Trams, people movers and European projects – an exciting future for Regensburg
Corona is currently not the only challenge for the city of Regensburg, as a new government was constituted just a couple of weeks ago. We spoke with Christian Heil from the department of traffic planning and with the European Officer Klaus Grepmeier about the reasons for joining the MOMENTUM project, post-COVID-19 mobility plans and novel political ideas of the new municipal government. During the interview, the two experts also gave insight into the challenges of public transport and shared mobility in an UNESCO-protected city centre.
Please tell us about the reasons for joining the project and the relationships between MOMENTUM and the city of Regensburg?
The Technical University of Munich approached us and asked to join a HORIZON 2020 proposal – the contact was initiated through BayFOR, the Bavarian Research Alliance. The university regularly cooperates with municipalities and cities across Bavaria and we decided that participation in such a European Cooperative-Project provides a true added value. Thus, the city of Regensburg implements the pilots and assesses the real life results on the city’s traffic flows and our modal shift.
Furthermore, Regensburg is part of additional (European) initiatives, including a technology cluster with the focus on safe and sustainable mobility. Even though we are not necessarily a large metropolis like Milano, Manchester or Munich, we still have a significant number of daily commuters and tourists, as Regensburg is home to a considerable amount of international companies. Thus, NOx and CO2 reductions and the topics of mobility and traffic have been an essential topic in Regensburg for many years.
Concerning NOx, Regensburg is among the 60-70 German cities with the highest emissions. Nevertheless, we are addressing these issues with a “clean air masterplan” (Masterplan Luftreinhaltung). Also, our new emerging mobility solutions are about to launch, which are providing low or zero emission alternatives to the normal passenger car. Thus, the MOMENTUM project helps us to integrate these new forms of mobility in our traffic modelling tools. Thanks to MOMENTUM, we can experience the ‘bigger European picture’ – a valuable lesson for our city.
Which emerging mobility solutions are currently playing a role in Regensburg and when are they going to be introduced?
As mentioned, the city of Regensburg is about to launch several systems in 2020, including a bike sharing scheme at the end of this year, which will include 600 bicycles, of which 300 will be electric. Additionally, the city offers a car-sharing scheme with currently seven vehicles which we aim to extend. Concerning other emerging mobility solutions, we also have an e-scooter provider in the city centre, however the emerging situation with COVID-19 might affect the offer and use of the system.
Furthermore, we are launching two autonomous people movers in one of the industrial areas of the city this autumn. These vehicles will be part of a two-year test run.
Besides these short-term initiatives, the most significant project is the planning for a reintroduction of a tram as a central element of Regensburg’s mobility in the future, which is planned to have a significant impact on the modal split in favour of public transport. Since its abandonment back in the 1960s a debate was ongoing related to the financial viability of a reintroducing our city tram.
Since the German state is providing funding for such projects on the national level, this great idea is beginning to take shape. Our newly formed city government is prioritising the tram and hopes that the “Straßenbahn”, as we call it in German, will drive on the streets by 2030.
As a third pillar, Regensburg does also invest in electric buses, which would represent 30 percent of a revamped fleet in the near future. We were the first to establish electric buses in the region and are still very pleased with their performance. Drawing a conclusion, we are glad to observe a lot of movement into a positive direction within our mobility strategy.
You have described a lot of actors, so do you have regular high-level meetings to coordinate these efforts, if yes, do they function on a political or administrative level?
The city is closely monitoring all endeavours, but a significant amount of coordination takes place on an interregional level, which fosters the cooperation between the city, the district (Landkreis) and other surrounding regions. This coordination takes place within the framework of a mobility development plan (Verkehrsentwicklungsplan) and is based on an initiative from 2005. Also, a strong focus is put on multimodality. The topics that we discuss are, for example, the reactivation of old train stations and other multi-modal cooperation.
Even though these connections with other districts foster multimodal solutions, one should not forget that Bavaria and especially Regensburg is an automotive powerhouse, which includes factories of BMW (10,000 employees), Continental (more than 8,000 employees), as well as other suppliers like Siemens or Osram. Thus, the political framework is focusing on the passenger car, at least to a certain level. A necessary mental shift will need many years to come to fruition, especially with the current COVID-19 crisis, which is reducing the trust in public transport.
Since you have mentioned the regional cooperation and COVID-19, how does the virus influence mobility in Regensburg and the surrounding areas?
Public transport operates with significantly reduced numbers of passengers, due to social distancing and scepticism amongst the citizens. At the moment, we observe a reboot of the economy and mobility, as schools and shops have reopened in May. Whereas we have seen a 50 percent drop of individual traffic during the lockdown, we currently observe a return of 20-30 percent of traffic. The emerging mobility solutions, like e-scooters and the car-sharing programme, were put on hold because of hygienic concerns.
Besides COVID-19, what are the challenges and expectations related to the upcoming plans of the newly constituted city administration?
Generally speaking, we did not talk about one very essential challenge related to mobility in Regensburg: our task to preserve our historic city centre, which is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thus, every new mobility installation, such as shared bicycle stands, bus stops or other infrastructure, need to be installed in a synergy with the historic surroundings. These questions might look trivial at first, but the establishment of sufficient mobility solutions in a historic city can be rather challenging.
The newly constituted local government has various ideas which are currently discussed. We obviously hope that the financial repercussions of the COVID-19 crisis will remain at a moderate level. As mentioned before, many nationally and internationally renowned companies have had a significant influence on the wealth of Regensburg, thanks to the contributions from their business taxes into the municipal households.
Nevertheless, we remain positive and hope that notions of our “collaboration of cyclists” will be implemented in the future. This initiative has provided several interesting ideas and proposals, including a bicycle route around the historic city centre or Danube bridges for cyclists and pedestrians in order to increase safety and efficiency of cycling.
Besides these interesting plans, do you consider establishing a SUMP or an UVAR?
So far, there is no specific conclusion to develop a SUMP, however the mobility development plan (Verkehrentwicklungsplan) to be elaborated will be strongly oriented towards the pillars of a SUMP. We also would like to highlight that Regensburg has joined the EU’s Covenant of Mayors, an initiative with the ambition to gather local governments, which are voluntarily committed to achieving and exceeding the EU climate and energy targets.
Therefore, we are devoted to set up a sustainable energy and climate action plan (SECAP) in the upcoming two years. Even though such measures are not as strict as a SUMP, we are still aiming for sustainable mobility. The city of Regensburg also has an “Environmental Mayor” (Umweltbürgermeister), who will raise awareness of significant topics related to mobility and climate. These efforts will hopefully lead to our goal of achieving climate neutrality in 2035, a very ambitious target set by the new administration.
Where can interested readers find more information about you and the city of Regensburg?