Colorful dots whiz across the screen. Many gather in the middle – others around the edges. Three men watch. What they are looking at is a simulation of the traffic flows in the Germany city of Hanover and its surroundings. Some dots stand for conventional car traffic, others for the suburban S-Bahn train or MOIA ride-pooling vehicles filled with several passengers. The computer simulation is intended to provide information on how more than one million people can get to school, work, or the supermarket and back home again better. An equation with one million variables. But that is not all. “Most metropolitan areas have similar challenges, for example, heavy commuter traffic. What we learn in Hanover can be transferred to other cities,” says Holger Poppe, Head of “Sustainable Mobility” at Volkswagen.
“Future solutions must bring CO₂ emissions down to zero in the long term. At the same time, they must significantly reduce air pollution, space requirements and noise.”
The task is complex. Climate protection is a central factor – but not the only one. “Future solutions must bring CO2 emissions down to zero in the long term. At the same time, they must significantly reduce air pollution, space requirements and noise,” says Poppe. And it goes even beyond that. When Poppe wants to describe the challenge, he draws a triangle. At one of the points is “Environment”. At the other two are “customers” and “companies”. The idea is that environmentally friendly solutions only last if they make people’s everyday lives easier and are economical for the providers. Poppe: “The most environmentally friendly concept is of no use if the users don’t get on board or the companies don’t survive. All three dimensions must work.”
One problem: Conflicting goals. “What customers like may reduce the environmental benefit – or vice versa,” says Steffen Axer, expert for mobility systems. Example: ride-pooling. The more people share a ride, the better the CO2 balance – but the longer the ride takes, due to users getting in and out at different locations. Together with his colleagues, Axer is exploring which solutions are acceptable for customers and the environment. “An important part of our work is to create transparency and then find good compromises,” he says.
Nothing works without data
An important basis: the data. Only when the team knows the current status can it find new and better solutions. The information comes from mobility surveys, scientific studies and from partners in the communities. Public transit timetables are just as interesting as road maps, data on population density and the location of shopping centers. “More and more cities rightly expect mobility providers to think of all requirements together,” says Axer.
One result of the simulation: Combined offers for private individuals and companies could make ride-pooling significantly more efficient and thus more sustainable. “Following rush hour traffic, the utilization of vehicle capacity drops sharply. This can be partially offset by commercial customers,” says Florian Kranke, an expert in traffic optimization. He is thinking, for example, of journeys in the business customer segment such as restaurants, hotels and retail. Selected goods deliveries are also conceivable in order to avoid empty runs. “There’s nothing wrong with the vehicles transporting laundry between hotels and dry cleaners during quiet periods,” says Kranke.
“Our models make sustainability measurable. They show which changes bring the greatest progress. In this way, we help to accelerate change.”
The effects of this idea are visible on the screen: the number of points decreases. CO2 emissions and space requirements change. It is precisely this transparency that the team from the Sustainability Division wants to promote. The computer simulations make it possible to visually and quantitatively record the advantages and disadvantages of various mobility solutions. This applies, for example, to traffic jams and the distribution of fleet vehicles. In the Volkswagen Group, the simulations are used by the ride pooling provider MOIA and the Group Innovation department, for example.
“Our models make sustainability measurable. They show which changes bring the greatest progress. In this way, we help to accelerate change,” says Holger Poppe. For Volkswagen, sustainable mobility does not just mean producing environmentally friendly vehicles. The company wants to understand all the key requirements of an urban mobility system in order to develop targeted and viable solutions.