdependent reality.

Quantitative and inclusive

There are three core elements on which the Decarbonising Transport project builds: First: COP21. The Paris agreement of December 2015 doesn’t actually mention transport. But it creates a framework in which countries will review their emissions reduction targets in five-year cycles, starting in 2020. Others, like the transport sector could follow this lead, creating synchronicity with countries.

Second: the data. The Decarbonising Transport project will evolve around in-depth quantitative analysis. Our ambition is to federate existing data and knowledge on transport to create the most comprehensive model of global transport activity to date.  ITF has strong in-house modelling, and we are already reaching out to potential partners to link up existing models and leverage their collective power to become more than the sum of the parts. Decision makers will be able to use the simulations to calibrate their emissions reduction actions.

The third characteristic of the Decarbonising Transport project is that it will be inclusive. The modelling will serve dialogue and mutual learning among a broad set of partners who are joining forces to design the roadmap towards carbon-neutral transport. Governments, corporations, universities, multilateral institutions, foundations, NGOs will all have their place and contribute knowledge, data or money. 19 major international companies are already involved through the CPB.

Getting ready for 2020

The Decarbonising Transport project will be officially inaugurated on 19 May, at the ITF’s 2016 Summit in Germany. We plan to present intermediate results a year later. And by May 2019, we want the modelling to be robust enough to provide effective support to the 2020 reviews of COP emissions reduction commitments.

This is an open project, and very much a work in progress. All who have an interest in helping to make our mobility, and therefore our way of life, sustainable are invited to become part of the effort. Join me on Periscope (Twitter’s live stream app) for a Q&A session on Decarbonising Transport on Wednesday, 2 March at 15:00 Central European Time (CET) if you want to know more.