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Katja Diehl: "Society bears the cost of car driving."

Katja Diehl has made a name for herself as a powerful advocate for equitable mobility with her "She Drives Mobility" brand. Her recently published first book "Autokorrektur" (AutoCorrect) is already making the non-fiction best seller lists. She shares with us many fascinating anecdotes and insights gained from her research.

The following has been taken from an extensive interview with Katja Diehl (in German) in our Riese & Müller unplugged podcast series.

Katja Diehl © Linda Brack
  • The status quo on mobility in Germany is unfair.

    "I met so many amazing people while researching and interviewing them for the book. They had many moving stories about mobility, revealing how people are being excluded or forced into using cars. This motivated me to fight for justice. I am not the type of person who tells people what mode of transport they should use. I don't want to change you if you think driving a car is great. But I want to reach you. I want justice by offering an alternative to the people who do not want to drive a car. The biggest battle is explaining to people that the current system we have is unjust."

  • #autokorrektur: we need to use cars more wisely.

    "The title of my book, ‘Autokorrektur’ [AutoCorrect], was a kind of bookmark on Twitter for me. I classify great mobility ideas that go beyond a car-based approach as 'AutoCorrect'. For instance, how lots of children on bikes travel as a type of 'bus' in Dutch towns and cities and get to school safely. The underlying idea is thinking differently about cars or thinking about mobility beyond cars. I don't want to do away with cars. I want to change the way they are used. Currently, people use cars for 45 minutes each day. That's pretty inefficient for two tonnes of steel and twelve square metres of parking space. I don't mean to deny the use of cars to people who need a car to live their lives. But we need to look at the situation more closely: are people using cars voluntarily or is it because they don't have alternatives?"

  • Germany lacks proper targets.

    "In Germany, when you see pop-up bike lanes and the like, you get the feeling that something is happening here and there. But if you then look across the borders to neighbouring countries, you realise that 'Oh dear!'. We've got some catching up to do. Politicians, like Anne Hidalgo in Paris, are setting an incredible pace and demonstrating what a real transport revolution can look like. I see this as a positive. It's not about making 700 metres of the Jungfernstieg promenade car-free, as they have done in Hamburg, but rather about making the banks of the Seine car-free where there used to be eight lanes of motorway. This has an immediate before-and-after effect. And I'm sure no one is saying: 'It's a pity there are no more cars here'. Sadiq Khan, the current mayor of London, for example, has said that by 2030 there should be almost 30% fewer cars in London. One of Germany's goals is to have at least 15 million electric cars on the roads. But what does that mean? 15 million in addition to existing vehicles – or as replacements for combustion engine vehicles? Does this include some form of downsizing? The fact that more and more cars are being purchased is ultimately a sign that transport policy is not democratic, as otherwise a balance would be struck."

  • Rural infrastructure is often the city's poor relation.

    "I recently read a survey that showed that people in rural areas are just as willing to cycle as the residents of our towns and cities. Around 50% would immediately switch to cycling – but there are no cycle paths at all in rural areas. The infrastructure in my parents' home village, for example, is the poor relation of what you find in the city. My eyes have been opened by some of the interviews I did for the book. When people living in rural areas retire and discover E-Bikes for themselves, they start to notice how bad the situation really is – how closely cars pass them, that they have no space of their own, and feel like a deer in the headlights. They had not experienced these problems having previously only been car drivers themselves. There is massive potential in four-lane country roads. You could simply convert one lane into a cycle lane and incorporate sections where the precedence changes so that cars have opportunities to overtake on certain sections of the road."

  • Commuting by E-Bike: "E" stands for "Easy".

    "Many commuter journeys can be made using E-Bikes. People would be able to cancel their gym memberships because they would be keeping fit on the way to work. The buzz word here is company bike leasing schemes. In my research, I met a man who cleans train carriages for a living and is not exactly well paid. He carefully compared the costs and consequently got rid of his ageing car to get a good, electrically-assisted bike. He even eventually cancelled his gym membership and is now much more relaxed overall. Cars are secondary in many contexts when you consider mobility from a more non-privileged perspective. Bikes and trains are the most successful electric mobility options. All-electric cars, which make up only around 2% of the mix, are not yet a success story in my view."

  • More freedom of choice for mobility please.

    "I was invited by two young district councillors to give keynote speeches on my ideas on mobility in rural areas. They are fathers, take their children to school by bike, and so experience for themselves how dangerous it feels in rural traffic. I believe that their example will lead to a new generation of politicians who can make immediate differences at local levels. They have an entirely different approach to family and work models – which also includes mobility – and involves the different solutions needed at different phases of people's lives as their circumstances change. I believe that freedom of choice can be the instrument that steers us in the right direction. It is assumed that people who drive cars will always do so – but what about people who do not have driving licences? What alternatives do we offer them? And when it comes to the competition between regions, it is also important that good mobility is available to everyone and not just to people with cars. Cars are luxury items. Only half of people with precarious jobs own a car. The other half would probably rather have the money to live on and would prefer mobility to be modelled differently so that their incomes aren't predominantly going on maintaining their vehicles."

  • Multimobility: the solution is never just one mode of transport.

    "Public transport experts and representatives from the cycling sector and other mobility-related fields need to come together at one table and think about how cars can be made obsolete in the system. This will never be achieved by one mode of transport alone. E-Scooters cannot replace car journeys on a massive scale, but they can be used to travel to train stations or cover short distances in rural areas. This requires the provision of public services. Instead of getting rid of unprofitable systems, we need to assert that we are a highly developed country and wish to give everyone a certain level of mobility and quality of life. It's not about numbers. In this respect, cars have been unprofitable for a long time, or profitable only because society has borne the costs that arise from it." 

Katja Diehl © Amac Garbe
  • About Katja Diehl

    Katja Diehl is a sustainability and mobility expert. She focuses on future mobility, new working practices and diversity with her "She Drives Mobility" brand. Her network spans the German-speaking region as well as other European countries.

    Mobility is not a technical term for Katja. She sees mobility as encompassing the challenge of transforming attitudes and behaviour. To achieve this, she wants the focus to remain on people – and to establish meaningful solutions together with those whose mobility needs to undergo change.

    Katja's book
    "Autokorrektur – Mobilität für eine lebenswerte Welt" [AutoCorrect – Mobility For A Better World] published by S. Fischer