Jerom Theunissen Photography


August 13-15

Home to automotive giants Daimler, Porsche, and Bosch, it comes as no surprise that Stuttgart has a dominant car culture. I wanted to visit the city to witness what mobility solutions stakeholders are proposing to enhance transport and quality of life in the city. As the first German city on my list, it will be interesting to compare the mobility scenario in Stuttgart with Frankfurt and Berlin.

City in Context

Stuttgart is the capital of Baden-Wuerttemberg region, home to approximately 600,000 inhabitants. The region employs about one million people, and is among one of Europe's strongest areas in terms of exports in the automotive and mechanical engineering industries. Stuttgart faces several transport-related challenges, resulting from high mobility demand derived from citizen preferences and the vibrant economy. In the face of pollution and gridlock, the city is working hard on solutions for urban mobility aimed at increasing the quality of life and at reducing the negative impact of traffic on the environment.

The scope of the traffic problem is significant: every day about 800,000 cars enter and leave the city. During peak hours, Stuttgart's congestion is the worst in Germany, with road users spending an average of 22 minutes stuck in traffic. A significant portion of the population works in the automotive industry, with many receiving company cars for travel. For example, some 150,000 people work for Daimler and more than 60,000 of them drive a Mercedes. Daimler employees get a 21.5 percent discount when they buy an in-house brand. It is no surprise that 45% of all trips in the city are made by car. 

This high level of vehicle traffic has led to significant pollution problems for the city. To make matters worse, Stuttgart's geography features the steep hills of the Neckar valley, causing polluted air and noise to hang over the city like a cloud. These same hills make the prospect of a complete peripheral ring road impossible. Instead, public transport and road users are forced to share a limited amount of space in the inner-city road network. When accidents occur on the Autobahn, many drivers are forced to drive through the center, compounding pollution and traffic. 

To combat this, the city has introduced "Feinstaubalarm," a warming triggered when the German Meteorological Service (DWD) foresasts limits to atmospheric airflow on at least two consecutive days. During this period, residents of the region are encouraged to use their cars as little as possible, and prices of public transport are reduced to provide financial incentives. This alarm was used between October 2017 and April 2018.

Road Network

The road network in Stuttgart consists of 1,500 km of asphalt. 500 km of the road network is dedicated to arterial roads, which transport the majority of vehicular traffic. Fortunately, the city's remaining 1,000 km of road is designated as low speed zones to maintain the accessibility and livability of residential and commercial areas. These traffic calming measures ensure a higher standard of living for pedestrians and cyclists along these roads.

Public Transport

Another popular alternative to the private automobile in Stuttgart is public transport, representing about 24% of the mobility mix. Every year, around 190 million passengers use the local public transport system. The network comprises of two rail-based systems: the Stadtbahn (also known as the U-bahn) and the Schnellbahn (S-Bahn). The city also has a bus system and two funicular lines which take users up steep inclines. Public transport is organized by the regional transport authority, VVS (Verkehrs- und Tarifverbund Stuttgart), which integrates fares across all forms of transit. Fares are calculated depending on the number of zones traversed. Stuttgart proper only has two zones, Zone 10 and 20, which delineate the inner and outer city. This uniform pricing structure allows seamless transfers between any mixture of buses to complete a journey. I found that Stuttgart has an excellent local public transport system which is well connected with the regional public transport system.

Plans for the Future

Stuttgart's mobility plan is detailed in the Urban Transport Development Concept (VEK) 2030. It brings together urban and regional land use plans, the regional transport plan, noise protection plans and clean air action plans. The VEK seeks to reduce car traffic emissions and pursue transit oriented development (TOD). The plan brought together several city departments and assigned responsibility relating to urban mobility development through consultation with the city council and transportation experts. What's more, the plan involved input from citizens via an innovative "e-government" framework, responding to the needs of its citizens. 

Stuttgart also recognizes the need to learn from the opportunity and challenges other cities face in terms of urban mobility. In this spirit, the City of Stuttgart coordinates the global network known as Cities for Mobility. The organization works with more than 600 partners in 84 countries, and organizes a biennial conference to share new concepts for sustainable mobility in urban regions.

Stuttgart 21 - The Controversial Redevelopment of Stuttgart's Hauptbahnhof

A debate that has been raging in Stuttgart's local politics since 1994 has centered around the Stuttgart 21 project, an urban and railway development scheme that includes 57 kilometers of new railways, 30 kilometers of tunnels and 25 kilometers of high speed lines. From a transportation planning perspective, the project would improve the station's throughput by converting it from a terminus station to an underground through-station. It is included in the wider Stuttgart-Ulm concept, which is part of the European high-speed Main Line for Europe network, which aims to link Paris, Strasbourg, Munich and Vienna with Bratislava and Budapest. With projects of this scope and scale, it is wise to for stakeholders to ensure effective forms of citizen participation to find solutions that are widely accepted and avoid escalation of conflict.

In the case of Stuttgart 21, this did not happen. Little input was sought from locals within the government and public administration at the beginning of the design process. When presented with a public petition against the project in 2007, three years before construction ultimately began, proposed changes were ignored by the project team. This decision was likely driven by the high cost of redesigning plans that already were years in the making. The whole debacle is a textbook example of failure in the project delivery process; the need for engagement is most effective at early stages of project development, where design changes are not costly and take into consideration needs of local citizens. 

Over time, the project cost has ballooned, from 4.5 billion euros in 2009 to an estimate of 9.78 billion euros in 2017.  The opposition to the project has been fierce, coming to a head in 2010 when thousands took to the streets to show their displeasure. The grassroots coalition of those against the project include local interest groups and political parties. Instead, the opposition proposed a more modest renovation of the railway station, respecting the natural heritage of the neighboring Schlossgarten park, a green U-shaped connector for pedestrians and cyclists. In 2011, a referendum was held to decide whether the state of Baden-Württemberg would cease funding for the project, with 58.8 percent of the votes against withdrawal. As such, the project has continued. This has not stopped the opposition from continuing to protest every Monday, an event which I attended while in Stuttgart.

Stuttgart 21 is a classic case of a phenomenon known as the participation paradox: when people find out that a particular project will affect their local area, this may give rise to what is known as NIMBYism (acronym for "not in my backyard"). I think that the project would have been less controversial if a better balance in favor of active engagement with stakeholders and the general public was carried out, rather than binding decisions being made before project execution began. At my next stop, I will ask a contact at DB what he thinks about how Stuttgart 21 was delivered.

Visit to Moovel - Creating the Future of Urban Mobility

Daimler, Mercedes-Benz's parent company, is reinventing what it means to be an automobile manufacturer in the 21st century. It's strategy is encapsulated in the acronym CASE - connected, autonomous, shared & services, and electric. The vision foresees the decline of car ownership in cities and needs to prepare for that fact. Moovel, a subsidiary of Daimler Financial Services, was founded in 2013 to offer cities an "operating system for urban mobility" integrating access to various mobility services, including those for booking and payment. In fact, Moovel's services encourage users to leave their cars at home, a seemingly contradictory business venture to one of Germany's iconic automobile companies.

But this is a new reality in the world's cities. Car ownership is declining, largely due to rising costs of parking and gasoline. What's more, city roads are becoming more congested. With a wealth of services and modes of transport on offer, there are many alternatives to car ownership in cities like Stuttgart. The key to getting people to use more sustainable and shared mobility is to simplify all these options seamlessly to ensure efficient intermodal mobility for the user. This is the main reasoning for Mobility-as-a-Service (see what I wrote about MaaS in my Amsterdam blog post). Indeed, oftentimes trips in the city consist of a mixture of various means of transport, including the bicycle, tram, suburban rail, and taxi. 

This is where moovel steps in. Moovel offers users an app to plan intermodal trips that allow them to get from A to B with ease and efficiency. On a smartphone or tablet, the moovel mobility app shows the expected trip time and cost of the journey, integrating public transport providers, carshare and bikeshare services, myTaxi, and even the German railroad company Deutsche Bahn. Oftentimes, the whole journey can be reserved, booked and paid for directly in the app. The moovel mobility app now also makes local public transport more attractive to people who up to now have considered it too inflexible.

Moovel in Stuttgart

Keen to learn more about the leading disruptor in the mobility and mobile ticketing sector, I visited the company's headquarters, located in Marienplatz in Stuttgart. I spoke with Katja Hector, who works as a business development manager at Moovel, and has been with the company since 2016. We had a discussion about the role moovel plays in the urban mobility landscape of Stuttgart. She pointed to moovel's partnership with Stuttgart's bus and light rail operator, Stuttgarter Straßenbahnen AG (SSB) via the SSB Flex app. This new service offers on-demand microtransit to supplement existing mass-transit networks. The service was piloted in Stuttgart in 2017, featuring smart routing and pooling to create efficient solutions for passengers and operators alike. In effect, this platform helps transport providers extend their networks in an instant to provide transport services to customers in transit-starved areas. Katja told me that algorithms in the app enables transport providers to foresee potential demand at metro stations and utilize their operations more efficiently.

Another cool thing Katja told me about was that Moovel offered users the chance to win free tickets during a period of "Feinstaubalarm." During this initiative run by the Stuttgart region, the idea was to alert more people about the need to ride public transport. To offer an economic incentive, individual VVS tickets during Feinstaub alarm could be purchased for up to 50 percent less than the regular ticket price, including in the moovel app. But moovel took the initiative one step further and implemented a random generator to offer users the chance to ride for free! Boasting a 50% chance of winning, the initiative was effective in showing users what moovel's app could do, but more importantly, encouraged sustainable urban mobility!

Source: Moovel Group

Moovel Lab - Exploring the Future of Urban Mobility

Ever wondered if all roads actually lead to Rome? Or if children have some ideas for a future with autonomous vehicles? Or just how much space is dedicated to cycling, rail, and car traffic in cities? A division of moovel group, called moovel lab, is tasked with asking these questions, and pursuing answers to them in the greatest extent possible. I spoke with Raphael Riemann, a geographer by training and a self-dubbed "urbanaut" who observes urban mobility similarly to how a astronomer gazes upon the stars. He explained the vision behind moovel lab as an anti-disciplinary creative space, where the stage is cleared for innovation to take place. Shunning the typical silos of programmers, artists, engineers, Raphael told me that the work environment in moovel lab is an anti-disciplinary space, setup as a balance between a research lab and a tinkerer's garage. This environment and the license to create allow Raphael, his colleagues, and anyone else interested, to boldly go where no urban mobility enthusiast has gone before. 

In their projects, moovel lab follows the principles of exploration via speculative design, a kind of design that is used as a tool to create not only things but ideas. For moovel lab, design is a means of imagining possible futures in the realm of mobility. This is not the usual sort of predicting or forecasting, spotting trends and extrapolating; these kinds of predictions can be proven wrong and lead to dead ends. But the important part is to not let the fear of that hinder the exploratory process. This exploration, combined with an investigation of ideas and prototypes through a variety of media, promote discussion and allow mobility to be more tangible for everyone. The conversations moovel lab's work will spur will no doubt be important in the future, where mobility can have pressing implications on the livability of our cities.

Parting Thoughts

I really enjoyed my visit to Stuttgart, thanks to the friendliness and hospitality of Katja and Raphael at Moovel, and especially that of my host, Alessia! I met Alessia back in Madrid through my hostel, where a group of young travelers explored the city together. She is going to study political science and policy at the University of Passau. She holds two nationalities from Italy and the Czech Republic, and spent the last few weeks traveling through Europe as well. When I told her that I was planning to visit Stuttgart, she informed me she had grown up in the city and currently lives there! A few weeks later, I arrived in Stuttgart and Alessia agreed to host me. She was invaluable in getting us around via public transport, as the learning curve on learning the network seemed quite steep. Throughout my travel, I hope to meet more people like Alessia, who can make the challenge of getting adjusted to a new city much easier.

Using Format