Dead end

My arrival in Manila (Philippines) on a Monday evening to join the project team as part of my adaptation contract with the Asian Development Bank became more challenging than previously thought. After a long flight, I just had to catch a taxi for the last 10km from the airport to my hotel.  It is the usual way of transport as public transport isn’t properly developed there. But … it took me more than 1.5 hours to get there. I could probably have walked there, if high air pollution and missing or insufficient sidewalks wouldn’t have made it a very unpleasant to walk.

I was told, and experienced it over the next few days, that this is the norm, which can get even worse on Fridays and when it rains. Immediately, I was reminded of the current intense discussion about climate change and transport in Germany. After settling back from living 10 years in Denmark, I have really noticed that Germany is a car-country. You can make a lot of changes, issue regulations and prohibitions, but don’t touch the car! It is holy. Even imposing a general speed limit, like almost all other countries in the world have, is impossible. Unbelievable.


People think you cannot live without a car. Each distance is measured in driving time. If you tell them, you do not own a car, the reaction is: Oops! Really? How do you get around? The problem is that developers supported by administrations have built structures that are best served by car (even I as a single house owner must have two parking lots despite not having a car). People have selected their place to live and to work and organised their life around the condition of having a car at hand. Of course, then you run into trouble if you would try without.

In addition, one often doesn’t know the other options very well, like public transport, car sharing or organising things in a different way, like teaming up with neighbours or friends. Furthermore, the car is compared with the current public transport system, which, e.g., here, just outside Frankfurt, is awful. The train is leaving only every half an hour and that in a dense agglomeration! But it doesn’t need to be like that. Other metropolitan areas have a much higher frequency; and where is all that smart technology? Why isn’t it used to organise flexible and multi-modal transport, which could be an option even in rural areas? In real time, systems could pick up people on demand, join them with others on the route and bring them to the next bigger transport hub, instead of having fixed routes and lousy time schedules.

Probably, this requires a change in thinking, living, governance and the business model for mobility. But do we have another choice? Looking back to Manila, even the praised solution for our transport problems – the electric car – won’t work. Congestion will remain and open space will continue to be dedicated to cars rather than people.