Many people work in a city but live in a suburb or out in the country. Although rents and real estate prices are lower for people living outside cities, these advantages are offset by time wasted on the road and the resulting damage to the environment. In fact, the average German spend almost 70 hours a year in traffic jams. Compared to cities, where the number of privately used cars is declining, people in rural areas are holding on to their automobiles at all costs, and 70 percent of them drive to and from work. This is despite the fact that half of all commutes from rural areas are less than ten kilometers long, and thus could be quickly and cheaply traveled by bike.
The Future of Mobility
A Fresh Look at Commuting
Cars are still the chief means of transportation outside of cities. But alternatives are taking shape.
Toward Two-Wheeled Mobility
According to the Institute of Transportation Design in Braunschweig, Germany, many rural areas could transition from cars to bicycles that assist a rider’s pedaling with an electric motor – so-called pedelecs. In a long-term study, the Institute examined how people use these electric bikes. The results show that people ride them 2,500 kilometers per year on average. That translates into 11.4 kilometers per trip. Before they bought a pedelec, such cyclists made 62 percent of their trips by car. The study found that, compared to using the average ten-year-old car, a pedelec reduces CO2 emissions by 148 grams for every kilometer it is ridden. The use of pedelecs becomes easier if there are express bike paths or a series of phased green traffic lights for bicycles, made possible new technologies such as Siemens’ SiBike app.
Pedelecs might pave the way for electric cars. Although critics claim that many city-to-country distances are too great and that electric vehicle battery ranges are too short, today’s battery-electric vehicles could cover 87 percent of all the trips in rural areas. The situation is similar for many commercial vehicle runs, such as parcel delivery services.
Buses and Trains
Even though electric cars can reduce the amounts of locally produced airborne pollutants, they still get stuck in traffic jams. Additional alternatives are needed. That’s where buses and trains will continue to play a key role. Moreover, they still have unexploited potential when it comes to improving energy efficiency and convenience.
Take buses as an example. In the years ahead, more and more buses will be equipped with electric drives. However, they won’t be able to operate for an entire day without having their batteries recharged. As a result, they need a decentralized infrastructure, in which charging stations could, for example, be located at the last stop of a route, where drivers take a break. But because these breaks last only a few minutes, the charging process has to be fast and secure so that as much energy as possible can be “pumped” into the battery. A good solution here is to use automatic pantographs that dock onto a bus’s roof-mounted electrical contacts. Siemens has already put several such fast-charging stations into operation in locations such as Hamburg and Montreal.
Driving Faster and Exiting Quicker
A high level of energy efficiency is also crucial for regional trains, which carry most of Germany’s commuter traffic. The Desiro HC regional train from Siemens is ideal in this regard. Its lightweight design, fast-acceleration motors, brake energy recovery system, and digital management technology for all functions ensure that it uses energy very efficiently. In hectic rush-hour traffic, small details are of crucial importance. For example, the train’s doors are especially wide so that passengers can get on and off quickly, therefore cutting the time needed for each station stop. Beginning in 2018, 82 Desiro HC trains will enable commuters to escape the traffic chaos in Germany’s Ruhr region. These trains will be used for the Rhine-Ruhr Express, which is expected to reduce traffic in its service area by about 31,000 car trips each weekday.
Huge transportation-related challenges are also common in China, where metropolitan areas are often extremely large. In the future, Beijing is expected to merge with the neighboring cities to create a single gigantic metropolis of 130 million people. Similar conurbations already exist in the Yangtze Delta (100 million inhabitants) and the Pearl River Delta (40 million). In these regions, commuting means traveling from one megacity to another. Given the population densities in these areas, this can be done only with the help of high-speed trains. China’s New Urbanization Plan envisions connecting cities of more than 500,000 inhabitants to a high-speed rail network, while those with over 200,000 inhabitants will be linked to the regular railway system. With regard to commuter traffic over shorter distances, the Chinese government is benefiting from the fact that people in China love electric vehicles, regardless of whether they have two wheels or four.