In 1988, Dr. Wolfgang Maennig won Olympic gold in Seoul as a rower in the German eighth. Today he is concerned with the less environmentally friendly means of transport. As a professor of economics at the University of Hamburg, his focus includes transport sciences.
Dr. Maennig, you do not own a car.
Yes, that's right, not for eighteen years.
How did this happen?
That was a conscious decision. It was a phase in which I had trouble dealing with the time available to me. Standing in a traffic jam, I realized that I had driven over 20,000 km in the previous three months. I had calculated the estimated distance: Even at an average speed of 100 km/h, which was hardly attainable, I had spent about 200 hours at the wheel. Realistically it was much more. So I was busy driving for about 70 hours a month. So I was practically a part-time-truck-driver. Then it became clear relatively fast, why I had no more time. I then abolished my car at relatively short notice and switched to the train.
Do you miss the freedom that comes with owning your own car?
No, not at all, but I have to admit that I own a motorcycle. I also live in Berlin Mitte, so I have the U-Bahn and S-Bahn right nearby and not I am far from the main station. I work at the University of Hamburg, which is also not far from the nearest ICE station.
Traffic seems to be an extremely relevant topic in the discussion about climate change. Why?
This is because traffic is beginning to burden more and more milieus, especially in cities. More people are realising that the city is being overcrowded by vehicles and that the air quality is poor. In urban transport, greenhouse gas emissions are much more visible and perceptible to everyone than industrial pollution, for example, which is simply not visible to most citizens. A car that emits exhaust fumes from the exhaust is the most tangible cause. In some milieus, the usefulness of motorised private transport is increasingly being questioned.
How do you assess the impact of new technical achievements, especially in comparison to the rethinking of traffic behaviour?
At the moment, I would say that the impact of technology is even greater. In East Berlin you sometimes still see old Trabbis; there you are reminded quite impressively how much has already been done technically. But we're not at the end of our rope yet. As far as behavior is concerned, not much is happening yet. The number of cars in cities like Hamburg and Berlin continues to rise. And the mileage is also quite constant. Of course, alternatives are on the rise in the city, but car driving is not slowing down yet.
Why are more and more people buying cars in Germany in particular? Is it solely due to the rising population?
On the one hand, the number of inhabitants has grown, but that will now come to an end at some point. At least in Germany there will be a shrinking process; in most cities there will be a delay. Public transport is still too weak, especially in rural areas. There is also no MOIA or similar in the countryside. And a large part of the population still lives there. It is said that 75% of people in Germany live in urban agglomeration centres, but that is only half the truth. Because Hamburg's bacon belt and the like also belong to the urban agglomeration centres. If you then live at an S-Bahn station, you have a good opportunity to use public transport. But in most cases this is not the case in the bacon belt either. And even in the outskirts of cities, public transport is only partially efficient. For many, this means that they prefer to drive. All in all, the question can also be answered economically: Many people drive cars because the cost-benefit ratio of the alternatives is worse.
Can regulatory measures make a difference? City tolls, parking fees - Do you think this will change your behaviour?
In principle yes, but of course one question is how to do it. Parking fees, for example, are of little use if the fines for wrong parking are lower than the parking fee for the whole day. And: If a parking fee of 1€ per hour is not enough, you could gradually increase the fee until demand decreases to the desired extent. Or: A city toll can be increased until shuttle traffic drops to the desired level. But such "price-based" solutions are hardly feasible in Germany. The manslaughter counterargument comes immediately: the rich could then travel to the city and the poor not. But that's not a good argument. Because it doesn't really matter whether it's a rich person or a poor person who drives into the city and causes a certain amount of environmental pollution. Anyone who causes damage to the environment should be asked to pay for it, regardless of their financial means.
What else can motivate the driver to leave the car standing? And, above all, not to drive into town?
Improving alternatives, i.e. public transport. Network expansion is definitely relevant in Hamburg, as is tighter clocking. It is important for young people to be able to drive until late at night without any problems. The second is to strengthen or at least not hinder providers like MOIA. And it goes one step further, because now we are getting to the suburbs, suburbs and surrounding communities. They would also like to have something like MOIA or E-Roller, Car-Sharing, because only then the public transport connection becomes interesting for more citizens. But it's not worth it for these companies to go to non-central places so far. However, the municipalities would have the option of tendering a bidding procedure: Offers us the subsidy for which a given service is provided: the desired number of vehicles and catchment areas etc. must be determined beforehand.
Or, for example, Car-Sharing with electric cars: in the city centres, the first two parking spaces could be reserved for electric cars or Car-Sharing cars at every intersection. This would make parking, loading and finding Car-Sharing cars easier. And to the dispute over the e-scooters, which partly obstruct the sidewalks. A third parking lot at the intersection could be reserved for parking e-scooters; ten e-scooters could easily be accommodated per parking lot. There would be enough inexpensive solutions.
You can see how well it works in Copenhagen, for example, to get urban traffic under control. Has Germany simply not grown that far or differently?
I have the impression that at least in large cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Cologne there is a growing number of milieus that have either made the turnaround or are about to do so. I have the impression that our political decision-makers and municipal administrations are overwhelmed.