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Future traffic concepts, private mobility and public areas as living space

Active mobility, e-scooter, and carpools: A discussion with Franz Prettenthaler, the director of the LIFE institute, and Christian Joachim Gruber from the Urban Living Lab competence group.

The Life Institute deals with sustainable traffic concepts. How will we travel in the future?

Prettenthaler: The most climate-friendly and healthiest form of transportation is walking or cycling. This so-called active mobility has significantly grown in volume, particularly in cities, and has to gain further in importance regarding the transportation transition. An important trend in the area of individual mobility is intermobility. This describes a chain of different means of transportation leading to the target, such as bicycle, rail, and inner-city public transport or passenger car and public transport. The trend in motorised transportation is clearly in the direction of electromobility, and autonomous driving is becoming an important topic.

Gruber: For example, autonomous driving could make journeys with a taxi cheaper because the taxi can be in use for seven days a week, round the clock. Carpools are gaining in importance, whether it is the use of a vehicle by several people, or ridesharing. All of this could increasingly question the benefit of owning one’s own vehicle. We were able to simulate how these changes and the habits of individual traffic participants impact the overall system by employing an agent-based traffic model using individual actors, the so-called agents.

How will public space develop over the next few years?

Prettenthaler: The reclamation of public space and making it generally more attractive is a megatrend. Cars parked along roads are unattractive and detrimental to the living quality of an area. Park benches, public gardens, and availability on foot or by bicycle result in more turnover than parked cars in front of shops – this has been proven in numerous cities.

It is easier to use public transport in urban areas, so how is this transformation going to take place in rural areas and for commuters?

Gruber: Rural areas represent a particular challenge as a result of the settlement structure in Austria. In order to also achieve the goals of climate-neutrality in rural areas with the focus 2040 in the mobility sector, there is a limited bandwidth of fields of action. But here too, individuals need to rethink. Public transport, cycling, and walking need to be made more attractive and, as an example, commuting by car into city centres more unattractive. This can be done on the one hand by improving public infrastructure and on the other by extending pedestrian zones and making parking more expensive in inner city areas so that public transport and park-and-ride services are used more often instead of commuting into the cities by car. It would be beneficial to promote carsharing and ridesharing by connecting to existing digital platforms. Even regional planning measures can no longer be excluded in the future to prevent urban sprawl. Optimising regional planning could slow down urban sprawl and protect existing and functioning urban structures in order to make public transport more attractive in the future.

The corona pandemic accelerated certain developments such as online shopping and remote working. What has the impact been on transportation development?

Prettenthaler: Delivery services increased drastically during the corona pandemic, and this requires storage space. This has resulted in new forms of logistics that do not, in themselves, con-tribute to the quality of life, such as distribution centres for groceries and meal deliveries in inner city areas. When these unattractive areas and logistics are moved out, this results in the creation of unattractive cities, the so-called hub-cities. They cover production, transport, and logistics, but offer nothing regarding quality of life.

Gruber: It has become quite normal in many professional groups to work from home for one or more days per week. On one hand, this represents an enormous opportunity to reduce CO₂ emissions: A daily commute of 30 kilometres would mean that one day remote working per week would be a saving of 2,700 km per year. On the other hand, there could be a rebound effect: If the saved energy or money then flows into long-distance travel or long-distance car journeys, then the CO₂ savings effect is reduced.

Does this mean that it will be difficult to lighten the load of one’s CO2-Rucksack without a change in awareness and lifestyle?

Prettenthaler:  The largest item in the CO₂ footprint for the average person in Austria is mobility, which can be influenced by their own behaviour, ahead of diet and living. Mobility is responsible for an average of 3.2 tons CO₂-equivalent per capita per year. It is conspicuous that there are huge diffe-rence between people: The ten percent of the population with the highest emissions are responsible for 18 times more emissions than the ten percent with the lowest emissions. Flying, driving large vehicles such as SUVs, and commuting are particularly significant.

So, do mobility habits mirror social differences?

Prettenthaler: Exactly. The really socially disadvantaged no longer travel by car. In this context, the social effects of the mobility transition and any subsidies should therefore be examined carefully. At the LIFE Institute, we have developed a simulation model for this that can evaluate the targeting accuracy of transfer services such as the commuter’s tax allowance.

Gruber: It is also important to consider that the differing needs of different demographic groups are taken into account when planning charging infrastructure for e-mobility. In the FEMCharge project, we have worked out a criteria catalogue for the positioning and equipping of charging stations for electric cars. If electro-mobility is to really reach all demographic groups, then the needs of women, older people, and other disadvantaged groups must be considered.


Dr Franz Prettenthaler, M.Litt
Director LIFE
Christian Joachim Gruber
Head of Research Group
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