“Children find it normal to be on the road in a car”

Ms. Manderscheid, you are a mobility sociologist. How much social is there in mobility?

An awful lot. In mobility sociology we assume: society is based on mobility. Every day we change our social spaces several times because we live in a differentiated society: we go to work, meet colleagues, we have lunch, the children go to daycare or school, in the evening we maybe go out with friends Theatre. We go to different places for all of this. In the sociology of mobility, we look at how these routes are created, how they are covered and the importance of different means of transport.

Many people are now switching to electric cars. Why isn’t that enough?

On the way to a sustainable change, we have to differentiate between the traffic turnaround, the drive turnaround and a mobility turnaround. In the public discussion, the drive turnaround is very much in focus: the idea that car traffic will be maintained and the drive will be replaced by an electric motor. But that hides many problems that we also have with traffic.

What problems are you thinking of?

Not only to exhaust gases, but to the environment as a whole. Experts do not even agree on whether e-cars are really more climate-friendly overall.

The biggest problem with transport in cities is: space. The streets are full of parked cars, there are constant traffic jams – and cars pose a great danger to other road users. Because car traffic is so dominant, many parents say, for example, that they absolutely do not want their children to ride bikes or walk.

That is why a turnaround in traffic is often called for. What does that mean?

That we shift our traffic from the car to other means of transport – we travel more by public transport, on foot or by bike. You have to be clear: Most cars stand around 23 hours a day. This is a huge waste of space and material. It’s also expensive for any household that has a car. The “sunk costs” for insurance, taxes, repairs and depreciation are systematically underestimated.

“The biggest problem with transport in cities is: space.”

Catherine Manderscheid

It is much more economical, ecological and space-saving to transport people collectively or to cover short distances with other means of transport than for each person to travel alone in their tin box.

How do the traffic turnaround and mobility turnaround differ from each other?

The traffic turnaround does not answer the question: why are we so mobile all the time? And why are the distances we travel every day increasing year after year? This also has something to do with the fact that means of transport are becoming ever faster. However, there are also many constraints hidden behind this: We must not only see mobility as freedom, but also as a constraint.

Do you have an example of these “mobility constraints”?

For example, many can no longer afford a decent apartment in the big city – they have to move further out and therefore have longer commutes to work. Others have to move for their job. But that doesn’t mean that your entire network can go along with it. If I then want to visit my friends and family, I am mobile again. This is how new paths emerge: Because we are mobile, we create more and more mobility.

The mobility turnaround questions: Are there ways to reduce these mobility constraints? For example, can I take more time to travel? These are questions that shake the foundations of our social order: is it about higher-faster-further or are we not at a point where we want to think differently about the question of a good life? We can reorganize mobility and improve the quality of our being on the move. The aim should also be for people to understand that not having to move is also a form of freedom.

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Could car-free days or times help?

That would at least be a good tool to break with routine. Mobility and the use of transport is not something that we think about anew every day, but we do it the way we always do it. We still think a lot with the car in mind. It would be important not to always just talk about “doing without” the car, but to see the qualities of a car-free life: It can be a relief not having to drive a car – cycling more could even improve the quality of life.

If we had car-free days, these would be moments when you stop and think about what you can do without a car. In order for something like this to have a lasting effect, however, it is very important that the framework conditions change: petrol and resident parking must become more expensive, roads must be dismantled and other transport routes and services expanded.

What other incentives or conditions do people need so that they drive less or change their traffic behavior in general?

In order to achieve the turnaround in traffic or even mobility on a large scale, many screws have to be turned at the same time. There are typical situations in life in which traffic behavior is very open to changes, namely when there are upheavals in the biography: when someone moves house, starts a family, moves in with someone, starts a job, moves out of the parental home or retires. Then everyday life is renegotiated. When you try to hook into that, people are most likely to be willing to try something new. One idea could be: If you move to a new city, you get the city’s transport services for free for a month when you re-register. Such external motivations may make people think about their travel behavior.

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“When it comes to cycling, it is also important that the routes are attractive. No one likes doing sport next to a four or six lane road.”

Switching to a different means of transport is always sustainable when people themselves see personal added value in it – beyond climate protection: the relaxed time on the train, a good body feeling and the exercise through cycling. When it comes to cycling, it is also important that the routes are attractive. No one likes to exercise next to a four or six lane road. At the same time, car-sharing, ridepooling and on-demand services must be expanded – and ideally they are part of local public transport.

It’s also exciting: As children move, they tend to move around as adults too. Nowadays, most children are taken to school or daycare by car. At this point, the problem is already being extended into the future. Children find it normal to be on the road in a car. This is where we have to start and soften the orientation on the car.

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