“A sustainable lifestyle has to be effortless”

Rebecca Karbaumer is the newly elected member of the Board of Directors of the Mobility Cooperative. She is all in favour of more emotions and diversity in the industry – and she wants to make car sharing rock. Though personally she actually prefers to listen to classical music. 

Text   Stefan Roschi

18.08.2022

  • Mobility

  • Sustainability

Rebecca Karbaumer feels particularly at ease in dungarees and rubber boots. While others were busy discovering yoga and sourdough bread during lockdown, she was doing a distance learning course in garden design and dedicating herself to biodiversity by providing better habitats for wild pollinator bees. Whether in her own garden or via guerrilla gardening: the 37-year-old likes to be unconventional.

In May 2022, the delegates of the Mobility Cooperative elected Rebecca Karbaumer as the new member of the company’s Board of Directors. She attended the election via video link because she lives and works in Bremen as a project coordinator for sustainable mobility and was unable to get away. Right at that time there was a rather unusual symposium taking place that she helped organise. Its title: Shared Mobility Rocks!

 

Rebecca, mobility issues tend to have an air of the conventional and conservative. How did you come to hold a symposium entitled “Shared Mobility Rocks”?

The original idea came from Belgian colleagues who I’d worked with on an EU project. The notion behind it is that conferences don’t have to be dry to be productive. On the contrary: if you present topics in a hands-on, off-the-wall way, more will stick in the end. The event was set up like a rock concert – and it was a great success, too. Participants from over 27 countries and four continents travelled to the fourth edition of the symposium. Many came not just for the content but for the atmosphere, too.

A rocking event needs the right soundtrack. Do tell us what your three favourite rock songs are.

Well, I personally listen more to classical music and jazz, but I have some rock favourites too, of course: 

  • Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra
  • The Tell-Tale Heart by The Alan Parsons Project
  • Don't Fear the Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult

Link to the Music

Do we need unusual approaches like this event to make the topic of shared mobility more accessible to the masses?

I think it takes courage not to always take yourself too seriously. You can be competent and still give free rein to your passion. For myself and many others, working in sustainable mobility is a mission in life that I take pleasure in. Ultimately, you’re bound to reach more people if you’re bold enough to express your pleasure in what you do.

You mean if it’s fun, people will keep talking about it?

Exactly. Let’s take the example of car advertisements: almost everything in them is about emotion. Why don’t we in the sustainability industry talk more often about the feeling of freedom and the sheer pleasure of car-free mobility? If we’re really honest, very few people in their day-to-day lives make their mobility decisions based on CO2 emissions or cost calculations – even though these aspects are stated by the majority as “important” points in surveys. People mainly act according to what is practical and feels right.

How did you actually end up in the world of shared mobility?

I always had concrete ideas about what I wanted to do with my life, namely protect nature and resources. That’s why I started out by studying environmental sciences. Working in regional planning in the US, I soon realised what is sustainable and what isn’t – in communication, too. A sustainable lifestyle has to be effortless and accessible for everyone. One way to achieve this is to design cities accordingly. I first ended up in the mobility sector by chance because a job came up in Bremen to do with intelligent transport systems. That was how I found my professional home in sustainable mobility.

What does your job involve?

As a consultant for shared mobility, I do just about everything, including coordinating European joint projects, where Bremen often has the lead. But my job also involves integrating sustainable mobility in new building projects. And there’s a lot of communication work, too.

Let’s move on to the Mobility Cooperative. How did you come into contact with the company?

In the industry, Mobility is well-known as one of the top car sharing providers, of course. From 2019 onwards I got to know the company better through personal contacts. The nationwide scheme with the large fleet and the additional one-way offer – these are masterly accomplishments! That’s why I'm really excited to be able to start working for Mobility.

What went through your mind after being elected to the Board of Directors.

I felt extremely honoured and proud that the delegates put their trust in me – despite the fact that I’m not Swiss and don’t live in Switzerland.

What goals have you set for yourself?

First of all, I want to understand the Cooperative and become even more familiar with what the management is aiming to achieve. My intention is certainly not to explain to everyone how to turn the whole business around – after all, Mobility is highly successful already. And that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to get involved with Mobility in the first place – in the country where car sharing was born.

What else?

I like contributing new perspectives and ideas.  Switzerland is far ahead of Germany in terms of car sharing. But the potential hasn’t yet been fully exhausted. It’s important to get through to people who don’t yet use car sharing.

How, for example?

We should be more responsive to women’s needs – and I’m not just saying that because I’m a woman. The fact is that shared mobility services are still mostly used by men, so women are a huge target group that is still not being sufficiently addressed. This has a lot to do with behavioural and economic psychology – an area where I feel I’m able to contribute and intend to do so in the future.  

Talking of women: you were nominated and presented as a “Remarkable Woman in Transport” by TUMI (Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative) in 2021. What does this mean to you and how can we manage to inject more diversity into the mobility sector?

It was a great honour for me to be nominated one of the Remarkable Women in Transport – alongside the mayor of Paris, among others! It’s great that women from all sectors of the industry are getting more attention through this initiative. In Europe, only 22 per cent of transport workers are women. That has to change. Not because male planners are not skilled enough: it’s just that our day-to-day experience subconsciously shapes our work. This is precisely why a high level of diversity is so crucial, whether in terms of gender, ethnicity or age. It’s the only way to plan for a diverse spectrum of citizens. People have gradually begun to see the relevance of this issue in recent years. Nonetheless: at conferences, for example, sessions on this topic usually only take place on the sidelines – even though it actually belongs on the main agenda.

Finally, the obligatory question: how do you get around yourself?

Mostly on foot and by bike, occasionally by local and long-distance public transport – and of course I use the local car-sharing service from time to time when I do need a car. I enjoy all the benefits of shared mobility. If there really is no other way, I sometimes travel by plane. But to get to the board meetings in Rotkreuz, I’ll mainly be travelling by night train.

Profile

Rebecca Karbaumer studied environmental science (Bachelor of Science, University of Missouri-Kansas City) and geography (Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Development, University of Bremen). Since January 2013, she has been responsible for sustainable mobility with the City of Bremen municipal authorities, where she coordinates European and local transport projects. She is also co-author of a book on shared mobility (How to Make Shared Mobility Rock: A Planner's Guide to the Shared Mobility Galaxy), which serves as a guide for planners and politicians at the municipal level.

Mobility expert Rebecca Karbaumer has been a member of the Mobility Cooperative's Board of Directors since May 1922.

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