Swap your parking space for a living space.

A project in Berlin offers residents who hardly ever use their cars an attractive alternative: the option of selecting from a sustainable, individually customisable mobility mix. This provides them with improved quality of life and a source of mobility in a growing city.

In Berlin, there is a saying: “If the farmer doesn’t know it, he won’t eat it.” The proverb originated around 350 years ago, when potatoes were to be introduced to the German capital as a staple foodstuff – but the Berliners refused to try the new vegetable. People stubbornly determined that they would only eat what they always ate. However, once they became familiar with the potato, it didn’t take more than a few decades for the tuber to establish itself as the national dish of Germany.

The story is an interesting one because such reluctance to try new things remains unchanged even today (not only in Germany). An example of this behaviour can also be seen in the sector of mobility. Here, the standard belief is: every household needs a car! Alternatives are seldom considered. “Mobility behaviour is learned behaviour. Most people are unwilling to question their own attitude towards their private vehicles without an external stimulus,” says Frank Hansen of the Center of Competence Urban Mobility for the BMW Group. At the Center of Competence, BMW experts work together with municipalities and local communities to map out the future of urban mobility.

As part of the “New Mobility Berlin” (NMB) project, the first of its kind worldwide, Frank Hansen and his team collaborate with institutions such as the Technical University of Berlin, numerous mobility providers and the city of Berlin to give people the opportunity to gain a more in-depth, more enduring experience of mobility. After all, “only when residents have tried out a variety of mobility options and assessed them can we start taking the next step of working together with the cities to provide local infrastructure that is feasible and suitable in each case. So for this project we are planning measures such as a setting up a car-sharing parking space located in the immediate vicinity of residents who have done away with their cars. We also plan to expand the charging infrastructure on a massive scale.”   

For evidence of just how urgent this need is, look at Berlin’s district of Charlottenburg, where the long-term project has been underway for two years now. The population density of the area is already up to 25,000 people per square kilometre and this number continues to rise. More and more people are parking their cars here, encroaching on precious living space in an increasingly substantial proportion. Moreover, a large number of these vehicles are rarely actually used.

Nevertheless, few people have expressed understanding for the idea of relinquishing their cars in favour of services such as car sharing until now. One of the causes behind this attitude is that people lack the experience and there is thus a corresponding lack of demand. For this reason, more long-term sharing services are likely to be slow to develop, Hansen predicts. The project’s primary goal is therefore to give people the opportunity to experience “multimodal mobility”, which is the provision and utilisation of means of transportation according to the situation and the user’s preference. This is the only way to dismantle initial obstacles, generate enthusiasm and lay the crucial foundations for the gradual reduction of private vehicles on the streets of our expanding cities.

A current campaign related to the project is the NMB’s “Summer Fleet 2018” which allows vehicle owners like Gisela Burda to leave their cars in the garage for a month and instead take advantage of their personalised mobility mix, free of charge. The options in this mix range from the BMWi3, which is provided by the BMW car sharing service DriveNow, to the E-scooter and a whole variety of bicycles – all supported by apps with vehicle reservation and location functions. This allows the monitors to access their vehicle of choice quickly and virtually “around the corner”. “Through this campaign, I drove an electric vehicle for the first time. Not only did I find the technical features such as the braking technology in the BMWi3 fascinating, I also just enjoyed the feeling of being mobile in a sustainable way and not having to take up parking spaces with my own car,” says Burda. “For many project participants, the range of vehicles is clearly ‘eye-opening’. It shows them how convenient these new forms of mobility can be,” Hansen adds.

Although campaigns of this kind are still only in the early stages, there are already clear indications of success. First, however, the project team must wait until the participants’ questionnaires are collected. Thanks to the feedback on positive experiences and any points of criticism, the team will be able to work on improving future services and make sure that this sustainable idea keeps spreading further. For the time being, the target areas are the neighbouring districts of Berlin; then other selected cities in Germany. And then, hopefully, the idea will also spread beyond Germany to generate further momentum in large cities around the world.   

Cities in Progress: Los Angeles

Gisela Burda and Frank Hansen.