A highway at night, source: Unsplash, Adrian Schwarz

Still Stuck In Traffic: An Introduction to Urban Mobility

Apr 10, 2019

The New Mobility World is the place where the future of mobility becomes reality. The big ideas, prototypes, and projects of the first instalment in 2014 have already become reality: Ridepooling and ridesharing, networked and intelligent infrastructure, as well as first attempts with autonomous driving services and buses have started encroaching on the domain of the traditional vehicle on the streets of various cities today.

At the IAA Conference, experts, decision-makers, and visionaries will present and debate alternative powertrains, urban mobility, and autonomous vehicles. Here we present the focus topics of this year's New Mobility World in Frankfurt. Automated and connected mobility, as well as alternative powertrains have already been covered by our editors in recent weeks. This week, we created an introduction to urban mobility and its growing pains.

Smart Cities, Sensors, Data – And It’s Effects on Urban Mobility

Flying taxis, drones, autonomous cars – these are the figureheads of the mobility of tomorrow. Yet it’s not only about the technology of these modern means of transportation. Deciding whether taxis will take to the air or scooter services can clutter your sidewalk is the infrastructure of cities. If a city’s infrastructure does not growth with new technologies, triumph becomes tragedy quite quickly. So whether it’s autonomous cars, air taxis, or the electrified delivery fleet, all need smart and connected traffic lights or roads, huge data sets on traffic situations, or the ability to predict demand to properly plan the service and optimise routes. In short: Smart cities are the foundation of future-oriented and, above all, sustainable urban mobility.

One of the smart city pioneers is Copenhagen. The Copenhagen Connecting project by the Danish capital was awarded the World Smart Cities Award in 2014. In short: A citywide WiFi network is installed in Copenhagen via several individual access points in street lights. This network is used to collect comprehensive anonymised movement data that can be used to manage and optimise traffic flow. How does it work? Copenhagen Connecting collects real-time data from the access points and the respective connected mobile phones, tablets, cars, buses and other devices. Not only was the traffic flow was optimised, but also congestion of the roads was significantly reduced and subsequently the CO2 emissions went down, too.

Other cities are catching up: In 2018, Ohio’s state capital Columbus, won the Smart City Challenge by the US Department of Transportation. The city stores a variety of different data and information on a specially developed digital platform. Based on this, the city optimises its processes and platforms. For instance, the platform includes information on all low bridges in the metropolitan area and therefore optimises the route planning of trucks – thus preventing accidents. Other data sets include demographic population data. One objective is to analyse the residential areas preferred by older people. By combining the results with existing data on public transport, transport services can be improved to meet the needs of people living in these areas.

Integrated Public and Private Transportation

More and more people travel by public transport every year: In 2018 alone, local public transport providers in Germany took 10.38 billion people from A to B. And this despite apparent lack of funding, outdated buses and trains, and deteriorating routes. With the impending change in traffic and urban mobility, public transport has already become increasingly important. It thus needs an overhaul. Attractive, reliable and fast public transportation is the backbone of active, clean and integrated urban mobility. For this, we need additional vehicle and ride-sharing offers, 100% electrification of the fleets and the corresponding infrastructure, and the widespread expansion of wide footpaths and bike lanes. Naturally, all need to be  intelligently connected,” says Dirk O. Evenson, Director of the New Mobility World.

People using public transportation, source: VDV
People using public transportation, source: VDV

The integration of these new mobility services into the existing urban infrastructure – into an overarching mobility concept – is crucial. Public transport needs to adapt to changes in demand and come to the customer (previously, the customer had to somehow get to local transport) and only in this way, digital mobility services and the sharing economy can fulfil their environmental promises. A warning example is the USA. Only the transport service market was liberalised, but the new services weren’t integrated into a mobility concept. New providers and companies filled the vacuum and concentrated large quantities of vehicles in profitable inner-city areas. The consequence: Uncoordinated additional traffic and a parallel infrastructure to existing public transport. According to a KPMG study, the new services added a total of 5.7 billion additional vehicle kilometres to nine major US cities.

Yet it can be done: The French capital Paris  demonstrates what integrating sharing services into public transit can achieve: According to the association of French transport and logistics institutes, the share of cars in Paris’ city traffic fell by 45 percent between 1990 and 2015. At the same time, public transport increased its share by 30 percent, and the number of cyclists even increased tenfold.

Urban Logistics and the Last Mile

In 2016, 3.16 billion packages were delivered in Germany alone – almost twice as many as in the year 2000. The trend is still rising. According to a PwC-study, the delivery traffic already makes up to 30% of urban traffic, while causing 80% of traffic jams at peak times. In addition, the environment is also directly affected by delivery traffic. In most cases, the delivery vehicles are equipped with combustion engines, with drivers stoping-and-going in the city. This results in high pollutant emissions, especially given the amount of shipping traffic described.


First ideas and approaches to solving the situation already exists. Some are already more mature and quite practical, others more futuristic and in the test phase:

  • City Hubs: City hubs are local (and possibly mobile) distribution centres. Shippers and dealers can bundle their deliveries for the respective delivery area at these locations. Subsequently, the packages are distributed from there on. Ideally, various delivery services use these city hubs together and the distribution is climate-neutral by freight bike or on foot. At these centres, large quantities of deliveries can be accepted and redistribute, without the need to bring in additional delivery vehicles into the city.
  • Sharing: Companies like Nimber and Uber have already demonstrated it: Via a data platform, drivers of delivery vehicles or private vehicles can offer unused cargo space to other shippers and companies. This is also an interesting concept for logisticians, despite the fact that the industry is still critically eyeing this concept.
  • Drones: In Zurich, Mercedes is working with the online retailer Siroop and the drone developer Matternet to test the use of drones in shipping, a project titled Vans & Drones. When a product is ordered from the online retailer, the drone autonomously flies it to the next delivery spot where the product is then picked up and delivered by the final delivery vehicle.
  • Electric Mobility: This approach may not solve the problem of delivery traffic, but its result – air pollution. Increased electrification of the supply fleets would counteract the problem of air and pollution in cities and also reduce noise pollution.