Bolt’s City Vision: Reducing car journeys in Berlin by 25%

Sep 20, 2022

Bolt's City Vision: Reducing car journeys in Berlin by 25%

It’s European Mobility Week, so our question of the week is: how can we improve life in our cities?

At Bolt, we know that shared mobility can make our cities better and more liveable, but how much better exactly? To understand the true impact we could have on cities in the short and long term, we undertook our first City Vision research — the city in focus: Berlin.

After interviewing Berliners and going through over 800 urban mobility studies, available public data, and our operational data, we landed on some promising results — with fewer private cars on the roads, living in the city can improve in almost every possible way.

7% fewer cars — a little to lose and a lot to gain

The City Vision research revealed that by boosting public transportation, ride-hailing, shared scooters and e-bikes, the number of private cars can be reduced by 7% within the next 1-3 years.

In a city with more than 1.2 million cars, that might not sound like much until you look at the other side of the data. A 7% drop in private vehicles in the German capital would open up 8.2 km2 of accessible public space — land equal to 3.5 Tiergarten parks

Some of the space currently used for parking and wide roads could be repurposed into cycle lanes and pockets of green, following the parklet movement that’s gaining traction in several European cities.

Since cars are a major source of air pollution in cities, having fewer around would significantly improve the Air Quality Index (AQI). With 7% fewer cars, Berlin would reduce its monthly CO2 emissions by 4.4 kilotonnes. That’s equal to roughly 1,200 hours of flying in a Boeing 737.

Perhaps most notably, the number of accidents would go down by 514 per month. That’s more than 6,000 accidents avoided each year. 

Five-year vision: a city for cars becomes a city for people

We’ve looked at the short-term effects, but what would Berlin look like in 5 years if we kept adding to our multimodal services and helped people find better ways to move?

The data shows that Berliners would need 396,000 fewer cars (-32%) to get around town without restriction. This would mean that 25% of private car journeys would need to be replaced by other means of transport. 

If not private cars, then what?

The research shows that we can help the city reduce private cars by 7% over the next 1-3 years and 32% within five years, but how will people get around? The answer lies in a modal shift: residents shifting from unsustainable modes of transport to more sustainable and efficient ones.

Public transport, ride-hailing, shared scooters and e-bikes — to name a few. 

The home of the das auto would indeed become the home of the people.

The compound effect would reveal itself in the reduced CO2 footprint, too. With 32% fewer cars in town, monthly CO2 emissions would drop by 13.4 kilotonnes. That’s equal to the annual energy consumption of 9,000 households.

This significant drop would improve air quality in the city, and Berlin would join the likes of Barcelona and Paris, tackling air pollution with low emission zones and car-free superblocks.

Looking at other European cities, we quickly discover that the shift doesn’t have to be massive to transform the city altogether. For example, the difference in private car journeys in London and Amsterdam is just 15%. You can guess which one’s the most congested city in the world and which one’s the most walkable.

To understand which modes of transport have the best shot at solving the problems in Berlin, we calculated each impact. Several factors were considered — from availability (per 1 million inhabitants) and sustainability (grams of CO2 per passenger per km) to affordability (cost per passenger per km), convenience (average arrival time) and more.

The City Vision research revealed that public transport, shared scooters and digital ride-sharing have the most substantial positive impact on a city. This shows that our current car-heavy modal split needs to change, and mobility needs to evolve to create cities for people.  

People want change, and it shows

Innovation is no good if people don’t actually use it. So it’s good that all evidence shows that people living in Europe’s largest cities are ready to move away from private cars.

In research conducted by Norway’s Institute of Transport Economics (Transportøkonomisk Institutt, TØI), we nudged Bolt customers in ten European cities to use a scooter, rather than ride-hailing, for city trips of up to 3 kilometres. 

That study showed that in-app encouragement led up to 60% of users to shift from ride-hailing to scooters for shorter trips, meaning fewer cars on the road and lower CO2 emissions.

The City Vision research explored people’s travel habits and their willingness to change, and all arrows pointed in the same direction — people are ready to trade their cars for a better life in the city.

Gernot Lobenberg, Head of Berlin Agency of Electromobility eMO at Berlin Partner, stated: “The technologies, infrastructure, and mobility habits in Berlin and Germany have changed enormously. Much of this has been possible due to embracing experimentation and an open mind.” 

He continued, “These findings — and the potential reward to our environment, urban surroundings, safety and bank balances — show that this should continue and even accelerate. It’s fascinating and rewarding to be part of new mobility.”

More about the research

The City Vision research is a methodology that analyses the travel habits of the population in Berlin and uses publicly available data to provide a clear picture of the current transport system and trends in the capital city. 

The research aimed to evaluate the impact and ability of the Bolt multimodal app and public transport to replace private cars in the city. 

Our first City Vision research came from a review of over 800 individual urban development and transport studies. To calculate the impact of shared mobility, we combined multiple data sources, ranging from entirely objective, publicly available data — such as general data on public transport and urban financial budgets in Berlin — to our operational data. To take the research deeper and better understand user trends and modal split, we commissioned a third-party survey from the research institute GfK and incorporated the results into the study.

Our methodology considered six modes of transport: private cars, public transportation, ride-hailing, scooters, carsharing, and shared cycling. It also considers the number of vehicles per one million citizens and the number of daily rides per vehicle.

Then it looks at the impact that these modes produce, specifically: 

  • space consumption;
  • sustainability;
  • safety;
  • capital expenditures;
  • affordability;
  • and convenience.

This evaluation allows us to holistically look at transportation and find gaps in public transport infrastructure that can be filled with shared and last-mile solutions.

The first Bolt City Vision research was carried out in Berlin, but more cities will follow soon. 

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