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  6. “Self-driving vehicles are becoming a means of public transport”

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“Self-driving vehicles are becoming a means of public transport”

We start the interview in a black ID.3* belonging to WeShare. The Volkswagen subsidiary has been providing a completely electric car sharing service in Berlin since 2019.

Prof. Andreas Knie is one of Germany’s most prominent transport experts. We meet up with him in Berlin, where he has been working at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) since 1988. We head to Potsdamer Platz together. During our conversation, he calls for traffic to be reduced in our towns and cities – to give pedestrians and cyclists more space.

“Parked cars are a massive waste of space! This will be even more of an issue in the future as our cities need to become more resilient to the consequences of climate change.”

Traffic researcher Prof. Andreas Knie

How do you envisage the perfect urban mobility of the future?

Very different to here, that’s for sure (he points to the roadside). I think that autonomous driving will cause parked cars to disappear from our cities. Cars will only stop to let people get in or out. I am talking about robot shuttles that we will hail with our smartphones when leaving the house. They will take us wherever we want to go – by ourselves or with others. As this service will be available around the clock, we will no longer need to buy a car and have it sitting around waiting for us at the roadside. This will free up precious space for other modes of transport.

So, do you think that owning a car is an outdated concept?

Yes – in urban areas at least. We need to realise that we are emerging from an era in which cars are tremendously dominant. Cars are currently responsible for more than 40 percent of the traffic in Berlin and take up 80 percent of the space. The rest is divided between buses, trains, bicycles and, not to be underestimated, pedestrians. We need a more balanced distribution between the different modes of transport.

Why?

Parked cars are a massive waste of space! This will be even more of an issue in the future as our cities need to become more resilient to the consequences of climate change. This means that we need to stop concreting over so much land, for example.

We have now arrived at Potsdamer Platz. Andreas Knie answers the final questions in the city traffic.

Across Berlin with WeShare – Traffic Researcher Prof. Andreas Knie.

“If I need a car, I book one through carsharing. What’s interesting is that often I only do that because I communicate best in the car.”

Car manufacturers like Volkswagen have been re-thinking their approach for a long time and now offer flexible options – short-term subscriptions, car sharing such as at WeShare or ridepooling like at MOIA

This shows that intelligent people are working at the corporate headquarters. They recognise that 48 million cars in Germany is simply too many. Which is why they are thinking outside of the box and asking what they can do if people no longer want as many cars. This is good and shows evidence of reflection. However, I’m not anticipating that big car manufacturers will make mobility services their core business. They will continue to focus on vehicle production.

What do you expect from businesses?

They need to realise that self-driving cars will become a means of public transport in cities. The most important customers of the future will be municipalities and transport associations, who will buy robot shuttles for their regions. Car manufacturers should form alliances with these partners so that small vessels – self-driving cars – and big vessels – buses and trains – can complement each another well.

How would you organise that?

All modes of transport need to be in a single app. Then, like in mobile communications, I can pick my favourite provider through whom I can book everything. Whether I need the bus, a car or a bike. And I will also be billed by my favourite provider. Once a month. For all of my travel.

You’re relying on a strong public transport system: How would you pull bus and rail transport out of the Coronavirus crisis?

Public transport companies need to be more flexible. We all adjusted our lifestyles during the pandemic. Many people only travel to the office two or three times a week now. Work has distanced itself from time and space – however, the rail prices are as rigid as they were before Coronavirus. That needs to change.

What do you suggest?

One option is digital pay-as-you-go models. Meaning that I don’t need to buy a monthly pass in advance, instead I use my smart phone to check myself in and out when travelling, like with e-Scooter providers or here at WeShare. You are billed for what you actually use. This ensures that I am always getting the best price in retrospect.

Which is your favourite mode of transport?

My feet... but obviously that is for shorter distances (he laughs). For longer journeys, I like to ride my bicycle or e-bike. If I need a car, I book one through carsharing. What’s interesting is that often I only do that because I communicate best in the car. I travel around the city a lot. So when I realise that I am scheduled to be in a meeting shortly and won’t be able to make it to the office in time, I hire a car. Sometimes I don’t even drive, I just make use of the quiet meeting room.

Profile:

Transport expert Andreas Knie (60) is an associate professor of Sociology at the Technical University of Berlin and was the Director of the centre of innovation for mobility and social change. Knie has been a researcher at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) since 1988, where he set up the Mobility project group. He is now one of the leaders of the Digital Mobility and Social Change research group. Between 2001 and 2016, he was the area manager for intermodal services at Deutsche Bahn.

Fuel consumption

* ID.3 Pure Performance: Energy consumption in kWh/100 km: combined 13.8–13.1; CO2 emissions in g/km: combined 0; efficiency rating: A+++

Inter/view

In the “Inter/view” format, we talk to independent minds from science, business and politics about the mobility of the future. In an open dialog, we discuss where the difficulties lie, what solutions we can look forward to, and how transportation can be organized in a climate-neutral way.

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