A view on the mobility of today and tomorrow.
Author and Hamburg-based mobility influencer Katja Diehl has come up with a prominent hashtag based on the title of her book: #autokorrektur (“autocorrect”, pun intended). Behind it is a forum for all those who like to think outside the box and stand up for innovative mobility aspects beyond the car. We met Katja for a chat about her favourite topic.
hvv switch: Your book “Autokorrektur” (autocorrect, pun intended) is your mission. What is it about?
Katja: First off: no, I don’t hate cars. However, I would like the car to finally be a means of mobility of many again. Maybe I’m visiting the countryside, and there are neither adequate alternatives to the car nor bike lanes or even footpaths there. My “autocorrect” approach is the repositioning of our societal focus on the car. I want everyone to be able to live a life without having to own a car. An important effect of this perspective is that spaces regain real quality of life. Currently, we allocate an unbelievable amount of space to a fairly expensive pile of metal that, once parked, has zero use. We see the benefit, but it is essentially fictitious – because the moment the car is parked, it gets in everyone’s way and takes away space for so many alternative uses, from playgrounds to meeting places.
All people should be free to decide how they want to be mobile today.
hvv switch: What characterises automobility among all means of mobility?
Katja: Automobility probably shifts the most burdens onto other people after air mobility. In terms of opportunity cost, each car takes up 100 square metres of space, studies have found, because it always needs multiple parking spaces – at work, at home, at the supermarket, and so on. The car creates noise, emissions, microplastics, all things that are a severe sustainable disadvantage. The push for change we are experiencing today comes from the climate crisis, but “autocorrect” for me actually comes from the idea of justice. At the beginning of many interviews I did for my book, the initial question was, “Do you want to drive, or do you need to drive?”. Many people sitting in cars today have no choice, they simply have to. There are no bike lanes, no alternative connections, no safe spaces. I don’t find this state of affairs very democratic – you could say it’s basically a form of forced mobility.
If I can’t be flexible without a car in rural areas, we lose 13 million people as potential citizens there – because 13 million people in Germany don’t have a driving permit. That, for one, is a dysfunction that needs to be fixed.
hvv switch: Which fact from “Autokorrektur” should all Hamburg people know?
Katja: The electrification of company cars would reduce car emissions by over 30%. Due to their non-sustainable lifecycles, company cars and commercially registered vehicles are responsible for 75% of the CO2 of all new cars.
hvv switch: Where does the mobility revolution begin for you today, in 2022?
Katja: Beyond the outskirts of Hamburg, there are a number of districts that are provided with good alternatives, but still there are so, so many cars. This is due to many things. Some parking spaces, for instance, are still free of charge. Say, where I live in Eimsbüttel, there are mobile homes with kayaks on the roof, there is plenty of space for hobby mobility. Why not on guarded car parks outside the city? A non-functioning car is allowed in the city according to the road traffic regulations – but a non-functioning sofa?
The whole urban space is exclusively oriented towards cars, not people.
We have to change that by reducing car parking spaces, by directing people to existing multi-storey car parks, which are often hardly used to capacity. Other mobility and charging options could also be offered there.
In terms of future prospects, cities in Europe are fortunate in that they were created long before the invention of the car and were thus once “healthy” locations. Some American and Asian cities only developed after the car and face very long distances, too. We, on the other hand, have every opportunity to turn our cities back into the meeting places they once were. And how does that work? It starts with creating equality: why is a person in a car more important than a person on foot or someone on a bike? To me, a street should be a mirror of society. All groups should be visible, literally represented, that is – and that’s currently not the case. This shows how dysfunctional urban space is today due to automobility alone.
hvv switch: How much future potential is there in Hamburg’s mobility? Where do you recognise deficits?
Katja: So much potential! Precisely because our cities were never built for the “American way of drive”, we know that things used to be different. For the deficits, I like to think of my friend Kay, who has been in a wheelchair for 20 years. He doesn’t even notice his wheelchair – ironically enough, up to the point where he wants to use local and long-distance public transport. He has to book his train two weeks in advance and he is hoisted onto the train in a humiliating procedure via a lift. Even the new generation of trains in Germany lacks ground-level access, unlike the Austrian Bundesbahn, for instance. I simply don’t understand why we cannot seem to implement the legally required 100% accessibility of public transport in 2022.
So, apparently the topic is still not taken seriously enough? That’s why MOIA, for example, has been running in Hamburg for three years now without a transport option for wheelchair users. If we think about mobility from the beginning for everyone, i.e. for children, for senior citizens, for people with certain accessibility needs, then the majority of society will benefit, too. Even I, out and about with my folding bike, notice how difficult it can be sometimes!
Hamburg already has many offers that I would also like to see in the peripheral areas: scooters, on-demand and rental bike systems close mobility gaps in suburban and rural areas as feeder systems to the S-Bahn and U-Bahn connections. Simply in order to provide an incentive to get rid of second and third cars in our households. Municipally anchored offers are always an enrichment for me, because they should not be seen as a mere business model, but also as part of the provision of public services.
hvv switch: Why is mobility transition such an uphill struggle for us?
Katja: We sacrifice good air, peace and quiet, healthy city districts where you can find everything you need on foot. But we are not aware of this renunciation.
Mobility is certainly the greatest routine in our lives.
Humans strive to do very little brain activity because the brain uses up to 40% of our caloric needs – so, once we are in the routine, it is hard for us to get out. If the car remains as comfortable as it is being made, then no one will get out of their cars, even if there are thousands of alternatives. However, if we reduce parking space and perhaps also develop a value system where family time takes precedence over the time we spend in traffic looking for a parking space, then something will change. We have to give ourselves new values as a society: Is this hectic pace still desirable? What is the point of the 40-hour week? There are many things that are worth questioning and each of which can make an important contribution to changing our mobility.
hvv switch: Which cities present practical models for a successful mobility transition that can be compared to Hamburg?
Katja: Cities around the world are experimenting with the “15-minute city”, but Anne Hidalgo has now declared it an official development goal for Paris. She has not only closed the banks of the Seine to cars, but has also turned the metropolis into a gigantic 30 km/h speed zone. Paris is well on its way to becoming a second Amsterdam. Who would have thought? In London, Sadiq Khan wants to reduce the number of cars by 30% by 2030. These are all concrete targets – in Hamburg, as in Germany, we avoid setting such targets. In Hamburg, we are nevertheless on the right track: In Anjes Tjarks we have a senator who has the mobility turnaround written into his job description. He deals openly with the challenges and clearly states that the car will lose its privileges in the future. Nevertheless, the change would be even more noticeable if the entire surroundings of the Alster were car-free. 700 metres at Jungfernstieg is a commendable start, but the feeling of freedom there still remains very limited as a cyclist.
Paris and London are two cities that, for me, exemplify a true willingness and hands-on commitment to the mobility revolution.
hvv switch: What innovations would you like to see in German public transport?
Katja: Mobility must be thought through together. There are still too many small “kingships” in our world today, each ruling their own little islands. In Berlin today, customers can choose between 34 mobility apps – decisions and use are left to the people. In the midst of this cacophony, it is super important that we make all offers visible and findable – just like on a platform like hvv switch. The hvv and Hochbahn have a lot of trust, and providers from the private sector can only benefit from this. I believe that platforms like hvv switch attract and bring together people who want to change something. For me, that is the most beautiful innovation: to think in a system and in a customer-centred way. That, of course, includes leaders who want to work together, who want to bundle core competencies and create something powerful together.
hvv switch: Why is the topic of women and mobility so important?
Katja: Most don’t like to hear it, but post-war Germany was built by men for men. Thus, historically speaking, since the 1950s, the so-called breadwinner mobility has begun, which has increasingly taken place by dint of the automobile. In other words, it’s about the singular home-work commute while the women who did the care work tended to have different stages within their transport experience. Public transport networks are not designed for this – they usually function in a star-shaped way centred on a point such as the main railway station.
At this point it would be important to make it possible to switch between modes of transport – that, for example, the way to the job with children is presented differently than the way back without children but with shopping. This tends to happen primarily in female mobility, as the pandemic has shown. Women are more likely to have taken up homeschooling, shortened working hours to manage it all.
The imbalance in many areas of society is truly reflected in mobility.
hvv switch: Do women shape mobility differently than men?
Katja: Women choose completely different forms of mobility – this is especially very apparent in car purchases: they tend to choose smaller and more functional cars. 80% of company cars are driven by men. This, too, is another reflection of the gender pay gap our society is suffering from. Mobility as a whole is still predominantly male.
Katja Diehl - Mobility Influencerin, Autorin und Teil von #womeninmobility
Die Mobilitätswende ist ihr Antrieb. Katja Diehl hat den Hashtag #autokorrektur zum Forum gemacht für alle, die die Art und Weise, wie wir uns fortbewegen, ändern wollen. Mit ihrem Buch „Autokorrektur: Mobilität für eine lebenswerte Welt“ eroberte die Wahlhamburgerin direkt die Bestseller-Listen. Nach 15 Jahren in verschiedenen Funktionen in der Mobilitäts- und Logistikbranche setzt sie sich heute als unabhängige Stimme für einen Systemwandel in der Mobilität ein. Sie hostet den Podcast „SheDrivesMobility“, sitzt im Beirat der österreichischen Klimaschutzministerin und berät den Verkehrsminister von Baden-Württemberg.
In Hamburg gründete Katja Diehl die Vertretung für die „Women in Mobility“ und engagiert sich im Bundesvorstand des Verkehrsclub Deutschland e. V. Für ihre Arbeit hat sie diverse Auszeichnungen erhalten, darunter etwa „100 Frauen des Jahres“ (FOCUS) und „25 LinkedIn Top Voices“ in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz.
Fotos Charlotte Schreiber