“I would close down the big cities completely”

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Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: hvv, Shutterstock

Anna-Theresa Korbutt, Managing Director of the Hamburg Transport Association (hvv), calls for a concession award for city logistics. What works for public transport is a rescue option for congested metropolises.

You were quoted at the “Wiehler Forum”, an event hosted by BPW, as saying “I would close down the big cities completely”. How would that work?
Anything that promotes economic thinking always doesn’t work well when the relationship between space and time is tight. We see this in the logistics market now, too, because an incredible number of freight forwarders and CEP service providers bring goods into the city. That is also a good thing: I don’t mean that all logistics have to leave the city, but I’m talking about very small quantities – packages or pallets in the B2C sector. Full trucks that make five or six pallet stops should be allowed to continue into the city, because that is already consolidated. But it’s not okay if a truck makes 18 or 19 stops and only gives out half a pallet each time.
What solution do you see?
It may sound extreme, but we won’t get this amount of commercial vehicles out of the city without a monopolistic award procedure. There is too much competition in too small a space, so you have to award concessions. Because the urban space cannot be enlarged. Concessions are always awarded when the state has to help out, because otherwise competition has a destructive effect. We already have this situation.

»It may sound extreme, but we will not get this amount of commercial vehicles out of the city without a monopolistic procurement process.«

Anna-Theresa Korbutt, Managing Director of the Hamburg Transport Association (hvv)

But there are many innovative approaches to organising urban transport more efficiently. What do you think of hubs and the like?
With all the good ideas and research projects going on, I haven’t even seen the number of trucks decrease. How many hubs should there be in a city, where should they all fit?
Nevertheless, the supply of the population must be guaranteed. As a representative of public transport, you can also ensure that private, individual transport shrinks – and that many more people take the bus and train?
I don’t think it’s comparable because there are different use cases and also different mobility requirements. Here, too, a symbiosis must be created, for example by combining car and public transport. The car will always be a part of individual mobility; in Hamburg, for example, we offer a combination with car sharing in the hvv. It will not be possible to replace the car here, especially because public transport is line-bound: Not every district and every street is equally well connected. It’s different in logistics. Every day, the haulage companies reschedule how and where they drive – depending on where the quantity is called up.
As managing director of the hvv, you represent local passenger transport. From this position, it’s easy to rail against freight transport, isn’t it?
I know the different perspectives: I was in a forwarding agency, before that two or three years in freight transport, now I’m doing passenger transport again. And when I now say as a public transport manager that I would like to do something on the topic of logistics, everyone looks at me as if I hadn’t read my job description. But the two systems are incredibly similar: both have the goal of getting individual traffic – and that includes individual trucks – out of the city, so that the city can act more strongly against the background of population growth. They are two different business models: contracting versus “I do what I want”. Now you have to consider whether the latter can work in a crowded city.

»With all the good ideas and research projects going on, I haven’t even seen the number of trucks go down. How many hubs are there going to be in a city, where are they all going to fit?«

Anna-Theresa Korbutt, Geschäftsführerin des Hamburger Verkehrsverbundes (hvv)

What do you expect from freight forwarders?
They can’t do much themselves. They are in competition with each other, and that’s a good thing. The question is: Who has the problem? The city and also the transport companies, because small quantities are expensive to deliver. So they also have an interest in getting out of the system. In my opinion, the cities should take the initiative – just as we do every day for public transport. You can hardly imagine how many committees I sit on; we currently have 25 transport companies in the hvv: Everything is meticulously planned. What is missing is the conception of logistics planning: how and where would the hubs have to be set up, how would the goods get there, and which freight forwarder would have to take over what? I don’t take everything off their hands – only the smallest consignments. Does that make sense and is it economical? There is no model for that at the moment. But there is a great reluctance to think in this direction, because you would in fact be taking away rights from someone who was used to having them. That is the hurdle. At this point, I am usually first asked how compliance will be monitored. And I think: why don’t you start thinking about a concept before you start talking about sanctions?

»Why don’t you start thinking about a concept before you start talking about sanctioning right away!«

Anna-Theresa Korbutt, Managing Director of the Hamburg Transport Association (hvv)

Does the gridlock in the cities have to bring traffic to a standstill first and thus provoke new solutions – or is the time open for new approaches?
I think the mood for this is extremely good at the moment. You can see that from the fact that after my statement about closing down the big cities, many people contacted me and found the idea very interesting. Unfortunately, most of them are not interested. When I ask about it and ask about responsibilities, my idea is quickly dismissed as crazy.
But what do you say to the forwarders who fear for orders with such an idea?
For me, it is the only way to “save” the cities. And the haulage companies lose nothing, it’s only a question of transport over the last mile. It has to be clarified who is going to take over, which can be reassigned every three years, for example. The pressure in the cities will definitely increase, and then one can hope that a conglomerate of people will be found who think in new concepts. I am not saying that concessions are the only possible solution, but it is one that should really be thought about conscientiously.
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