“Mobility is a design task”

Reading time: approx. 6 minutes
Text: Oliver Schönfeld
Photos: Fischer-Appelt, Shutterstock, Cities for Future; Kurs Fahrradstadt

What mobility matrix will shape our towns and cities in the future and how can a people-centric mobility revolution be successful? Claudia Fischer-Appelt, designer and communications expert, has been working on transforming mobility as we know it for years. In this interview, she outlines possible opportunities and potentially innovative ideas for a more sustainable movement of goods.

Ms Fischer-Appelt, you are a sought-after expert on all things mobility. What do you think solutions for the urban logistics of the future might look like? Is it enough to electrify vehicles, or do we need more far-reaching solutions?

Mobility isn’t just a question of the technology used to get people and things from A to B, it’s also a question of the way in which we move things. Mobility affects all of us, every day. It impacts all areas of our lives, from our habits and consumption patterns to how we live and design urban areas. And it’s not enough just to say “let’s make everything electric and it’ll all be fine!”. Electrified mobility can only ever be one piece of a bigger puzzle that is different for each city. Cargo bikes, for example, are a solution that don’t just reduce traffic in cities. In the “Kiezkaufhaus” project in Wiesbaden, the cargo bike has been utilised to offer local businesses a collective competitive advantage: people can shop with local Wiesbaden retailers and have goods delivered to their homes by a zero-emissions bike courier service – and often even on the same day. This model could also set a precedent for other cities. Another solution would be to create more intermodal logistics chains in urban areas: why not introduce cargo trams instead of continuing to deliver packages with outdated diesel vans? And why not combine them with a micro-depot and even with a bike courier service that is available all day? I think overall, we need more collaborative approaches between businesses, authorities and public transport operators. Mobility concerns everyone, it is a major design task. It requires us to be more creative, both in the ways we envision the future shape of mobility as well as how to collaboratively implement this vision. Everyone needs to shift from their previous position on mobility, that’s an important part of the mobility of tomorrow.

»People want cities to be shaped around their needs in the future, not the requirements of vehicles.«

Claudia Fischer-Appelt, Founder and Managing Director of Karl Anders

Today, urban logistics is encountering growing resistance. Could low emission technologies ultimately boost acceptance again?
Anyone who has ever had to sleep near a running refrigerated truck knows it’s no fun. Low emission logistics clearly improve our cities by reducing noise, air and environmental pollution. But it is no silver bullet to making places more attractive. People want cities to be shaped around their needs in the future, not the requirements of vehicles. That means more living space, fewer cars, more recreational areas and less long-distance traffic on their own streets. Barcelona has had good experiences with so-called super islands, or “superilles” in Spanish, low-traffic neighbourhoods giving ‘right of way’ to cyclists and pedestrians. Traffic is now routed around these neighbourhoods, turning intersections into squares and breathing new life into once congested areas – and local shops are the ones who benefit. The concept is now to be implemented in Hamburg as “Superbüttel” – named after the Eimsbüttel district. In order for such new urban spaces to function logistically, nearby microhub locations need to be identified and cargo bicycle fleets significantly expanded. Innovative logistics ideas that facilitate the concept of “superblocks” are therefore undoubtedly necessary for these urban spaces to work.
And it is just that that the logistics industry is so desperately crying out for: innovative last-mile logistics solutions. Is it due to the high cost pressure that businesses face that new ideas fail or do we simply need pioneers who dare to do something different?
On the one hand, it is true that the logistics industry is under extreme pressure to meet demand. Visionary thinking is difficult with growing order volumes and high customer expectations of speed and flexibility, which are at odds with the enormous cost pressure and workload businesses face. On the other hand, we need more approaches that upset the current balance of things in the logistics sector. It has already worked in the past. In the 1950s, U.S. transport entrepreneur Malcom McLean invented the container, enabling the rapid transhipment of goods from rail to ship. According to the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, this innovation alone was able to reduce transport costs by 22 percent. So why can’t we design a standardised container for the last mile? The “Letzti” or the “End Mile Box” is a container that allows for the transfer of goods from delivery truck to tram to cargo bike to take place flexibly and quickly. In my opinion, artificial intelligence will come into its own in out-of-town warehouses and in autonomous driving in cities. The warehouse of the future will be fully automated. Optimised stock positioning will be coupled with dock and yard management, meaning that, before you know it, packages will be on their way to the customer. What will be even more exciting, however, is how the transfer of goods will develop. I think a mobility offer of a single receiving location for multiple packages would be an exciting option. No one likes having to go to a shop or the post office or standing in line for a long time to pick up a package. Why is that the case? That could all change. But what is for sure is that our cities will undergo radical change. So mobility solutions also need to be rethought from the ground up.
In Hamburg, “Superbüttel” is to be a low-traffic neighborhood that will enable more quality of life for residents.
Pilot projects show how CEP transport methods can be more varied, whether it be, for example, cargo bikes for the last mile delivery or trams and public transport in general to transport packages to decentralised hubs in residential neighbourhoods. What other ideas have you thought of?
Neighbourhoods will increasingly start to ban many kinds of transport. Therefore, a varied solution like this makes sense. Imagine goods could be transported from the depot to a destination stop by cargo tram and from there to the customer by bike with just one standardised container. It will be exciting to see whether there will be a tram that is only used for freight transport, whether a section of the tram will be rebuilt or whether a trailer will be used. Will it perhaps one day be possible to receive a message while sat on a bus, tram or train on your way home from work that your package is available for collection and to take the package with you from there directly? What new avenues does excellent order tracking open up? Why isn’t there already an Uber for cargo bikes?
Booming e-commerce and the sometimes staggeringly high return rates on ordered products mean that shipment volumes are continuing to grow. Isn’t it the responsibility of every single person to act more consciously?
The mobility revolution is an invitation for people to become mentally mobile as well and to change their own habits. Germany is in fact the European leader in product returns: according to the German Retail Research Institute (EHI), the product return rate in Germany is as high as 75 percent in some sectors, and in the case of the fashion sector, more than half of all products delivered are returned. Of course, the most effective way to improve this is to avoid returns, and that is something we should all strive to do. In my opinion, the existing free-return model for ordered products needs to be phased out, because product returns are no longer environmentally or economically viable. Another trend that will also shape international mobility in the future is the reversal of globalisation, which has led to more monotony in urban landscapes instead of the desired local diversity. If you want to shop more in your local area, not only the products on offer, but also the area itself must become more attractive. This is where the idea of the 15-minute city comes in, where all the necessary amenities are located within a quarter of an hour’s walk or bike ride from any residential address in that area. The concept aims to provide shorter travel distances and make neighbourhoods more livable for their residents. The concept also envisages the inclusion of more housing, multi-use spaces and a greater sense of cultural identity, an area where retail can also play its part. A key aspect of the 15-minute city is that if you don’t have at least ten different things to do in a neighbourhood in the future, it’s not really worth living there. Living, going for a walk, working, drinking coffee – how many different sorts of activities do we have available to us in a typical neighbourhood nowadays when we really think about?
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