How smart is Dusseldorf`s new mobility strategy?

Duesseldorf is the capital city of the German state North Rhine-Westphalia and the center of the highly urbanized Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region. With a population of ~600.000 Duesseldorf has been very attractive to the companies of the service industry, is an established international trade & exhibition location and an attractive tourist and shopping city for cross-border visitors or international tourists in general. Duesseldorf also attracts people from neighboring cities for better job opportunities.

All these aspects have led to a higher pressure on the transportation system in and around Duesseldorf. Transportation is in Duesseldorf one of the main contributors to CO2 emissions.[i] The urban mobility transformation based on digitalization offers a great opportunity for developing a more efficient and less resource demanding urban transportation infrastructure.[ii] The so called “smart mobility” aims to reduce congestion, CO2 and other emissions. The city of Duesseldorf announced the plan for the “Smart city Duesseldorf” in January 2017[iii].source: Pixababy

The origin of Dusseldorf´s smart mobility strategy

Dusseldorf´s attractive location in the center of a strong economic area increased pressure on each mode of the transportation system. Traffic congestion and CO2 emissions from commuters and visitors call for further actions to make the city more sustainable and resilient.  The individual car is very often still the preferred transportation mode due to time and budget conditions.

source: Rheinische Post 2015 Foto: Andreas Endermann

Based on a city ranking for smart mobility concepts, Dusseldorf holds the final rank out of the 14 largest cities in Germany.[iv]

Targeting individual car traffic consequently plays a major role in the smart city and smart mobility concept of the city.

The main challenges in the smart city concept realization for Duesseldorf:

  • Shifting modal split requires several stakeholders (participation), financial resources and or new business models
  • Providing alternative transportation modes needs to be coordinated with non-city (non-Public) suppliers (private or semi-private service providers)
  • eMobility needs to be financed (Germany still leaks behind promoting electrical vehicles and is not within the jurisdiction of the city government but rather taken at national level)
  • Growing city leads to growing transportation needs, therefore even more pressure
  • Privately financed and private driven smart city project might leak acceptance in society
  • Data based new services always face security and privacy issues
  • Commuter and visitors of Duesseldorf might not see the advantage of shifting modes if not included in roll-out process
  • Users/citizens might not be willing to share the amount of data as required for some of the new services

Implementation of long-term strategy by starting with step-by step approach

The planned initiatives in Duesseldorf to reach its objective of being one of the leading smart cities in Germany are still in early stage and therefore cannot be analyzed based on their implementation.

Based on the current framework the transition to a smart mobility system in Dusseldorf can be seen as a step-by step approach to get from an ownership (product related) transportation infrastructure system to a usage based mobility service system. The main driver of this shift or transition comes from the opportunities provided by data and digitalization integration. 

The integrative approach across sectors (e.g. ICT, energy) and across stakeholders (interest groups)

This requires the integration of non-transportation infrastructures such as ICT (mainly the physical telecommunication infrastructure, but also the network, internet and data generation and storage) and the integration of a larger range of stakeholders involved in the design and developing the smart mobility system (e.g. non-transportation related stakeholders, actively participating users and citizens). The integration of a so called data layer between the infrastructure and  the service layer requires an active integration of a previously separated infrastructure system and creates room for the establishment of new players and new business models. The usage of “smart” devices enables the participation of users and citizens. Nevertheless, the quality of data driven services also depends and requires the participation and acceptance of the data driven process.

In the case of Duesseldorf many new business models are driven by the initiatives from the Smart City association which is rather driven by business solutions[v]. Private business support is required for the city government approach. But due to its role a public (urban) services provider the city needs to focus on public values which include the provision of services for all citizens of a city.

The success of selected projects for smart mobility will be discussed and analyzed from different dimensions based on the challenges faced by policy makers.

Digital Traffic management

As an example of an intelligent transport system it requires the interconnection and integration of devices (Cameras, mobile smart phones, sensors, etc). In early stages traffic information systems like displaying Parking lot availability were established back in 1992. But real-time data traffic measurement and interactive platforms are currently developed to create an integrated digital traffic management platform. Data about real-time traffic flows and sensor based traffic light management provides a real advantage leading to less traffic congestion and less individual car traffic. Participating drivers open and confident to share their driving routes and priorities is essential. Drivers might be willing to share their data when a trusted party like a governmental authority establishes new regulations for data privacy and security. Nevertheless, the economical dimension is also a main focus for politicians. The city of Duesseldorf has already started an initiative to provide funding for start-ups who offer smart solutions. This can bridge the conflicts between economic and social dimension. The step from providing real-time-information to establishing a “give-and-take” digital traffic management concept depends on the credibility of the main driver of this concept. Is it a profit seeking private investor or a provider of public infrastructure services? Ideally both, in order to assure public values and to attract the most efficient technically and financially available outcome.

Intermodular route planning

Intermodular route planning is not new but when including the data layer, it becomes a “smart” combination of modes and is an example of “Integrated Mobility Platforms”. The “smart” approach goes a lot further than purely providing information about same-mode connections and time-tables. For 2017, the city of Duesseldorf plans to roll-out the first App which in future should monitor and provide shortest transit option in real-time with real time data.

One of the main challenge for policy makers will be the upgrade of the legacy infrastructure in order to provide interoperability and interconnection of different transportation modes (cars, public transportation, bikes, etc.). This will probably have strong limitation on economical dimension as an upgrade across modes will also have an impact on different stakeholders and might even reach across the cities jurisdiction as the commuters will enter the city from neighboring areas using non-city transportation modes. The current trial is rolled out in 2 city areas. In order to receive the required amount of acceptance to make a platform viable it should be tested within a small area first. The public service providers require to include values of all citizens. The actual physical access to all modes like bikes, trains or cars is important and the functioning of a digital platform requires the availability of a digital device.  The city needs to establish incentives for service providers to maintain urban “public” service as a priority. Without regulation of the private business lead by profit opportunities only high profit areas will be covered. Nevertheless, private investors are the required for the infrastructure upgrade. Again the participation of all stakeholders seems to be the trigger to success.

Mobile Payment

The payment transactions by mobile phones can be used for parking and public transportation (eTicketing).

Dusseldorf plans to run the first trial for a Smart card application. The new E-Tarif is planned to be rolled out in 2017 which is a pay-as-you-go and pay-as-you-use for public transportation.

This first smart card trial helps gathering information about acceptance within the customer group. The main concern of the data layer will require further regulation and privacy assurance as private customers are concerned about being tracked and providing their data to profit seeking businesses. The user must be willing to be tracked and an accept the new service. A very positive trigger can be user friendly pricing. If pricing is reasonable the user might be willing to accept the route tracking. Since 11/2016 the App “WELECTGO” offers free rides for users watching advertising.[vi]

Conclusion and outlook for Duesseldorf as a smart city with a smart mobility concept

The selected smart mobility approaches show that a successful ICT driven urban infrastructure transition depend very much on the policy decision made by the city government of Duesseldorf. Providing the framework to assure transportation or mobility as a public or at least semi-public urban service and set the right incentives. Technology and innovations offer many opportunities as such but only the participation of relevant stakeholders will support the idea of integrating several transport modes or mobility services. Policy makers are responsible and have strong interest to keep customers and “citizens” integrated, motivated and satisfied. With the integration of several public players (utilities, transportation authority, etc.), private service providers and investors (e.g. telecommunication providers, technology providers) smart mobility concepts stay on track in 2017 when looking at 2050 objectives. The smart mobility program, launched in 2017, aims to reach the goal of becoming one of the leading smart cities in Germany. Let´s keep watching the next steps on smart mobility to achieve this goal.

[i] Klimafreundliches Duesseldorf – Energie- und CO2 Biland 2012 (most recent)

[ii] Szenario Duesseldorf 2015 – Technologieoptionen und Pfade fuer ein klimafreundliches Duesseldorf

[iii]  Duesseldorf becomes smart, 2017 (Ratsinfo)Duesseldorf traeumt von Zukunftstechnik, 2017

[iv] Staedteranking zur nachhaltigen Mobilitaet

[v] Smart City – einfach leben in der Zukunft

[vi] Rheinbahn WELECTGO App

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