The mobility ecosystem connects at SHIFT Mobility.
The mobility ecosystem connects at SHIFT Mobility.
( Source: © Messe Berlin GmbH)

SHIFT MOBILITY 2020 SHIFT Mobility puts the future of transport back on track

Author / Editor: Cate Lawrence / Isabell Page

The SHIFT Mobility conference returned to Berlin as a hybrid event where thought leaders, city planners, academics, OEMS and startups gathered. It was an opportunity to take a critical look at existing mobility challenges, showcase real-world innovation, learn from city transformations, and prepare for a mobile future.

The return of SHIFT Mobility to Messe Berlin heralded the first conference for many since events were postponed or pivoted to digital in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19. With ample evidence of admirable agility of organisers, a hybrid event was organised under the auspice of the annual IFA fair. With the choice of a virtual or physical attendance, thought leaders, transport providers, micro mobility startups, city planners, politicians, government officials, innovators and academics gathered to discuss, debate and showcase all things mobility. While the in-person conference delivery was a departure from the usual familiars - with strategic social distancing, hand sanitizers aplenty and other virus controls, it’s hybrid format proved a valuable opportunity to move the conversation beyond traditional geographies like Europe and the UK with speakers also presenting remotely from Asia, Canada, India, and Africa. The itinerary was jammed packed but a number of key themes emerged:

Partnerships make new technologies possible

Andreas Gehlhaar, Head of sustainability and environment at Deutsche Bahn spoke about the company's goals to go carbon neutral including a timeline where this year the company aims to cut rail noise in half. In the future, the network would aim to run on 100% green power by 2038 and be carbon neutral by 2050.

Instrumental to carbon neutrality is the Refuel Initiative. Deutsche Bahn is working in collaboration with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and other companies under the auspices of the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg to focus on efficiently manufacturing and using renewable fuel sources. They are testing the use of these fuels in engines, from small cars to rail and waterway transport, with work in their TrainLab. They’ve set aside one year to gain experience and begin using alternative fuel sources in DB's own fleet. As Andrea inserts, “The project is evidence of the importance of collaboration as These networks allow us to innovate more efficiently and more effectively. When we pool our resources and data we can outperform our individual efforts.”

Data not perception needs to be the backbone of any mobility solutions

Thomas Schmidt, CEO and managing director of Bridgestone Mobility Solutions espoused not only the value of partnerships but also data: one of the backbones of exponential growth in innovation. He noted “90% of all the data in the world were created and processed in the last two years.” Thomas also spoke about the challenge of digital transformation to traditional companies and admitted “We completely underestimated the acceleration of technology.” Out of this acceleration is Bridgestone’s tire damage monitoring system which connects to Microsoft’s Connected Vehicle Platform to identify tire damage in real-time, and uses algorithms to detect events that affect the tire’s surface.

Data can also show us how and where people move around a city. Amit Bhatt, Executive Direction of Integrated Transport and WRI India showcased India’s use of deeply insightful censor data to prioritize mobility solutions. For example, while we are bombarded with images of India’s infamous traffic jams, census data reveals that ⅓ of the population doesn’t actually travel to work and 36% of people’s mode of transport is cycling or walking. Thus, India’s need is not specifically more roads for cars but greater parity for other mobility infrastructure such as:

  • Safe walking infrastructure
  • Reimagining cycling: Many locals still have the notion cycling is a poor man’s mode of transport
  • More buses: India has less than one bus for every 1000 citizens
  • Management of informal transport: Three wheel auto, electric, traditional and cycle rickshaw are still well utilised and need to factor into any mobility planning

Amit stressed “We need to use data based decision making. For many years we have planned mobility decision making based on perception. It’s time to base those decisions on data.”

Learn from the past, plan for the future but focus on the now

A fascinating discussion between pioneers of traffic planning, Professor Hermann Knoflacher, Emeritus Professor of the University of Vienna, and Prof. Dr. Heiner Monheim geographer, urban planner and traffic expert and CEO of Raukom. Dr. Knoflacher is the inventor of the Gehzeug, a wearable wooden frame that occupies the same amount of space as a car. It is used primarily in Austria in demonstrations against car traffic to illustrate the criticism of the irrationality of road traffic, especially urban traffic and its relatively high space requirements, which Dr. Knoflacher also formulated. “The problem is the car is in the brain of decision makers” he shared.

Prof. Heiner asserts “As we see the programs in the digital world, in our thinking about mobility, there is no innovation at all. We are stuck in the same problems.” He was particularly critical of legislation that mandated the number of parking spaces per residential properties while “there is nothing that legislates public transport for new property builds.” He spoke of a future where we “Copenhagenerize the world, we get back public space for children and walking.”

Did you know 5 most profitable public transport systems are all in Asia? Sascha Pallenberg, Head of Digital Transformation at Daimler AG is based in Taipei and offered a fascinating deep dive into the city’s transport transformation. In a mere 14 years the trains had migrated from a traditional North-South-East-West connection to a high functioning grid. “Compare to how long it would take Germany to create such a subway system” he jokes, the delay of Berlin’s third airport a case in point. Sascha suggested that digital services and digital payments are the superglue that gets public transport connected. Taipei’s transport hubs and train stations include free charging stations for laptops and mobile phones and are part of a broader free WiFi initiative throughout Taipei. The NFC easy card is a single plastic card that can be topped up to pay for e-bikes, cabs, buses, trains and other transport as well as purchases in some shops. To really promote the idea of the last mile, commuters are incentivized with cheaper public transport for particular bus routes paying 40% less than the ticket price, to ensure people commuting downtown use the bus and not their car. Sascha asserts “In the West, we want to think about the future and we’ve been talking a lot about the future. We need to talk about the now, and the technology we can implement now into our urban areas.” He suggests among other things, that we need to think about cities of the future “as a huge upgrading system with open APIs.”