Car-free cities, flight quotas and power pedalling

Future workshop on mobility

By Kai Kuhnhenn


What does the future of mobility look like? This question was investigated by a group of pioneers from science, politics and social movements as part of our project “Future for all – just. ecological. achievable.”

In 2048 we’ll have: car-free cities and village centres, a different concept of holidays, trains with meeting places, cycling lanes with ecological shopping facilities.

In 2048 we won’t have: a strong car lobby, fine particles pollution in city centres, short-haul flights, mass tourism.

The following blog post is not a summary of the contents of the Future Workshop but was inspired by it and takes up many suggestions. A talk show in the year 2030:

Talk, talk, talk – Monday’s political talk show

The screen flickers and shows a discussion round. The camera pans onto the stage and the presenter Manny-Oda Delitzsch (MOD) addresses the audience:

MOD: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to talk, talk, talk, the political talk on Monday evening. 2020, 10 years ago, the Berlin Senate decided that Berlin should become the first car-free city in Germany, followed by Bremen, Munich, Essen, Cologne and many more. Stuttgart and Frankfurt are now the only municipalities that still allow the private use of cars. And the car-free movement is now going rural: in addition to the Wendland, the former lignite mining areas and tourism regions, the number of communities opting for car-free village centres is growing rapidly. In my studio today, I have with me the Minister of Transport of the Green Party Mrs. Vahide Mousa (VM), the activist Angela Kirios (AK) and the Executive Board of the Federation of German Industries, Bernato-Dimitri Ingsheim (BDI). Minister, how did this change come about in Germany as a car country?

VM: Well, of central importance was certainly the ecological tax and financial reform in 2019 and, of course, the groundbreaking decision of the red-red-green senate in Berlin at the time.

AK: But that is a rather one-sided view. What you fail to mention is the role of civil society – for example, the Fridays for Future protests since 2018, the various actions against car companies, the street occupations in Berlin and other large cities every three monts, the work of local NGOs and the Critical Mass actions. In addition, there are the numerous scandals that have shown how strongly politics and the automobile industry are intertwined.

VM: But regarding the roll of politics you also shouldn’t…

Car-free cities: better quality of life, less pollution

MOD: Let’s go one step further, namely to the effects of this development. Mr Ingsheim, what is your assessment of them?

BDI: What we have seen since then is a massive collapse of the economy in the car-free cities – there are figures on regional value added – and a collapse of the automotive industry with corresponding layoffs and unemployment. The car has simply been made unattractive for a large number of people without any consideration of the consequences.

MOD: Mrs. Kirios, do you see it this negatively?

AK: Not at all. Frankly, I do not know what negative consequences Mr Ingsheim is talking about. I think that the surveys in the car-free cities speak volumes, and this also coincides with my personal experience. There is a completely new feeling of being alive, there is much more space in the cities that people use to meet, to spend time together, children have room to play. All in all it has become much quieter and safer in the city.

BDI: Of course, you can try to sugar coat such an impoverishment programme, but the figures speak for themselves, incomes have fallen and people are less mobile.

AK: They drive less because shops, green spaces and a liveable environment in general are in the middle of their neighbourhood, which is not the same as being less mobile.

MOD: Minister, your constituency is near Stuttgart, a region that is, or at least was, shaped by the car industry. How do you see this development?

A new feeling of mobility through shorter distances in the city

VM: I see both aspects. Of course, people near Stuttgart but also in Wolfsburg and other places feel the decline in production, which we are trying to counteract with structural programmes. After a rocky initial phase, not everyone, but many former employees in the automotive industry see the change positively. Some jobs could be saved by shorter working hours. Some have found employment in the field of new forms of mobility, in the production of electric mobility, as freight cyclists or in public transport. Still others work very satisfied in the care sector. In Baden-Württemberg, the initiative “care instead of car” was launched for this purpose. Overall, we had learned a lot from the structural change in the lignite regions.

On the other hand, and this concerns me here in Berlin also privately, of course, I can see many of the positive effects as well, which Mrs. Kirios has mentioned. However, I must add that it was not only the car ban, but also the development of public transport and the cycling infrastructure. The reactivation of inner-city businesses was also central, making it easier to supply the city centre or neighbourhood.

BDI: What you call “reactivation of inner-city trade” has led to massive slumps in trade on the outskirts, because nobody gets around by car anymore!

VM: I’ve got to admit that we did not find the right answers everywhere immediately, but the development as a whole I perceive as positive.

MOD: Mr Ingsheim, despite all the negative economic consequences: Don’t you also have to admit that these measures were necessary from an ecological point of view? Here too, the figures you like to quote speak for themselves.

BDI: I’m not going to sit here and say that car-free cities have nothing to do with the reduction in greenhouse gases and fine particles. What I want to stress is that we need a harmonic relationship between unrestricted car enjoyment, operating assembly lines, spacious road construction and, uh, ecology. By banning cars, we have not maintained this harmony, but have sacrificed the livelihoods of many motorists on the altar of climate protection!

Enormous downsizing of the automotive sector

MOD: At the same time, Ver.di portrays this very positively and talks about a boom in public transport.

BDI: Well, Ver.di might be pleased. IG Metall perceives it somewhat differently.

MOD: We’ve talked a lot about cities now. What about rural mobility? Do you see similar trends there?

BDI: If I may…

MOD: Please Mr Ingsheim.

BDI: The BDI continues to see the car as a reliable guarantee of mobility for people who do not live in towns and cities and, of course, want to participate in cultural and social life outside their village.

AK: You’re failing to mention all those people who are physically unable to drive a car themselves, they have long been left behind and the BDI obviously doesn’t care about them…

VM: But the Ministry cares. We have, for example, set up the programme “Every village its own car-sharing bench” and are currently examining whether more villages can be connected to the rail network.

MOD: Um, someone from the audience back there wants to make a statement.

BFA: Hello, my name is Berta Fried-Anders, I have been involved with the rail services for a long time and am very dissatisfied with the efforts of the Ministry of Transport, but also of the state ministries. If rail services in the countryside are really meant to replace car traffic, then we’ll need better train stations, at least a doubling of the railway staff and rail network, attractive trains, for example with compartments for children, but also with a cultural programme for adults, rooms to talk in, board games and workshops and much more.

MOD: Mr Ingsheim, that sounds like a nice infrastructure programme for you.

BDI: This might sound good, but who’s going to pay for it? Without having done the math, I cannot even take it seriously.

AK: I agree with Mrs Fried-Anders and would like to add to what is still needed, namely attractive jobs in co-working spaces, so that life in the countryside once again becomes a real alternative for many people. Also, bicycle lanes with small businesses. And finally, there needs to be an environmentally friendly option for the last few kilometres, be it rentable e-bikes or autonomous small cars.

MOD: There’s another comment from the audience back there.

MS: Good evening, my name is Max Sommer, I wanted to tell you a little bit about my village. We’ve already started changing the mobility there. We’ve reopened our village shop together and set up a collectively organized bicycle self-help workshop, with a freight bicycle rental and freight bicycle construction workshops.

In the countryside as well: transforming traffic strengthens local structures

MOD: It seems to me that there’s more activity in the countryside already – is politics lagging behind?

VM: Well, I strongly support such initiatives on the ground and that’s where I see our job – to set the right framework to make such activities possible. Actually, this is also part of our “Mobile Village” programme, in which we are working with various organisations, citizens and companies to examine innovative ecological mobility options for villages. It is clear that we can only replace car ownership if we can offer a well-coordinated mix of alternatives, including car sharing, autonomous e-taxis, classic public transport and bicycle traffic.

MOD: In the light of current events, I’d like to talk about long-distance transport. Here, too, we have seen a great deal in recent years: protests against mass tourism in Venice and Athens, regular blockades of cruise ships, blockades of airports and, of course, not least the public debate on flight bans for short-haul flights, which has been fuelled by the so-called “celebrities without tickets”. Now, Mrs Kirios, you are calling for flight quotas for every person living in Europe. Does that fit together with a liberal, open-minded, globalised society?

AK: Right, in the short term we are calling for a limit of one flight in three years. In the long term, with the high emissions and the strong climate impact at this level, we are calling for quotas of a maximum of one flight every ten years. We know that this is a restriction. But at the same time, we are advocating alternatives, for example the massive expansion of night trains in Europe and sustainable sailing. We also support the trend towards sabbaticals and demand more holidays so that slow travel can once again become part of it. I think we are on the right track, as is shown by the great popularity we have among the population. In addition, there are various exceptions for people who have to fly in urgent emergencies, for example because families live outside Europe.

Strict flight quotas to reduce climate-damaging air traffic

MOD: You mean the “voluntary non-flyers” who, for example, completely renounce European flights?

AK: Yes, for example, and even outside Europe there are more and more people…

BDI: …We as BDI are very critical of this as it has led to passenger numbers collapsing, many regional airports have already had to close, with devastating economic consequences for the regions! These are absurd demands, which do not correspond to an open society and prevent cultural exchange!

AK: What you seem to completely ignore is the fact that only a fraction of the world’s population is able to fly around the world. These restrictions are absolutely necessary from an ecological point of view and can help to reduce this inequality. And you also ignore the fact that the majority of regional airports could only operate at all thanks to massive state support. These subsidies can strengthen the regions in other ways now.

VM: We do indeed see ourselves in a situation where international air traffic is increasing. However, since it contributes to our national emissions budget, it is jeopardising our national CO2 targets. The ticket tax we introduced in 2020 has unfortunately not been able to reverse this trend. We are therefore considering an increase of the tax. I also think there are good alternatives, such as night trains, especially for flying within Europe. Where I would disagree with Mrs Kirios are the quotas. On the contrary, we want to continue to use economic instruments. In addition, we the Green Party also want to ensure that public administration takes the lead, in other words that the Federal Travel Expenses Directive is amended…

…we’re leaving the talk show and proceed into the year 2048.


In a learning space in 2048, Karl turns off the projector. The image flickers briefly and disappears. Karl: Well, and so forth.

Timo: Why was it so flat?

Karl: I told you, it’s from 18 years ago and they only filmed in 2D.

Matthias: What did this Bernato-Dimitri talk about? My father always says how great the traffic transformation was and how it benefits us all.

Helena: My mom once told me that it was bad back then when there wasn’t enough work because everyone had to work for 40 hours but then not everyone could.

Timo: I don’t want to be able to work when I grow up either.

Karl: Did you realise that no one back then talked about freight and personal zeppelins? Instead, apparently everyone wanted drive around in their own cars and fly around. I wonder where they wanted to go all that time.

2048: The traffic transformation was a building block for a more ecological and just world

Timo: Maybe for fun. Or maybe the roads all went downhill.

Helena: I think the cars were probably very uncomfortable and they wanted to get out of there quickly. In my family almost everyone only rides a bike, except for holidays or when we visit friends, then we simply use the train. And last year we sailed to Iceland, that was great.

Karl: Same here, only my grandfather can’t ride the bike as well as he used to, so he takes the bus and train a lot. And when he visits us here in the countryside, he often orders an autonomous taxi or a bicycle rickshaw. When I was little we went on holiday by plane, it was very loud and the airport was very sad, very different from the train stations.

Matthias: Totally weird that back then they seemed to prefer to fly rather than take the train, even within Europe!

Timo: On my last train ride my brother took me to the youth compartment, where “Star Wars XXII – The munch of e-woks” was playing!

Karl: Oh, man, I wouldn’t have pedalled for that one.

Timo: I thought it was great, plus there was a scoop of ice cream every half hour of power pedalling.

Helena: I’ll pedal off, see you tomorrow. Thanks for the movie, Karl!

Karl: Well, let’s get some ice cream on the way home, shall we?

Matthias: All right, let’s go.


Kai Kuhnhenn is working at “Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie” in the project “Future for all – just. ecological. achievable.”