How the Urban Mobility Transition is Picking Up Momentum

This Zukunftsimpuls gives recommendations for action for pro-actively contributing towards shaping the mobility transition through exnovation and shows how mobility is more attractive without a car

  • Press Releases 13.09.2023

The goals of the urban mobility transition are clearly set out: gaining more space for urban living, reducing noise and emissions that have a negative impact on the climate and improving air quality. Irrespective of whether you walk, cycle or take public transport, the question posed is always the same: how can sustainable travel be made more attractive? Dr. Alina Wetzchewald from the Wuppertal Institute is sure about the response: this is only possible through exnovation – that is, an approach involving restrictions and down-sizing – in the field of automobility. This is the topic she deals with in the current edition of the ‘Zukunftimpulse’ (Future Impulses) series, “Less is More”, giving examples of German and European projects that have been implemented to date, identifying obstacles and opportunities that have arisen and extrapolating relevant strategies and recommendations for action.

In 2022, the mobility sector emitted greenhouse gases totalling around 148 million tonnes of CO2-equivalents. That equates to about 20 per cent of the overall emissions in Germany. Emissions were thus at a level of about 1.1 million tonnes higher than the previous year – the standards under the Climate Protection Act had once again not been adhered to. This development makes it clear that it is not possible to "just carry on in the same vein".

Until now, the German government and the state, city and district authorities have been focusing on innovative rather than exnovative approaches in their efforts to advance the mobility transition. A good example of this is promoting new modes of transport, such as electro-mobility. Another good example is the EUR 9 ticket, which was trialled throughout Germany for three months in summer 2022. Support for the public transport network was thwarted, however, by the simultaneous reduction in the energy tax on fuel – the so-called "Tankrabatt" (fuel discount). Various studies have shown that although the ticket did have a definite positive effect on the general use of public transport, it actually led to an increase in traffic, because people used public transport more frequently but did not leave their own cars at home to the same extent. This example shows that the real potential of innovations cannot be fully exploited if the private car does not lose its appeal at the same time. This is where exnovation comes into play.

Exnovative measures can complement innovative transport measures in an important way

Exnovation focuses on reducing unsustainable infrastructures, technologies, products and practices to an absolute minimum and creating appropriate alternatives in their place. If car traffic is reduced in a targeted way and thus becomes less attractive while alternative transport options are rendered more attractive, then a sustainable change in behaviour can be brought about.
The future of cars in the city (centre) is already a topic of debate in many German cities – some individual cities have already set themselves specific targets to reduce motorised transport. Until now, however, predominantly isolated measures have been implemented such as streets or zones where cars are banned in the context of pilot projects. Larger projects are more commonly found in neighbouring European countries, for example in Barcelona, London, Ghent, Paris and Oslo, where holistic and integrative approaches are being pursued to reduce motorised transport.

"In Germany, exnovative concepts often fail as a result of the lack of legal certainty and the ensuing legal actions. Moreover, projects only last a few weeks in some cases, so mobility behaviour is not permanently altered," explains Dr. Alina Wetzchewald, a researcher in the field of mobility and transport policy at the Wuppertal Institute and the author of "Zukunftsimpulse". In such a short time, the added value for those involved is not generally apparent and the negative connotations associated with banning private cars remains the decisive factor. Furthermore, the duration is frequently insufficient to sound out any willingness for compromise. As a result, the measures have little impact. In addition to this, there is a lack of transparency, and the concomitant communication is not conducive to the participation process, all of which leads to problems with acceptance. The frequent lack of widespread support from politicians and a lack of control mechanisms also play a role here. These are just a few examples of issues that cause the projects to fail.

Creating improved conditions and an exchange of experience

Instead of the aforementioned issues, what is needed is support, legal security and a holistic, exnovative approach accompanied by positive communication that puts added value at the forefront of the message, so that pilot projects are successful and can lead to sustainable changes in behaviour. Politicians and city and district authorities, as stakeholders central to the process, are also asked to get involved in actively designing the transition and implementing it at the local level. The government must establish the right parameters and can also aid in the targeted exchange of experience to help everyone learn from successful examples. Science can make a vital contribution in this context by evaluating the project results through accompanying systematic research and paving the way for up-scaling successful projects.


Press Release

Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie gGmbH

Responsible for content: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Manfred Fischedick, President and Scientific Managing Director

Contact: Christin Hasken, Head of Communications

Tel.: +49 202 2492-187


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