Germany’s capital, Berlin, is planning a huge innovation: to eliminate private automobiles. Not by force, but by providing alternative mobility solutions such that people don’t want or need cars. Berlin’s public transport authority BVG is a key player.
Could you go a month without using your car? Marc Brüggemann did, along with other Berliners in June of 2018. Instead of getting around in his trusty Toyota, the 22-year-old aspiring marketing manager used other means of transportation: ride sharing, car sharing, rental scooters, bus, tram, and train, not to mention an (also trusty) bicycle he already owned. To prevent any possible cheating, he agreed to keep his Toyota parked at a remote garage for the entire time.
Not that he paused driving out of pure selflessness. For that month, his travel was free, paid for by an ongoing programme called ‘Summer Fleet’, sponsored among others by Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG), Berlin’s public transport authority. Summer Fleet’s main aim is to show that, yes, ordinary Berliners can live without a car. And the premise was confirmed: as Brüggemann told news magazine Spiegel, the experience “opened my eyes to what I actually already knew: I don’t need my car.” So it’s true – life in Berlin without a private automobile is possible.
And if the Berlin government has its way, it will be done. “We want people to get rid of their autos,” states Regine Günther, who among the city’s eight ruling senators oversees transport. Welcome to Berlin’s innovative, carless version of future mobility.
Eliminating private cars in Berlin packs a conceptual punch. Germany is arguably the birthplace of automobiles. The country’s Autobahns have, in principle, no speed limits. Germans are known for their interest in automotive technology and pride in their ride. But this has its downsides. Traffic deaths, including those of pedes trians and cyclists. Stalled traffic is another headache. Exhaust fumes are damaging. Finally, there is the issue of space. Car infrastructure – streets and parking – occupies 20–30 per cent of major European cities’ land areas.
Fortunately for Berlin, there are numerous motorists who would consider throwing away their keys. Some, such as Martin Burt, a 59-year-old father living in the Klausenerplatz district, don’t like driving anyway. “If there were a car share parking spot within 50 metres of my flat, I would get rid of my car,” says the 8,000-kmper- year Opel driver. Then there are those such as Marc Brüggemann, who are keen to reduce their cost of mobility. Altogether, says a 2017 study by the Institute for Transport Studies, nearly half of German drivers might be incentivised to give up their wheels.
So Berlin is focused on doing just that: urging its residents to ditch their cars. Leading and coordinating the innovation is the city’s bus/tram/train operator, BVG. One of BVG’s main missions, a spokesman confirms, “is to offer an alternative to the automobile.” How to do that: make public transport easier to use than private cars.
Is it working?
Statistics on Berlin’s success or failure are still thin on the ground. BVG says it will take years to demonstrate the effectiveness of the innovations. Still, there is at least one convert already, and he definitely expects an incentive. After his Summer Fleet experience, Marc Brüggemann says he would willingly go carless, but under a key condition: that he be granted a free, lifetime pass for local journeys.