Gil Stevens: You will open FILTREX™ with a keynote exploring the ‘Future of Mobility’. What do you see as the most exciting opportunities in the field? And the biggest challenges?
Bodo Schwieger: The exciting opportunity is in the combination of technologies, such as smartphone and electric mobility, which gives us access to shared devices of all kinds. The major challenge is to minimize emissions down to zero in a very short timeframe.
GS: What technical innovation or concept in this area excites you the most?
BS: Autonomous mobility excites me most, as this will change the mobility experience forever. However, it is a danger and solution at the same time, and it is in our hands to develop this concept into a solutions that helps us to preserve the planet instead of increasing traffic and pollution to even higher levels.
G.S.: We have often seen tech outpace regulatory (Uber, electric bike and scooter schemes) with mixed results. Are innovators and tech companies doing enough to evaluate impact prior to launch? Or is the model to ‘launch, test and adapt’?
BS: I would say, it is the usual case, technology goes first and regulation comes after, since regulation can only assume linear technical developments. Major or even disruptive developments change rules and landscapes and can only be handled by regulation after their "arrival". Innovators are driven by windows of opportunities and investors, less by regulations. Most companies have international focus and launch in markets where regulation fits their technology. Then they try to grow into other markets while lobbying their interests in order to change legislation to their favor.
GS: Electric solutions are often presented as the greener option. But what are the metrics? Bike and scooter schemes don’t seem that ecological when you consider the impact of production and the number of ‘abandoned’ batteries.
BS: We need to differentiate between "Local Effect" and "Global Effect". Electric drive is locally free of emissions but might have negative global impact if e.g. electricity is based on 100% coal energy. Production and waste - actually the whole life cycle - is a relevant topic. And battery recycling needs to be improved. There is still much to do, and solutions need to be developed. These problems however do not question the direction or the strategy - it is the best option we have today.
GS: How long until a middle income family of four in the EU has a viable alternative to car ownership? Can you speak to the different rates of change on the tech, infrastructure and regulatory fronts?
BS: Well...in a city like Berlin, London or Paris living without a car is already a good and working option - as I know from my family in Berlin. Car- and bikesharing, Taxi, ride hailing and a reliable public transit backbone work for us. Speaking for myself: I never owned a car. It is more difficult in the suburban areas and the regions, where we see a very slow development of mobility services. I guess for at least 10 more years the car with combustion engine is the main means of transportation in the regions. After that electric cars and autonomous shuttles will spread - and maybe drones, if energy consumption and noise are at acceptable levels.
The tech front is moving fast, and within the sharing front goes much faster than the autonomy front. If regulation gets its job done, we are going to have a bunch of new small electric vehicles for rent in sharing systems in all dense urban areas within 5 years. My hope (yes, hope) is, that governments change taxing structures to support support low- and zero emissions mobility. A CO2-tax is probably the most simple way to go, if other taxes such as the insurance taxes or maybe the VAT are lowered at the same time. A better tax system would not change the load of taxes on a middle-income but motivate to buy or use more sustainable solutions. This would also affect the investment in infrastructures: Most of the infrastructure we need is already there, building tunnels for electric cars such as Elon Musk promotes is not my preferred way. Infrastructure is always an economical burden for future generations, and the burden on the next generation is already too high - just listen to the Friday for Future movement.
GS: Which cities are leading the way in improving urban mobility?
BS: Many cities are "on the move", while implementing different measures based on different strategies. Helsinki is strong in tech-based solutions, Oslo is banning cars from the city center, Copenhagen is rolling out a complete bicycle network, London has a city toll, Madrid is building so-called "super-blocks" of areas with no car traffic. However, my impression is that no German city is in the TOP 10 cities of innovative mobility.
Dr. Bodo Schwieger is the General Manager of team red Deutschland (Germany), a company specialized on international projects on sustainable transportation solutions.
More info about FILTREX™: https://www.edana.org/education-events/conferences-and-symposia/event-detail/filtrex-2019/