Car-free city: Crazy utopia or near future?


September 22, 2021
What if you could picnic on the Ringstrasse in Vienna? The idea of a low-car or even car-free city is radical. And particularly inconvenient for lovers of their own cars. Will it soon be reality?

On car-free day on September 22, we want to know what love of one’s own car has to do with sex and what mobility in our cities will look like according to futurologists and transport researchers.

Car-free day on September 22, 2021

The europe-wide car-free day is intended to motivate as many people as possible to consciously leave their cars parked. It is also a good opportunity to reflect on one’s own mobility behavior.

How many members of the ELOOP community are participating in car-free day 2021?

car-free day 2021

41 percent of the ELOOP community would like to leave the own car parked on September 22. 25 percent are still undecided. The remaining 34 percent, on the other hand, say they will not give up their own car.

Car-free city: more space, less noise

From city tolls to environmental zones and access restrictions: European cities are making great efforts to make urban life less car-dependent. By 2022, Parisians will move around the city center largely without private transport. In other words, without owning a car. Oslo, too, is already largely car-free. Sooner or later, mobility in all major cities will change in this direction.

More quality of life, please! We want more space to live, less noise and cleaner air. Deceleration is also at the top of our wish list. We finally want to pump clean air into our lungs again when we’re out of breath after a run across the viennese Ring or along Neubaugasse.

All just annoying eco-talk? You don’t think so!

feeling stressed by cars air pollution and noise

Two-thirds (66 percent) of the ELOOP community say they are at least sometimes stressed by cars in the city. The biggest drawback for you is space consumption, followed by noise pollution (29 percent) and air pollution (28 percent).

Long-term environmental goals are also urgent reasons for measures such as the particulate matter sticker or import bans. For example, greenhouse gases are to be curbed with lower-emission or zero-emission alternatives such as electrically powered vehicles.

200,000 cars a day speed over the Prater Bridge

To calm traffic, movement zones are being created in Vienna since 2013. In the summer of 2020, Rotenturmstrasse was also added. Since then, there has been more space for pedestrians here and a speed limit of 20 km/h applies for cars.

Despite this, more than 200,000 cars speed over the Prater Bridge every day – like there’s no tomorrow! Originally, the bridge was designed for 45,000 cars.

According to Statista, more than 700,000 private cars were registered in Vienna in 2020, most of which are at home in Donaustadt. They all need more and more space and shape the cityscape. Magnificent streets, important squares and monuments are devalued by asphalted, heavily trafficked roads.

Number of cars in Austria increases continuously

For most people, their own car is still the most important element of individual mobility. It is not uncommon for households to have several cars at their disposal.

Over the past 60 years, the number of private cars in Austria has risen almost continuously: With just over 404,000 privately registered passenger cars in 1960 compared to more than 5.09 million, it has increased more than twelvefold.

More and more cars also means more and more space consumption, noise and exhaust fumes.

Own car degenerates from a driving to a standing stuff

55 percent of the ELOOP community owns a private car. But is the private car even being used properly?

how often do you use your private car

18 percent start their engine just once a week. A quarter of the ELOOP community uses their car even less frequently.

For many people, their own car spends most of its time as a stationary stuff. On average, the private car is parked for 23 hours a day. The costs for insurance, tax and the like continue to run the whole time. That’s really crazy, isn’t it?

Parking, but where?

Germans waste an average of 41 hours a year looking for a parking space. For full-time employees, that’s the equivalent of a full week’s vacation.

Whether in public or private parking areas: Valuable space is wasted for parking places. Space that is scarce and expensive, especially in urban areas like Vienna. It is not uncommon for a garage parking space to cost over 100 euros a month. That’s a lot of money that could be spent elsewhere on individual mobility.

Perceived truth: What does your own car really cost?

According to a study published in the journal Nature in April 2020, drivers massively underestimate how much money driving really costs them. By more than 50 percent.

underestimated costs for private cars

The 6,000 people surveyed felt that they spent only 204 euros a month on their own cars. In fact, however, maintaining their own car costs an average of 425 euros.

Hidden external costs for cars extremely high

The above calculation does not even include external costs. These costs are not always immediately visible. They result, for example, from accidents, climate damage or damage to health. For example through pollution and noise.

Experts see the main part of the hidden costs from traffic in climate damage. That’s why the search for fair mobility solutions focuses primarily on climate-friendly services such as e-car sharing.

Compared to other modes of transport, the external costs of cars are extremely high:

external costs for transport in austria 2020

According to calculations by VCÖ – Mobilität mit Zukunft, the external costs caused by passenger cars in Austria will amount to 12.1 billion euros in 2020. In contrast, bus transport caused only 0.4 billion euros. The costs for electric rail are 0.8 billion euros.

We usually do not even notice other negative effects from individual traffic by car. For example, how much the high density of cars also shapes landscapes and cityscapes. Where roads and parking areas take up space, there is less room for green spaces.

According to VCÖ analyses, an area the size of Vienna has been sealed for traffic in Austria since 1990. Did you know that 90 percent of all traffic areas are the result of road traffic? Entire ecosystems regularly have to make way for this. The external costs of this can hardly be estimated.

But why don’t we part with our expensive cars that are used far too rarely? Perhaps it’s because of the very close bond that some people build up with their own car.

Love for your own car works like sex and cocaine

People who cherish their own cars often develop a peculiar emotional relationship with their vehicles. According to a study by sociologist Christa Bös of Freie Universität Berlin, love of a car activates the same reward centers in the brain as sex or the use of cocaine, namely the nucleus accumbens in the forebrain. We can love anything.

This also explains why some car owners spare little expense, time and energy. After all, relationships want to be maintained. But regular inspections, tire changes and repairs are not enough. If the rim is scratched, a new one is needed.

Often it even goes so far that the trip to the car wash takes longer than one’s own personal hygiene. Some people also tend to humanize their car by giving it a nickname.

Own car is a symbol of freedom and status

For women, the car is often still a sign of individual autonomy, a symbol of their own freedom. This is also because for many years they were only secondary co-users of the only family car. For men, on the other hand, the external image of their own car tends to be more important; hey love their status symbol.

But are we really still as dependent on our own car as we think? After all, the range of sustainable mobility services is growing, especially in big cities like Vienna.

Young people, at any rate, don’t seem to fall in love with the idea of owning their own car in the first place. For them, new values count.

Disenchanted: Own car less important for Generation Z

For Generation Z (born in 2000 and later), owning a car is no longer as important as it was for their parents, especially in an urban environment. It is much less common for a car to be a status symbol for young people. Even as a commodity, it is often no longer the favorite alongside alternatives such as carsharing services.

In a study conducted by the Center of Automotive Management (CAM), just over one-third of respondents under the age of 25 living in cities said that having their own car was at least “important” to them. By comparison, among respondents of all ages, the figure was 73 percent.

New mobility needs: Flexibility and time savings

Owning a car is simply no longer in line with the mobility needs of young people. In everyday life, what counts for them most are flexibility, time savings, low costs and safe arrival.

It’s clear that as needs change, interest in new concepts such as carsharing services is also growing. And the importance of owning a car is declining or even disappearing. This is also confirmed by our user survey:

can you imagine living without a private car

Two-thirds of the ELOOP community can basically imagine living in the city without their own car (76 percent), while 12 percent are still undecided. Only the remaining 12 percent rule out the possibility of giving up their own car for the time being.

Urban mobility is becoming less car-centric

The modern city remains in motion. But how we move in it will change radically.

The turnaround in mobility is inevitable, says mobility and futurologist Stephan Rammler (Director at the Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment in Berlin). For him, the private car has long since passed its half-life. In an interview, he told Business Insider that “our cultural model with combustion engines, owning and driving ourselves is no longer debatable.”

So far, however, there are not enough alternatives to the private car everywhere. According to a WIFO study, owning a car is almost unavoidable in rural areas.

The situation is different in metropolises such as Vienna, Berlin and Munich. There, apart from the numerous alternatives, the own car hardly offers an advantage anymore. On the contrary, when you think of the daily madness of searching for a parking space and the twice-yearly tire change.

What mobility will look like in the future depends in particular on the requirements profile and wishes of the younger urban population. That’s why we wanted to know how you are mobile in the city.

Mobility mix: How do you move around the city?

mobility in the city

You clearly rely on a mobility mix. The majority of everyday journeys made by the ELOOP community in the city are by public transport. For 23 percent, however, their own car is still the main mode of transport, even in the city.

Sharing economy: mobility becomes a service

The trend is generally away from private ownership. In line with the sharing economy, sharing is also becoming increasingly important in the area of mobility.

How people get around is thus becoming more social. Instead of owning a car, we would rather use services. To no longer maintain vehicles, but to drive them.

Experts like Rammler know that young people would rather use new mobility concepts like free-floating car sharing instead of investing in their own car and worrying about changing tires twice a year.

do you use carsharing

Experts like Rammler know that young people would rather use new mobility concepts like free-floating car sharing instead of investing in their own car and worrying about changing tires twice a year.

Car sharing reduces cars in cities

As a supplement to public transportation, sharing services are an important lever for reducing the density of cars in cities. So that we can finally breathe again.

Carsharing is one option that does not completely ban cars from cities. But it does help to ensure that cars no longer dominate urban space.

People who are registered with a carsharing provider drive their own cars less often and use green alternatives more frequently. This is the conclusion of a research study by the Institute for Applied Ecology.

Electric carsharing models like ELOOP have even more positive impact: Firstly, they are completely silent and thus reduce noise pollution even more than services with combustion engines. Second, they emit no CO2 while driving. And we all want clean air, don’t we?

Mobility revolution: We want you!

Climate change is one of the most pressing goals of our time. But what do you think? How quickly can a mix of more climate-friendly mobility solutions become established?

In our opinion, this depends not only on the requirement profiles of city dwellers and the mobility options on offer. After all, these are largely determined by political decisions and public discourse.

At the same time, of course, we also see ourselves and all companies as having a responsibility. Just like every individual. That means YOU, too.

It’s coming as it must, let’s not kid ourselves about that! Sharing models are already replacing many private vehicles. Sooner or later, they – together with public transportation and more – may never make our cities completely car-free, but they will reduce the number of cars more and more.

The modern city keeps moving. But smarter. You too?

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