Moving minds

How climate change and social movements are transforming the mobility industry

Environmental and sustainability considerations are rippling through the transport sector and city planning projects, providing momentum for electrification and decarbonization. Here, we present the views of senior sector executives on how climate change is impacting the transport sector and the major trends underpinning the move towards a more sustainable mobility system. The pressure is on mobility stakeholders to commit to decarbonization and do their part to achieve emissions targets. Not only is regulation driving change, consumer behavior and social movements are also rapidly bringing this issue to the fore for transport providers. 


In 2019 Siemens Mobility conducted market research surveying 100 senior public- and private-sector executives across the Asian, European and North American road and rail sectors. The majority (78%) of executives believe that environmental regulation around decarbonization will have a moderate to major impact on their company strategy over the next three years. What do the different strategies look like and what are the main trends supporting them?

Refreshing the effort to decarbonize

Sustainability in the transport sector is not a new debate but it has now become more pressing, with global targets that weren't there before. Action needs to be taken and policymakers are much more interested in technological solutions and innovation – especially in decarbonization – than they were 10 years ago.
Louise Butcher, Transport Policy Lead at the House of Commons Library 

More than six in ten (64%) respondents to Siemens’ survey say that environmental regulation, including incentives and taxes, is the only way to accelerate the adoption of new transport systems. “Capital grants from the government are also needed for a big transition to electric vehicles,” says David Brown, CEO of Go-Ahead. “Some of these initiatives are already happening, but we need more of them.” The current state of infrastructure in big cities also poses a challenge, as it isn’t always conducive to environmentally friendly transport. Carl Friedrich Eckhardt, Head of Urban Mobility at BMW Group, says that the underlying issue is that city regulations were created to improve safety, and not to enhance sustainability. “The most important pain points are the scarcity of public space, causing competition between roads and space for other purposes; congestion; parking pressure; air quality; and a greater amount of CO2 emissions. The problem is caused not by cars per se but by inadequate framework conditions, meaning that, in the past, framework conditions were shaped in order to improve traffic safety, rather than sustainability,” he says. 


Why we now have to bring capacity up to scratch and ask difficult questions 

Gareth Dennis, Director at Permanent Rail in the UK, believes shifting traffic from road to rail can help curb carbon emissions. “We need to reduce emissions from road transport and the obvious shift is away from the roads onto the railways,” Dennis says. The main challenge here is whether rail has enough capacity to take on road traffic. “We have to ask difficult questions about what the railways have capacity to do,” he confirms.

The simplest method of making transport sustainable lies in plain sight, but seems unpopular, according to Dennis.

The future of transport is not private travel...

“Thinking that private personal travel is the future when, in fact, it's the past,” Dennis explains. "Driverless cars, hyperloop, flying taxis, all this stuff is from a scary 20th-century dystopia, rather than the future of transport, which is actually pretty much like the early 1900s: walking, bicycles, trams, and trains. Crazy modes of transport are not the future, they’re a distraction that stops politicians from investing in the solutions that they already have,"  Dennis says.


However, transport providers still have an important role to play, as consumers don’t always conduct their travel with sustainability in mind. Go-Ahead’s David Brown questions consumers’ motives when making travel decisions. “For instance, people may look at the options between taking a train to Edinburgh or flying to Edinburgh, but when they look at the prices for both, they'll go ‘Oh, well, I'll go by plane;’ or not, depending on what the price is. I have yet to find people that genuinely change their travel behavior for environmental reasons. And I hope that does happen, but I've yet to see it happen,” Brown says. He emphasizes the importance of mass transit. “Things like e-scooters or any other transport mode are slightly peripheral issues because, in the end, we still need mass transit and we need to make mass transit sustainable.”



Popular opinion is now focused on sustainability 

Recognizing this emerging movement with popular opinion now focused on sustainability, Albrecht Neumann believes it is social movements that have the power to transform the market and help tackle climate change. 

The most important factor in addressing climate change is the mindset of the population. People can have a very powerful impact on the market, and they can trigger change in the transport sector. To make sustainable transport a long-term success, we need to enable mobility operators to make trains and infrastructure more intelligent, enhance passenger experience, and thereby guarantee availability.
Albrecht Neumann, CEO Rolling Stock at Siemens Mobility

Close to half of respondents (49%) to Siemens' survey agree that consumer views on society and the environment are already driving change in corporate strategies.


At this juncture, the actions leaders in mobility will take has become crucial to mitigating climate change.

The views expressed herein are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Siemens Mobility.