Online Panel Discussion

Ways to a new mobility in Mannheim

26 May 2020
ZEW Mannheim
ZEW Panel Discussion

*Due to the Covid19 Pandemic the workshop took place online.*

The corona crisis and its serious economic consequences are still the main challenges at present. Measures to combat the pandemic have top priority in political decisions. Climate experts rightly point out, however, that tackling global warming has lost none of its urgency. Therefore, the Dialogue on the Economics of Climate Change discussed climate protection, the resulting challenges for a change in transport patterns on the ground, and how to deal with the current corona crisis under the heading "Ways to a new mobility in Mannheim”.

The round´s discussants at the Mannheim Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) were ZEW President Prof. Achim Wambach, Miriam Caroli, board member of the car-sharing provider "Stadtmobil Rhein-Neckar", Christian Specht, First Mayor of the City of Mannheim, and Fridays For Future (FFF) activist Laura Hober. Julia Wadle, an editor of the local newspaper Mannheimer Morgen, moderated. Questions from the approximately 160 viewers who had joined in the digital discussion room enlivened the debate. This online event was the second of a series of events that shed light on the perspectives of the various actors in climate policy as part of the Dialogue on the Economics of Climate Change.

ZEW environmental economist Dr. Wolfgang Habla introduced the discussion by a short keynote presentation. He explained that noise, congestion, air pollutants, and CO2 emissions call for a change in transport policy and he shared some thoughts on how such a change can be achieved on the ground. In his view, the expansion of local public transport is of great importance, which could be financed by a CO2 tax or a city toll for cars, among other things. And where better to discuss mobility and possible solutions than in Mannheim, the city where the wheel and the car were invented and which is also one of the five German model cities for nitrogen dioxide reduction? The central questions were, therefore: How can the transition in transport in Mannheim and the metropolitan region be promoted? How can the traffic transition be financed? Which paths has the city of Mannheim already taken 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 transport transformation and climate protection. Within the cities, streets and parking spaces are overused, which is why they are becoming subject to charges. Then Wambach 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 the city toll are a logical consequence. "Here it makes sense to introduce price instruments", said Wambach. He also sees the potential for city tolls, in particular, to be able to use them to control traffic flows into the city centers. Will there still be cars in 20 years? Wambach assumes so. It is not a question of abolishing the car, but rather of a sensible and climate-friendly combination of various means of transport.

For FFF activist Laura Hober an intelligent mobility offer is the right approach, too. Even if she does not believe in the early abolition of the car, Hober said she would like to see much more investment in climate-friendly transport options that could contribute to a rapid reduction in car traffic. She, therefore, calls for making 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 you walk through the city, you do not currently get the feeling that the city's focus is on climate-friendly transport," said Hober.

Corona and the challenge for on-site solutions

Although the First Mayor of Mannheim, Christian Specht, admitted that there was a need for further action with a view to a traffic transition in Mannheim, he also pointed out that there are already more and more cycle expressways and cycle lanes in Mannheim and the surrounding area. In addition, three new tram 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 center. Mobility aspects are now also being incorporated into the settlement and transport planning of the wider region in order to shorten the distances citizens have to travel to the services that are important to them and to public transport connections. At the moment, however, there is a shortfall of around 200 million euros in the city treasury due to the corona crisis. To make sure that more attractive public transport and car-sharing would not be lost is an extremely great challenge for the city. "We need a financial rescue package from the federal and state governments, otherwise we will not be able to turn the traffic around as required", Specht explained.

Miriam Caroli, head of the car-sharing company "Stadtmobil Rhein-Neckar", welcomed the city's measures to date, but she called for even more experimentation. When asked to what extent the corona 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. But you cannot speak of the common good if you are depriving yourself of the basis of your life. Climate justice, the corona crisis, the economy, and social issues must therefore always be consistently thought of together. Christian Specht agreed with this and added that the economy 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.

Transport in the year 2050

"Where we absolutely have to improve in order to bring about the traffic transition is in the collection and evaluation of data," explained Achim Wambach. It is almost astonishing how little data is currently available. If we knew more here, this would be very helpful. Wambach's vision of the future for the year 2050, therefore, also includes the fact that he, as a citizen, could benefit directly from better data availability with regard to his own mobility. "I go out the door and a digital app suggests to me which modes of transport I should use now to get to the place I want to go as quickly and conveniently as possible." Laura Hober and Miriam Caroli focus on a car-free city center 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.