Beyond The Autobahn

Chris Ziemann's impressions of urban transportation in Germany and Europe as a Robert Bosch Foundation Fellow


November 2015

Happy 50th, HVV!


51 years ago, if someone wanted to take transit from one side of Hamburg to the other, taking the subway to the commuter train to a bus, that person would have to pay three different fares to three different transit providers to make one trip. With the competition of the private automobile putting pressure on public transportation systems worldwide, the three biggest transit providers and the City of Hamburg decided to collaborate and form the Hamburger Public Transportation Association (Hamburger Verkehrsverbund – HVV). The goal was to provide a unified fare structure, a unified fare card, and a unified timetable. This is the first such Public Transportation Association in the world, spurring dozens more within Germany, Europe, and also the US.

Many urban residents in the US also shared the same problem, albeit until the 1930s or so. Streetcar and train lines were generally privately owned, and city governments granted these private companies rights to operate on certain streets (often through bribes, blackmail, and other nefarious means). The problem of transferring between different transit companies was often solved by local laws requiring free transfers. However, in the 1930s and 1940s many private transit companies went bankrupt due to competition with the private automobile and aging infrastructure that needed to be replaced. City governments usually consolidated transit lines under one semi-public entity (for example the Chicago Transit Authority [CTA]), that was responsible for both the transit provision and operations, as well as the financial authority, fare structuring, planning, and general politics of public transportation.

Today, there are many cities and regions with several, sometimes competing, transit providers and no regional entity that unites them. For example, in Chicago, the CTA, Metra commuter rail, and Pace suburban bus all fall under the funding umbrella of the Regional Transportation Authority. However, there are bitter fights just about every year for funding among the three providers. With regards to a unified system for passengers, the three providers began using the contactless Ventra system for passengers to pay for all three transit services (but only after the Illinois General Assembly mandated it) over the last several years. But due to the fact that a passenger pays based on distance on Metra, but to board CTA or Pace bus or train, the fare structure is not unified, and each provider decides for itself the fare and fare structure (see below).

CTA Fares
CTA Fare Structure. Source: CTA
Pace Fares
Pace Suburban Bus Fare Structure. Source: Pace
Metra fares
Metra Commuter Rail Fare Structure and Example of Zone Clarifications. Source: Metra

In Hamburg, the fare is the same regardless of the provider or how many transfers, and only depends on the locations of the origin and destination based on the (extremely precise and sometimes incomprehensible) ring and zone structure. The basic ticket is for the blue A and B rings (Grossbereich) in the center (See Map Below). Then, depending on how many rings, the price rises. For more local trips, there are short and close tickets, and tickets based on zones, especially for the outer, rural areas. (Most passengers use daily, monthly, or annual passes.) But despite how complicated this sounds, with a basic Grossbereich ticket a passenger can travel anywhere within the city limits of Hamburg (plus some) on any mode, be it local bus, commuter train, ferry, subway, or any combination of those, no matter which transit provider one rides with. It should also be noted that Hamburg, like most of Germany, uses a proof-of-payment fare system, so that officials can verify that a passenger has indeed paid to be in a specific zone. This is in contrast to most US systems (like Chicago), where a passenger simply pays to enter the system or vehicle, no matter how far one rides. Therefore, some of this would not be transferrable to many contexts in the US.

HVV Fares
HVV Fare Zone Map. Actual price tables unavailable. Source: HVV

Transit providers are paid through the HVV using a calculation that combines kilometers driven (as is the case with many Latin American BRT systems) and passengers. Because of this, it eliminates competition for passengers, which originally led a provider to run express buses parallel to the express train routes. Instead, HVV can plan transit routes from a system-wide perspective so that, for example, bus routes feed into the train stations and connect areas not served by train service. This creates a more efficient system without decreasing profits for the providers.

Organizationally, HVV began as an association of transit providers. However, as the HVV grew (and the HVV jurisdictional area), more providers fell under its purview. In the 1990s, because its role involved negotiating contracts on behalf of municipal entities, its role changed to an association representing these municipal entities instead of the transit providers with whom it negotiated contracts. Therefore, much of the technical expertise of operations was transferred to the providers.

Today, HVV represents seven state and county-level transit authorities, and oversees the operations of approximately 30 transit providers. It provides quality control over all the services, and often represents the perspectives of passengers in transit-related matters. Below is a list of HVV accomplishments over the past 50 years:

  • 1966/67 – First unified fare card for individual rides for the entire HVV area.
  • 1967 – First schedule book listing exact bus schedules for all bus services
  • 1970 – Abonnements – monthly on-going subscriptions, 20,000 customers in the first year
  • 1972 – First women bus drivers
  • 1980 – Telephone customer service starts
  • 1981 – Bicycles allowed on subways and express trains
  • 1985 – Combo-transit tickets with concerts
  • 1988/89 – Founding of the Handicapped Advisory Council with the goal of making the entire HVV network fully accessible
  • 1991 – Introduction of the subscription tickets for large customers (employers)
  • 1994 – Semester tickets for students
  • 1995 – Electronic schedule system
  • 1996 – Restructuring of HVV from an association of providers to an association of transit authorities
  • 1997 – HVV webpage is live, and the founding of the Passenger Advisory Council
  • 2001 – Metrobus system is introduced, guaranteeing 10 minutes headways until 9pm.
  • 2001 – Online ticket sales began
  • 2002-2004 – Expansive HVV growth
  • 2005 – First night trains (weekends only)
  • 2007 – Smartphone ticketing
  • 2011 – Customer guarantee (on-time or your money back)
  • 2012 – HVV app and mobile ticketing
  • 2012 – HVV expands its role to carsharing and rental cars

What does the future hold? Besides system expansion, the short answer is e-ticketing, real time bus/train information, accessible stations, modifying its role from exclusively transit to broader mobility, and emission-free vehicles.

So, Happy Birthday HVV, with many more to come!


Sustainability in Hamburg’s Olympic Mobility Plan

Opening Pik
 Rendering of Hamburg’s OlympiaCity. Source: Olympic Sustainability Concept 

Earlier this month, the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg released its mobility plan for its bid for the 2024 Olympics. Competing against Paris, Rome, and Los Angeles, Hamburg, a city of “only” 1.8 million people might seem like the underdog. However, Hamburg is boasting its waterfront beauty, long summer days, and most of all, it is setting itself apart by stressing the sustainability of its Olympic plan.

It is generally recognized that sustainability has three spheres (or pillars, or legs of a stool): economic, social, and environmental. In the Declaration of Intent between the Naturschutzband Deutschland (Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union), the Zukunftsrat Hamburg (the Hamburg Future Council), the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, and the Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund (German Olympic Sports Confederation), aspects of the sustainability plan were outlined. Economically, Hamburg is ensuring that temporary structures not become a burden on the city coffers. Socially, the City will use its contracting leverage to promote social inclusion, equal opportunity, good working conditions and international solidarity. Environmentally, Hamburg would use the Olympic Games as a tool for sustainable city planning, mobility, climate change mitigation and adaptation, greenspace protection, reducing water and air pollution, resource efficiency, und sustainable consumption and production. Overall, the goal of the Hamburg Olympics is to be carbon-neutral and to retain green spaces.

Taking a deeper dive into the mobility plan, the base assumptions are that the players and spectators get to their games, that the City keeps running as usual, and that the Port, the second biggest in Europe, operates without disturbance. In addition, through traffic and mobility management and ITS, the goal is to actually decrease traffic by 10%.

With these goals in mind, how does a city develop a mobility plan for the Olympics at all? Starting with the numbers:

  • 7,500,000 tickets
  • 4,000,000 spectators (600,000 per day)
  • 200,000 employees and volunteers
  • 70,000 IOC, media, and support
  • 10,500 athletes

So, per day that means about 850,000 additional people to move. Because of the lack of hotel space in Hamburg, the City estimates that about 20% of these 850,000 will come from the city of Hamburg, another 20% from a large ring around Hamburg (stretching to the Baltic Sea), and 20% more from other locations within Northern Germany. Another 30% will come from the rest of Germany, and the other 10% will come from other European countries or from overseas.

Where Olympic-goers will be coming from. Source: Behörde für Wirtschaft, Verkehr und Innovation (BWVI)

Once in Hamburg, the goal is that 79% of spectators will use public transportation to reach their destinations. An additional 13% should arrive by bike or foot. That alone is extremely ambitious, but since most destinations are close to the urban rail system, it is not out of the question. And luckily, most of the 850,000 people per day are expected to travel outside the normal peak hour.

Modal Split for Olympic-goers within Hamburg. HVV = Public transportation, MIV = Private autos for persons with disabilities, Fußverkehr = Pedestrians, Radverkehr = Bicycle, Reisebusse = Tour busses. Source: BWVI

In order to be able to move this many people, Hamburg is preparing to invest in several kinds of improvements, including:

  • Temporary infrastructure, like airport and tourbus parking
  • New infrastructure for the Olympics that will remain permanent, such as extra entrances/exits to specific subway and train stations, ferry stations, and bridges; building out and expanding bicycle infrastructure and sidewalks, and extending a subway line
  • Speeding up capacity improvement projects that have already been planned for normal operations, for example extending urban rail lines, renovating and modernizing major train stations including accessibility improvements (making all stations ADA accessible, such as elevators)
  • Capacity-improving operations, such as more frequent buses and trains and larger vehicles
  • Transportation and Mobility Management, for example ITS
Non-comprehensive map of temporary improvements (purple), pre-planned capacity improvements (green), and improvements that will be built for the Olympics but will remain permanently (red). Source: BWVI

Hamburg released a list of specific improvements (in German). Because most of the locations are very close to the current rail systems, most of the improvements are rail-focused. However, 280 additional buses are to be used during the games, some bus transfer stations will be expanded, and there will be improvements to several Metrobus corridors (bus routes with a minimum 10 minute headway throughout most of the city). Some corridors would see up to 42,000 bus riders per direction between 5pm and 6pm alone, which will necessitate roadway management plans in addition to bus infrastructure improvements. There will also be an extension of one of the ferry lines with an increased frequency of 3-5 minute headways.

3 Zones
Because of the small number of hotels in Hamburg, Olympic-goers will most likely come from these 3 Potential “Transit Zones.” Source: BWVI

Because travelers will not only be coming from within Hamburg, but even from throughout Germany, the question of transit ticketing must come up. While there is no firm decision on this, options include a Kombi-Ticket (included with an Olympic ticket for spectators and employees/volunteers), a flat rate for all users, or something more akin to the standard HVV rates, which have been accused of being extremely complicated. Then it must be calculated how funds brought in would be distributed to the different transit provider companies.

Hamburg Veloroute Network – High priority corridor bicycle network. Source: BWVI

The Hamburg Senate has already set the goal of increasing the bicycle mode share to 25% by 2025 (from 12.8% in 2008) for all trips (not just commuting trips). The current plan is to construct a Veloroute network of uninterrupted bicycle paths throughout the city like a spider web. In addition, Hamburg is also planning on installing more bike racks at train stations and expanding its bikeshare system. Especially for the Olympics, the city has designated an Olympic bicycle network, which would include paving the sides of cobblestone streets and Olympic wayfinding. The bikesharing system would be temporarily expanded, and more bicycle parking will be installed.

Oly Bike network
Non-comprehensive maps of bicycle and pedestrian improvements for the Olympics. Purple = Temporary, pre-planned = green, permanent but planned for the Olympics = red. Source BWVI

The city is also planning on making most of the inner city (where most of the Olympic foot traffic would be) completely ADA accessible by 2024. According to the Olympic pedestrian network connecting various Olympic sites and the inner city, some sidewalks would be temporarily widened by moving bicycle traffic to the Olympic Lanes.

Private vehicle traffic and congestion would be optimized through specialized routes and lanes for the Olympic Special Transport (official Olympic business), mobility management, and identifying an Olympic Route System to prevent any construction or other delays. Additionally, a planned widening and burying of an Autobahn corridor would be realized.

Olympic Streets
Olympic Route Network and Olympic lanes. Source BWVI

With a non-motorized modeshare of 92%, Hamburg is eliminating a huge source of carbon emissions and road safety threats from its Olympic plans. Mostly relying on rail transit, the proposed improvements would lay the foundation for future sustainable city planning. The proposed Veloroute network would create long-distance bicycle infrastructure throughout the city. It can safely be argued that sustainability has been heavily incorporated into Hamburg’s Olympic mobility plan.

Hamburgers have until November 29 to vote via referendum whether or not the city should proceed with its Olympic bid. There are of course opponents to the bid, (and not without precedents from other cities). There is some evidence that even a failed bid may bring benefits. The City of Hamburg and others are touting many reasons to vote for the Olympics, which includes these very infrastructure improvements, and has answered some of questions raised by opponents. On November 30, we will see if this underdog will choose to compete.

Fire and Flame for Games in Hamburg. Official Logo for the Hamburg Bid.

Increasing Mobility by Decreasing CO2 – First International Forum on Sustainable Mobilities


In late October, I attended the First International Forum on Sustainable Mobilities sponsored by SNCF (France’s state-owned railway company) and CODATU (an NGO based in France working to promote sustainable transportation policies in developing countries). It was an invigorating event, full of high-profile speakers and interviews, with the overall message that sustainable transportation must be a key part of the upcoming UN Conference on Climate Change COP21 negotiations in December. Because SNCF was the major sponsor, there was a definite rail lean, especially when various countries talked about their upcoming rail transit projects, including Morocco’s High Speed Rail, Doha’s ambitious Doha Metro Plan to build 164 km (102 miles) of subway operational by 2019, and Melbourne’s solar powered tram system.

In light of the upcoming COP21, Laurence Tubiana, Special Representative for the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, said the transportation sector is the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide, which raises several questions including:

  • What does sustainable mobility mean for development?
  • How does climate change adaptation affect transportation? Transportation of the future must be able to adapt to more extreme environmental conditions (heat, cold, storms, etc.) than before.
  • How will sustainable transportation be funded? There needs to be plans for long term investments in sustainable infrastructure.
  • Can the future “new economy” grow without CO2?
  • How do we increase performance and mobility options while decreasing CO2?

The good news is that 155 countries already have climate plans, and they are increasingly recognizing the importance of city planning in encouraging people to choose low-carbon transportation options. These options (walking, biking, transit) then have the added benefits of reducing overall driving, which also reduces congestion, household costs, and crashes.

All of the speakers were interesting and extremely knowledgeable in their fields. Below are some points that I personally found interesting or new:

Holger Dalkmann (Director, Strategy and Global Policy, EMBARQ Director, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities) underscored the importance of urban development in reducing carbon emissions. “60% of the 2050 infrastructure hasn’t been built yet,” and there is great opportunity to steer development to reduce future carbon emissions. However, cities need better long-term visions, such as transit-oriented development. With good transit in place now, people who move to cities won’t have to immediately start driving.

Vincent Kaufmann (Urban Sociology and Mobility Studies Professor at l’École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) talked about trends in Europe. In cities with 300,000-500,000 residents and more, public transportation and pedestrian mode shares increased (however, 82% Auto mode share is in many cities still a reduction). People aren’t using travel times as the main metric for mode choice anymore. Many people now just want a seat on the bus or train, even if the trip will last longer, because they see driving as a waste of time.

In addition, he explained that in Switzerland over the last 20 years, there has been an increase in public transportation, pedestrian and bicycle mode shares. He attributes it to assertive public policy, which has encouraged and supported efficient transit service and lifestyles based on public transportation, such as development around transit stations. The result is that people question how to get to their destinations, and in many cities the threshold has been reached to adopt other means of transportation besides the private automobile.

Zurich Tramways. Photo: Howard Jennings
Zurich Tramways. Photo: Howard Jennings

Stephanie Pollack (Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation) talked about modernizing Massachusetts’ 19th century transportation network into a 21st century one. Economic development used to mean more traffic and more traffic jams, but it doesn’t have to, she said.

Anne Hildalgo (Mayor of Paris) stressed that reducing diesel engines and increasing the proportion of electric vehicles in the city was important not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also a matter of public health (because of particulate matter). Paris is supporting and encouraging manufacturers of city vehicles to produce electric and battery motors by teaming with over a dozen other European cities to use their contracting leverage. She also cited the Autolib carsharing program, which uses electric cars. “Don’t pit economics against public health.”

Autolib Electric Carshare and Charging Station. Photo: Yann Cramer
Autolib Electric Carshare and Charging Station. Photo: Yann Cramer

Christine St-Pierre (Minister of International Relations of Quebec), also talked about electric vehicles. Part of Quebec’s strategy is to have charging stations along highways, even to frequent destinations of Quebecois within the US. In addition, Quebec is partnering with California on a carbon exchange, and other states and provinces are interested in partnering as well.

Sanjivi Sundar (Emeritus Professor in the Department of Policy Studies at TERI University in New Delhi) stated in India, 65% of trips are less than 5km, and up to 75% of those trips are made by non-motorized means. There are several steps India must take in order to increase mobility and reduce driving:

  • Strengthening non-motorized networks by making walking and biking safer, more convenient, and more comprehensive
  • Changing Transportation departments to mobility departments by eliminating modal silos so that they take real responsibility for transportation and carbon emissions.
  • Building up high-quality, low-cost bus and BRT transportation that can be implemented in the majority of cities quickly
Majority of trips in India are non-motorized. Photo: Ron Sutton
Majority of trips in India are non-motorized. Photo: Ron Sutton

From a 100,000 foot level, many speakers brought up the re-thinking of freedom and mobility. Mobility means freedom of movement. Whereas in the 20th Century this meant the freedom to drive everywhere, society is rethinking what freedom of movement means, and by doing so rethinking the very notion of freedom. Vincent Kaufmann framed it in European terms, in that in much of Europe, freedom used to mean the freedom to drive, but now driving, to many, means a waste of time. Freedom is more often linked now to accessibility of destinations. The challenge, another speaker stated, is to keep the advantaged mobility of the car that people have grown accustomed to, but using cleaner, more efficient 21st century technology

Guillaume Pepy, Chairman of SNCF, closed the forum by talking about the optimism of the speakers and the audience. It is possible to manage growth in mobility without increasing carbon emissions, he said. In order to do this, the transportation sector needs cooperation from the energy sector so that electric mobility is not based on fossil fuels. This growth in mobility will depend a lot on the diversity of modes available to people, including shared mobility, non-motorized transportation, and driving. Managing this transportation diversity can be a starting point for cities to effectively use big data and to become smart cities to improve other services as well.

In all, the Forum reiterated the importance of sustainable transportation in long-term climate agreements. While rail has definite potential to promote and/or complement low-carbon city planning, it should not be forgotten that the construction of many rail systems can often result in large carbon emissions. An Asian Development Bank report summarizes several rail projects in Cairo, Bangalore, and Ho Chi Minh City. It found that the construction of the Cairo subway project may equal 28 years of operations emissions, due to fuel usage of construction vehicles and the embedded carbon content of primary construction materials. This should not be taken to mean that rail projects should not be built, for they undoubtedly can lead to longer-term low-carbon lifestyles. It should simply mean that other forms of transit should also be considered for certain situations, such as buses and BRT.

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