Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stadt der Zukunft - City of the Future: Vienna

Wiener Linien Tram 49 Scenes  - Oct08 - 4
I attended a fascinating lecture and roundtable Wednesday night called Stadt der Zukunft (city of the future) organized by the city of Vienna and Erste Bank. The evening focused on urban mobility. The keynote speaker was Professor Andreas Knie from Berlin. His lecture was followed by four presentations from businesses working in the field of urban mobility, then a roundtable discussion with Knie, Vice Mayor Renate Brauner, Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou, and Emeritus Professor Hermann Knoflacher from the TU Vienna.

Urban Mobility in the 21st Century

Professor Andreas Knie is co-managing director of INNOZ, Berlin, Innovationszentrum für Mobilität und gesellschaftlichen Wandel, (English: Centre for Innovation in Mobility and 

Societal Change) and a professor at two universities in Berlin. His lecture was titled: "Networked Mobility in Cities" slides from the lecture (German).

Knie's main focus was the need for integrating all forms of transport into easy to use networks. This means, for example, a single smart card that can be used for public transport, city bike rental, car sharing, buying things in stores, etc. Knie reviewed some of the more famous examples (Hong Kong Octopus, London Oyster, Netherlands travel card, etc.), as well as some German experiments (Berlin Mobility Card).

One of the main reasons for developing these integrated cards is to create a networked transport system that can provide a similar degree of "automobility" as automobiles provide today. It's clear that we will be using automobiles totally differently in 25-years (or sooner!). There is simply no way that the auto will be able to provide transport in rapidly growing cities (congestion). It will be necessary to use the right mode of transport for each trip, without necessarily owning the vehicle.

We are seeing the beginnings of this revolution now, and it's no secret that automobile companies see the writing on the wall, that's why companies like Daimler are sponsoring car sharing companies like Car-to-go.

So, we need to focus on developing these integrated smart card (or maybe mobile phone) systems. But, this will take time since people's transportation habits are quite ingrained (we like our routines). For example, the Berlin Mobility Card was a truly exceptional offer (full use of the city-region public transport system, free use of rental bikes, 50 Euro credit for car sharing, all for the price of 78 Euros per month, and despite a large marketing effort, they had about 135 people sign-up (of course it was only for a 3-month trial, but still ...). So change is hard.

MOMA NY - Talk to me - Sept 2011 - 6

Introducing smart cards for public transport systems only has also been hard. Early systems were introduced probably two decades ago, but they are only now becoming popular in the USA. I saw a great presentation by Renee Matthews at the US TRB Meeting this year on the introduction of smart cards at the Tri-Rail in Florida (South Florida Smart Card). She gave lost of practical information in her presentation. As an aside, I've always thought it was sad that ski areas in Austria have better 'fare collection' systems and more information on their customers than most public transport agencies.

This leads to another of Knie's points, the private sector is much better organized to introduce these improvements than public agencies. And, as evidenced by, e.g. Car-to-Go, they are doing so. His point, to me, was not that public transport needs to be privatized, but rather that public agencies need to become more entrepreneurial.

Electric Cars

Knie talked a lot about the future for electric cars. He pointed out that they were expensive to buy and operate, and furthermore they would remain expensive. Electricity will not be free and developing renewable energy sources will be a big challenge. But, these conditions mean that electric cars are ideal for using in shared systems (e.g. Paris car sharing).

Electric cars could also be used as batteries to store electricity generated using renewable sources, since these sources are dependent on wind, sun, etc. and not always available. I'd heard this argument before, but Knie's version made more sense, since he linked it to the communal idea: thinking about the cars and electric grid as a shared system, not as individually owned vehicles.

The most interesting aspect of Knie's analysis of electric cars was the idea that using shared electric cars would start to bring about a change in the 'transport-space' concept we carry around in our heads. In other words, because these electric cars will be more expensive to operate and will have limited range, we will shift from a mindset that accepts long travel distances as a tradeoff for less expensive housing (in distant suburbs), to a mindset that looks for proximity and short trips. And, naturally, short trips are ideal for more environmentally friendly modes like walking, biking and public transport.

Projections are that cities will grow significantly in the coming decades, it will clearly be impossible for everyone to have a car and live in the suburbs, so this change in mindset will be very important for future prosperity.

Vienna Austria Wahringerstrasse u6 -02

Where will sustainable transport systems be developed?

A particularly interesting point for me as an American was Knie's discussion of where these new sustainable transport systems will be developed.

Knie pointed out that the ongoing "renaissance of European cities" (for example in the sustainable transport sector), seems to be impossible in the United States because the society is politically not willing to invest in infrastructure. Many US cities seem almost to be imploding, especially when long-term maintenance of physical infrastructure is considered.

In contrast, Europe still has a tradition of building large infrastructure projects in cities. This will be helpful to the economy as it's a great opportunity for cities to become leaders in new sustainable transport technology. Cities that invest in new infrastructure and ideas will be able to sell these technologies elsewhere.

(Interesting article on Re-imagining American infrastructure on Politico via Planetizen.) 

Rote Bar Jetz Geöffnet - Vienna Volkstheater

Best Practice Examples

Following Knie's keynote lecture, four Vienna-based best practice examples were described (links to presentations, in German):

  • IBM: Smart Mobility - two examples from IBM's Smarter Cities program: Singapore's fare collection card (important not only for simplifying fare collection, but also gives planners a very important set of data for improving service) and Carbo-Traf (EU research project) designed to reduce emissions by predicting congestion and informing drivers in time to make changes in travel patterns.
  • Siemens - Described a new zero-emissions bus they have developed and are testing in Vienna.
  • KTM Bikes - Austrian bicycle manufacturer has seen huge increase in demand for electric bikes, described the design for a new electro bike that can be used for shopping (can carry 150 kg, "That's seven and a half cases of beer." ... and it looks pretty cool too).
  • Vienna Stadtwerk - This is the city of Vienna's holding company for the WienerLinien (public transport agency), power company and other services provided in the city of Vienna. Ilse Stockinger described the comprehensive e-mobility on demand project. The project idea is based on: more variety, more flexibility, more interconnectivity and more space for people. Vienna believes that the ideal coordinating agency for this type of a transport future are public transport operators and are looking at how to evolve to become this kind of agency. Neat idea.

U-6 at night Vienna
Podium Discussion

The last part of the evening was a podium discussion where Knie was joined by Vienna city government officials Vice Mayor Renate Brauner and Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou, and emeritus professor Hermann Knoflacher (TU Vienna) to discuss how Vienna was doing in terms of sustainable mobility. Here are some of the points that made an impression on me, the Stadt der Zunkunft has an excellent summary of the discussion too (Stadt der Zunkunft German).

Vice Mayor Vassilakou started the discussion by highlighting Vienna's excellent mode share for sustainable transport and the fact that this mode share has been increasing. She told a funny story by Jaime Lerner (former mayor of Curitiba and pioneer in innovative sustainable transport), that "your relationship with your car should be like your relationship with your mother-in-law: it's OK to love her, but you can't let her dominate your life."

Vice Mayor Brauner mentioned that not only is Vienna's excellent public transport highly appreciated by residents, but, the availability of safe, convient and affordable public transport is the number 2 quality mentioned by tourists in what they like about Vienna (imagine this in your city!). She also reminded the audience that according to FastCompany, Vienna is the world's #1 smart city.

Professor Knoflacher emphasized the importance of not forgetting about pedestrians. Good places to walk are needed for all the networked transport ideas described by Knie.

Vice Mayor Vassilakou said a big problem in Vienna is that over 350,000 people drive into the city from the suburbs every day. Parking control and better regional public transport is needed (e.g. S-Bahn regional rail service).

Professor Knie at this point played the devil's advocate and suggested that while Vienna was doing very well, if the city really wanted to make a major change, then Vienna needs to completely re-invent public transport. Public transport operators must really know their customers, make their services attractive to people who don't now use PT, and change the way people think about public transport.

In response to Knie, Vice Mayor Brauner said that the WienerLinien was, through programs like the e-mobility on demand, QANDO real time mobile phone application, new lines and new tram vehicles, continually re-thinking public transport. She pointed out that the WienerLinien has over 350,000 customers who buy annual passes and they certainly know these people.

(Aside: Part of Vice Mayor Brauner's portfolio is ZIT: The City of Vienna's Technology Agency. Last year ZIT gave me a grant to help develop, my game/social network designed to increase public participation in transport planning. The prototype is on line and now we're searching for a launch partner. IMHO, I think it's another good example of Vienna's support for innovative new ideas.)

Vice Mayor Vassilakou pointed out that everyone is now allowed to take their bikes on WienerLinien U-Bahn lines for free now (previously those without a yearly pass had to pay an extra fee). This is just the type of interconnected network that Knie was advocating.

Professor Knie then suggested that Vienna could learn from other cities in the introduction of a single mobility card that could be used for all forms of transport. Another important point is that cities need to consider how they can get their residents to support the complex and controversial activities needed to create truly sustainable transport systems. It's possible that government-run public transport agencies are not up to this task, the private sector should be more involved.

Vice Mayor Brauner strongly objected to private control over services like public transport which are needed to make cities function for everyone. She pointed out that the WienerLinien is owned by Wiener Stadtwerk, a private company, but controlled by the city. This means it can be innovative (as evidenced by the innovations described above), but remains focused on providing the best for city residents. 

All four speakers were asked to describe their wish for Vienna in 20-years.

Professor Knie: Public transport is the hub of an interconnected sustainable urban transport system.

Professor Knoflacher: No more infrastructure would be built for automobiles, the only ones using cars would be disabled persons and deliveries. There would be more people living in Vienna and many fewer cars.

Vice Mayors Vassilakou and Brauner both agreed that Vienna would reach and surpass the goal of 75% sustainable transport mode share by 2020 in the city's Transport Master Plan. Vienna would also continue to develop and implement innovative new transport ideas and remain the world's most livable, and smartest city.


Sorry for any errors or misattributions in my text above. I was writing fast and the presentations were all in German. Feel free to add corrections below or to contact me. Check also the excellent website (in German) from the event.

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