The climate, emissions and German transport policy: a look at the coalition contract

In the past years, German transport and mobility policy had to navigate a dangerous predicament. Its renowned Energiewende attracted global attention, but quite obviously wasn’t enough to reach the climate change goals that the country had pledged in the various international accords. To even have a remote chance of doing so, a Verkehrswende also has to come.

For anyone with even a remote understanding of the German economy, the problem is quite obvious. Any change to transport and mobility policy that would take away from the success of the automobile industry would shake the very foundation of Germany’s economy. And thus, for many observer German policy often seemed to have nothing but the interest of carmakers in mind.

In 2018, that just doesn’t suffice anymore. Volkswagen and others are rocked by scandals that saw them systematically cheating emission testing. Germany cities are facing the almost impossible challenge of conforming to European NO2 emission standards without making use of temporary bans on Diesel cars.

Amid all of this, mobility systems overall are facing foundational changes and individual car ownership could soon be a thing of the past. Public transport systems are improving as they embrace multi-modality. Uber and its competitors are disrupting individual transport services and both ride- and car-sharing platforms reduce the need to own a car even further.

But how is politics reacting to this? A few answers can be found in the coalition contract:

  • Governance

The new coalition wants to avoid harming anyone at any cost – be that the automobile industry, other stakeholders in the mobility sector or individual car owners. A commission shall be formed that is supposed to prepare a strategy for the “future of affordable and sustainable mobility”. Further, the coalition contract states that the coalition intends to “reach the climate goals of the Paris agreement while taking social aspects into consideration and securing both the competitiveness of our industry and affordable mobility.”

  •  Diesel cars and emissions

The coalition wants to avoid that cities have to make use of temporary bans on Diesel cars at all cost. Much rather, the goal is to reduce emissions at the source, meaning the cars themselves. While retrofitting Diesel cars with modern emission reducing technology is a theoretical option, the carmakers don’t want to bear the cost and nobody would dare to saddle the consumer with it.

Instead, the contract foresees states, regions and municipalities to be granted the right to regulate emission limits “for commercial transport services like busses, taxis, rental cars and car-sharing vehicles”, as well as for courier- and delivery vehicles.

  • E-Mobility & Autonomous Driving

Funding for the development for e-mobility is supposed to be increased, but the contract fails to mention any specific goals. A very particular focus is on company cars, that will see discounted tax rate for electro and hybrid models. Charging stations shall be increased in numbers to a total of 100,000 in 2020.

By the end of the legislative term, the government wants to create regulation to enable fully autonomous vehicles. Even faster, experimentation spaces shall be created for the industry to test those cars. This is supposed to go hand-in-hand with the creating of smart cities that possess intelligent car-park routing systems and a “digitalized road network”.

  • New forms of mobility

For companies that are disrupting the mobility sector, there is a twofold challenge. While there is much lip-service done on promoting car-sharing and alike services, the reality has been a bit bleek in the past. Car- and ride-sharing yet has to blow up as it did in other countries. Regulatory barriers quite often have played a role in this.

German personal transport law is supposed to be modernized to rectify this situation. Ride sharing and new platform-based mobility services are supposed to receive a legal foundation for the certification of their services, while maintaining a level playing field between different transport modes. Particularly taxi- and rental car services are supposed to be relieved of regulatory duties.

This is clearly aiming at clearing up the problems that Uber is facing but will certainly apply to other platforms as well.

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