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Car-free months in Lokstedt: social scientists conduct study on life without a car in Hamburg

Car-free months in Lokstedt: social scientists conduct study on life without a car in Hamburg

In order to gain insight into what life without a car could look like and what needs to be in place for people to consider changing their habits, social scientists from the Universität Hamburg have conducted a study in Hamburg’s commuter district Lokstedt. 

For the real-world laboratory ‘car-free months’, which is part of the project “Climate-friendly Lokstedt” – a joint project funded by the BMBF with partners from municipal administration, civil society actors and private transport operators, such as Voi – participating households gave up their private cars for three months and instead received mobility budgets to spend on alternative means of transport, such as public transport, shared cars, bikes and e-scooters. 

Before, during and after the car-free months, the changes in mobility and the experiences of the participants were evaluated by researchers in interviews and group discussions, among other things. The study results are currently being compiled as part of a comprehensive study with handouts for providers and urban stakeholders. 

Voi talked to the researchers Prof. Dr. Katharina Manderscheid and Fabian Zimmer, M.A. of the Department of Socioeconomics at the Universität Hamburg on their preliminary findings.

Prof. Dr. Katharina Manderscheid and Fabian Zimmer, M.A. of the Department of Socioeconomics

Voi: Prof Dr. Manderscheid, Mr. Zimmer, what was your motivation behind this project?

Manderscheid: We wanted to know under which conditions people are willing to give up their cars and integrate new means of transportation into their everyday lives. The car is part of everyday life for most houesholds in Germany. Whether you own one yourself or not, motorised transport is omnipresent. Recently however, land consumption and exhaust fumes have started to become a problem and municipalities are looking for ways to move away from the car-friendly city. 

Voi: Which role can e-scooters play in residential and commuter districts?

Manderscheid: From the feedback we’ve gotten there’s actually two roles: one as a first and last mile solution, for the way to and from the public transport station. And the second one as a mobility alternative in districts where distances are shorter and the public transport network thinner.

Voi: How can we support these developments as a sharing provider?

Zimmer: Our initial findings show that for e-scooters availability is a key criteria. Participants valued them higher, when they had reliable and easy access to ready scooters in their residential area and at public transport stations. The biggest barrier was uncertainty: not knowing how the scooters and the sharing scheme work, safety concerns and how to correctly integrate the Vois into their daily commutes.

Voi: Were there any striking changes in mobility behaviour that you observed?

Zimmer: When people don’t own a car anymore, they need to re-organise their everyday routines. Most noticeably we found that a lot of participants started doing their grocery shopping on the way back home from work and school. Instead of bulk buying once a week with the car they went for the daily necessities which can be transported in a backpack on a scooter, bike or public transport.

Voi: The participants were asked to update their budget allocation at the beginning of each month. What are your takeaways on their mobility choices for e-scooters?

Manderscheid: The households that were using scooters did increase the budget for Voi rides significantly. And then there’s the family learning factor: if one person in a household started using them, the others were more likely to follow suit. This is due to the fact that the first users can teach others the necessary competencies, e.g. regarding booking procedures and demonstrate the benefits of it. 

Voi: So when can we expect a completely car free Lokstedt?

Zimmer: So far, we have very promising results. Many participants used the opportunity we gave them to explore life without a private car and were positively surprised. It has to be noted though, that the change from owned to shared vehicles is a process. Owning a car is a quite expensive investment and leaves people committed to a certain lifestyle. Some of our respondents were in a change-situation anyway and considering to start a car-free life by simply not buying a new car when the old one had to be replaced. In general everyday life organisation is pretty stable and changes occur mostly if a disruption makes a reevaluation necessary.