“We need more mobility and less traffic”

Europe’s climate legislation aims to make us climate neutral by 2050. For this to happen, we need to rethink our mobility and change our behaviour relatively quickly. How can policies and technology help us do that? Four experts in mobility discussed this at Mobility’s latest conference of delegates.


  • Future

The guests

  • Barbara Schaffner, GLP National Councillor, member of the Parliamentary Transport Committee, physicist
  • Prof. Dr. Merla Kubli, Assistant Professor, Managing Climate Solutions at the Institute of Economics and Ecology, HSG University of St. Gallen
  • Simon Kettner, Head of the Mobility Strategy department, Canton Basel-Stadt
  • Hans Fischer, co-founder of Solar Manager AG and the blogger behind Technikblog

More electric propulsion, fewer cars, and innovative solutions such as car sharing – our mobility must change. This also requires new ways of behaving. The reality, though, is that vehicle numbers are on the up, and there are still significantly more fossil fuel-powered cars on the road than electric ones. Car sharing is popular in urban centres, but less so in rural communities, where many households have one or more cars.

But why is that? Part of it is down to our habitual behaviour, which we don’t like to change. Giving up your own car or switching to an electric one means having to plan ahead and perhaps no longer having a parking space on the doorstep. Also, cycling or walking is too big an adjustment for those leading busy, hectic lives. So what will it take to get the mobility transition under way? One way is through policy interventions. Someone with particular knowledge of this is Barbara Schaffner, GLP National Councillor and member of the Parliamentary Transport Committee.

Political leverage

She says: “The Corona pandemic has shown us that we can adapt faster than we think when external circumstances change. Policy-wise, this calls for new ways of thinking. Building roads to shorten commuting times does nothing to incentivise people to leave their cars behind or look for a job nearer home. Mobility needs to be thought of holistically, and properly funded. These days, we’re able to combine lots of different modes of transport, including our own car, shared cars, bicycles and public transport. Policy makers and the relevant authorities must grasp this reality and develop it.” Examples given by Schaffner include making affordable parking spaces available at railways stations to encourage the transition to rail, and removing obstacles to innovative enterprises. “A silo mentality amongst policy makers adds to the complexity. For example, there are laws for taxi companies and laws for buses. Newer means of transport or business models such as on-demand ride pooling belong to neither category, but are subject to both sets of laws.”

The cost of mobility also acts as a lever in policy terms: “We see a lot of fossil fuel-driven vehicles on the roads. A CO2 tax would be one way incentivise the shift,” says Barbara Schaffner. Moreover, urban planning needs improving. “Short distances lead to less traffic.”

Barbara Schaffner, Green Liberal Party (GLP) National Councillor and member of the Parliamentary Transport Committee

New urban planning for shorter distances

Simon Kettner’s job finds him focusing on Canton Basel-Stadt’s mobility strategy; as such, he brought the urban perspective to the panel discussion. He, too, is persuaded that distances have to be shortened: “Shopping around the corner on foot is surely preferable to driving to an out-of-town shopping mall.” But he can’t see everyone suddenly taking up walking. “Mobility means being able to meet my needs in a way that suits me. We still want to be able to travel to work in comfort, go shopping or to the cinema and visit friends – it’s only natural. We even need more mobility for this, but less traffic.” Kettner explains the apparent contradiction thus: “Traffic is made up of vehicles that consume resources, energy and space. Mobility should consist of other concepts that can replace the private car. A shared car still takes up too much space. But it can replace ten private cars and save space that way. That makes sense.” After all: “Cars are justified for certain purposes, and as such will continue to exist. But they should be used more efficiently, plus they should be fewer in number and electrified.”

Innovative concepts such as car sharing are successful, particularly in urban centres. But solutions must also be sought in rural areas and in the fringes of conurbations, says Simon Kettner: “There, too, we have to rethink our means of transport.” In order to ramp up new mobility concepts in rural parts, he argues that more start-up financing and partnerships with municipalities and commercial enterprises are needed, as Mobility is doing. In rural areas in particular, reaching the necessary density of users isn’t easy. But this way, schemes could at least be developed in order to gather experience. “If everything works out, people might get rid of their own cars and the subsidies will no longer be necessary.”

Simon Kettner, Office for Mobility, Canton Basel-Stadt

First experiences are hugely important

Prof. Merla Kubli works on the topic of experience. She researches user behaviour with new technologies and says that changes of behaviour work best when they require minimal effort and make sense for us in terms of time or money. When all’s said and done, however, it often comes down to how user-friendly the new systems – charge points, plugs, smart solutions, etc. – are. “When people try out an e-car for the first time and encounter charging problems at public charge points, this can be very off-putting.” The sense and purpose behind a technology can also be a motivating factor: to give one example, smart charging (where the e-car is only charged when it suits the grid because there’s spare electricity available) is not primarily a customer need, but it provides a benefit by stabilising the grid. For that reason, it’s important to communicate this and to spotlight the benefits for everyone: “For example: the upswing in electromobility means potentially millions of solar energy storage units driving around on Switzerland’s roads. Let’s use them!”

Prof. Dr. Merla Kubli, University of St. Gallen

Reducing anxiety

Hans Fischer, co-founder of Solar Manager AG and the blogger behind Technikblog, has been test driving and writing about e-cars for some six years. He also thinks that good communication is key to dismantling prejudices: “The questions are always about range: how far can I go between charges without running out of juice in the middle of nowhere? This anxiety has to be countered with a great deal of awareness raising.” Fortunately, charging plugs are now mostly standardised. Adding to the complexity, however, is a glut of charge point manufacturers. “It may take another two or three years until we have a standardised solution across the board.”
But Hans Fischer notes that something’s already been achieved: “Last year’s steep increases in electricity prices have made people conscious of the energy they’re using and the price they’re paying. What can I do with the electricity? How can I save it? Where does it come from?” This new awareness around the issue is the most important step in the right direction.

Hans Fischer, co-founder of Solar Manager AG and the blogger behind Technikblog

Mobility Cooperative:

Conference of delegates 
Mobility is registered under the name Mobility Genossenschaft (Mobility Cooperative) in the commercial register of Canton Zug. It came about in 1997 through the merger of two cooperatives, ATG AutoTeilet Genossenschaft and ShareCom, both of which were founded in 1987. The delegates act on behalf of the cooperative members of their section and represent them at the annual conference of delegates. This year, for the first time, the conference included a panel discussion featuring external experts debating mobility. 

Details of the cooperative structure can be found here.

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