Joachim Burghartz is the director of the Institut für Mikroelektronik Stuttgart (IMS Chips) and the former director of Dimes at Delft University of Technology.

3 December

What do Stuttgart and Delft have in common? Underground train stations, of course, but let’s not talk about these questionable ideas. Let’s talk about the daily traffic jams. The metropolitan area of Stuttgart houses 5.3 million people, many of whom commute over long distances every day between home and work. In Delft – or, even better, the Randstad – this applies to some 8 million people.

Their reasons are diverse. First of all, housing costs are ever-increasing, forcing people to live far outside the city centers where they work. Secondly, public transport has been too unreliable and too expensive to be widely accepted. In the Netherlands, there’s an alternative: a well-developed bicycle infrastructure due to the flat landscape. Something we can only dream of in hilly Stuttgart.

But Baden-Württemberg as the first German state governed by a green party has taken on the challenge. The situation in the city of Stuttgart is difficult as the level of pollution is high. The sources of fine dust include exhausts from diesel cars but also from trucks serving the construction sites of the underground train station. The city has taken countermeasures by setting up fences covered with moss and special stationary vacuum cleaners to capture the particles. Their effectiveness is questionable, though.

Better to attack the root cause of pollution. Traffic through the city center has been discouraged and public transport has been made more attractive by reducing the fares. Many employers, including my institute, encourage public transport by financially supporting the so-called job ticket.

Like in many large cities, there’s also a shift to both personal and shared electromobility, including electric cars, e-bikes, motor scooters and e-scooters. The shared vehicles are scattered throughout the city center and even the suburbs. I myself have been driving a BMW I3 for three years. I feel good about that car, since I’m not polluting my city with any exhaust, just with a little brake wear debris owing to its battery recuperation. I do feel quite bad about still being part of that crazy traffic. Also, the logistics of recharging the car battery happened to be challenging.

This is one of the bottlenecks of electromobility. It should work like those lawnmowers that automatically return to their charging stations. Even better, those autonomous electric vehicles should be able to move to their point of use. Then, shared electromobility would really take off and would work smoothly with public transport, banning more and more cars from the inner city.

A quite interesting side effect of being docked to a charging station is that the resulting network of connected batteries making up for an enormous electric storage infrastructure could seamlessly be used to store energy from photovoltaic generators in urban areas. This will certainly take some time to materialize.

Meanwhile, I’m going to hand in my leased I3. As of 1 November, I’ll be using public transport for my commute to work. And I will switch back to a conventional car or maybe a plug-in hybrid, which I will only use infrequently for moving heavy shopping goods and for long-distance travel.

In the long run, I’m counting on new ideas in public transport. In Stuttgart, the train and tram lines are radially pointing to the city center, so you always need to cross that for transfer between suburbs. The city now considers cable cars to better link the outskirts since they can use the existing infrastructure. As a side effect, this should positively add to the image of Stuttgart, which right now is mostly known in the media for its buried train station and high level of pollution.

The ruling green party is working hard to change this image. There are plans to entirely free the university grounds from cars, turning it into a green campus. I’m hoping for electric buses that cross the campus and e-scooters that I could hire through an app to take me from the exit of the train station to my institute. I surely hope for something like this to happen before I retire.