#ZEWlive: Mannheim’s Transition to New Forms of Mobility

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The coronavirus crisis and its severe consequences for the economy are currently still the most important problem to tackle. Measures to combat the pandemic have top priority in political decisions. Climate experts are right to point out, however, that the threat of global warming has lost none of its urgency. ZEW took this as an opportunity to discuss the coronavirus, climate protection and the resulting challenges for the transformation of transport systems in the third edition of the newly established digital format, #ZEWlive. The event, entitled “Mannheim’s Transition to New Forms of Mobility”, took place as part of the ZEW series “First-Hand Information on Economic Policy”. 

Climate experts point out that combating the climate crisis during coronavirus crisis is still relevant.
The panel discussion featured (from left) Laura Hober from Fridays for Future, ZEW President Professor Achim Wambach, moderator Julia Wadle, First Mayor of the City of Mannheim, Christian Specht, and Miriam Caroli, chair of Stadtmobil Rhein-Neckar.

The #ZEWlive panel discussion, which was moderated by Julia Wadle, editor at Mannheimer Morgen, brought together many different points of view. The questions of the approximately 160 viewers, who attended the event via Zoom, further contributed to a lively debate. In addition to ZEW President and deputy head of the ZEW Research Department “Environmental and Resource Economics, Environmental Management”, Professor Achim Wambach, who represented the perspective of economics, the panel featured Miriam Caroli, chair of the local ride-sharing provider Stadtmobil Rhein-Neckar AG, Christian Specht, First Mayor of the City of Mannheim, and Laura Hober from Fridays for Future (FFF). The event was held as part of the BMBF (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) project “Dialogue on Climate Economics”.

The discussion was preceded by a short keynote speech by ZEW environmental economist Dr. Wolfgang Habla. He explained that noise, congestion, air pollutants and CO2 emissions make a change in mobility necessary and provided his thoughts on how sustainable mobility can be achieved on a local level. In his view, it is very important to expand local public transport. This could be financed, e.g. by introducing a CO2 tax or congestion charges in cities. And where better to discuss sustainable mobility and how to achieve it than in Mannheim, the city where the forerunner of the bicycle and the car were invented and which is also one of the five German model cities for nitrogen dioxide reduction? Some of the key questions on the podium that evening: From the participants’ point of view, how can sustainable mobility in Mannheim and the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region be promoted? How can this transition be financed? What strategies has the City of Mannheim already adopted and how effective are they?

More expensive driving and cheaper alternatives?

Achim Wambach began by addressing the scarcity of public space as a central point in the debate on sustainable mobility and climate protection. In city centres, he said, streets and parking spaces are overflowing, which is why they are increasingly becoming subject to charges. Wambach then referred to the public air space. Here, too, it was initially believed that there was endless space for particulate matter and exhaust gases; but now that the capacities of the atmosphere have been exhausted, charges such as a CO2 tax or a congestion fee are a logical consequence. “In this context, it makes sense to introduce price instruments,” said Wambach. He considers congestion charges in particular as a useful tool to control traffic flows into city centres. Will there still be cars in 20 years? Wambach assumes so. It is not a question of abolishing cars, but rather of a reasonable and climate-friendly combination of various means of transport. FFF activist Laura Hober agreed that an intelligent mobility offer was the right approach. Even if she does not believe in the imminent abolition of the car, Hober said that she would like to see much more investment in climate-friendly transport options that could help to reduce car traffic quickly. She therefore calls on policymakers to make public transport and cycling more attractive. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to further expand public transport and offer it free of charge, and to push ahead with the expansion of Mannheim’s cycle paths. “When walking through Mannheim, you do not currently get the feeling that the city’s focus is on climate-friendly transport,” said Hober.

Mannheim’s mobility in times of the coronavirus

Although the First Mayor of Mannheim, Christian Specht, admitted that further action was needed to achieve sustainable mobility in Mannheim, he also pointed out that there is already a growing number of cycle expressway and cycle paths in Mannheim and the surrounding area. In addition, three new light rail lines have been added over the past 20 years. And it is planned in the medium term to further reduce car traffic in the city centre. Mobility aspects are now also taken into account in the urban and transport planning of the wider region in order to shorten the distances citizens have to travel to reach essential services and public transport connections. At the moment, however, the city treasury is facing a shortfall of around 200 million euros due to the coronavirus pandemic. To avoid losing attractive public transport and car sharing options is an extremely big challenge for the city. “We need a financial rescue package from the federal and state governments, otherwise we will not be able to achieve the necessary sustainable mobility,” Specht explained.

Miriam Caroli, chair of “Stadtmobil Rhein-Neckar”, welcomed the measures taken by the city so far, but overall she spoke out in favour of not shying away from trying out new things. When asked to what extent the coronavirus crisis had changed the situation and shifted priorities from combating climate change to containing the virus and stabilising the economy, she replied that the economy should always serve the common good. However, you cannot speak of the common good if you are depriving yourself of your basis of life. Climate justice, the coronavirus crisis, the economy and social issues must therefore always be taken into consideration jointly. Christian Specht agreed with this and added that the industry is needed to counteract climate change with innovations and to achieve the energy transition, while at the same time securing prosperity for all of us.

Mannheim in the year 2050

“What absolutely must be improved in order to achieve sustainable mobility is the collection and evaluation of data,” explained Achim Wambach. It is downright astonishing how little data is currently available. If we knew more in this field, it would be enormously helpful. Wambach’s vision of the future for the year 2050 therefore also includes that he, as a citizen, could benefit directly from better data availability with regard to his own mobility. “I want to step outside the door and a digital app suggests to me which modes of transport I should use now in order to get to the place I want to go as quickly and comfortably as possible.” Laura Hober and Miriam Caroli wish for a car-free city centre with safe and inexpensive alternative modes of transport for optimal mobility in 2050. Christian Specht would like to see a city in which all essential services are accessible either on foot or by bicycle and in which traffic safety prevails.

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