11.–12.06.2025 #polismobility

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The road to the turnaround


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What images does the transformation of transport need and how can social change for transformation succeed? Prof. Dirk Rompf talks about the development of the energy and mobility transition and the role of self-efficacy in this.

© ifok GmbH

© ifok GmbH

Prof. Rompf, what does ifok actually do?

ifok is a consulting company that has taken up the cause of transformation - transformation on major socially relevant issues. We are part of a larger consulting company with a total of about 800 employees. About 250 of them work in Europe. The topics we stand for are the mobility transformation, the energy transformation - as well as the question: How do we become a climate-neutral society? How can we become climate resilient? But it's also about health issues or the question: What can the democracy of the future look like?

Let's start by talking about the mobility revolution in concrete terms, with a slight shift toward energy and sector coupling. If you had to decide which are the most important levers for achieving the mobility revolution in the next few years, what would they be?

I would like to divide this into four areas. The first is: We need a change in the area of drive technologies and the weighting of transport modes in the volume of traffic. I think on the subject of drive technology, the change to electric mobility or other forms of propulsion around hydrogen, that is underway. At the same time, however, it is important that we try to create more attractive conditions for public transport as well. This applies both to Germany as a whole and to the region as a whole. And, of course, we need to strengthen cycling and walking.

The second point I would like to illustrate is the nine-euro ticket. Over the summer, we were able to see that people react and adapt their mobility behavior when there are attractive, favorable and, above all, simple framework conditions in public transport. I hope that we will succeed in finding a sustainable follow-up solution for this. After that, it will be a matter of fundamentally simplifying the tariff structure in public transport.

The third area: In my view, the mobility turnaround goes hand in hand with the question of how we reorganize space. This is particularly true in the urban context, because space there is in competition with each other. The mobility revolution and the question of what the city of the future will look like can only be solved together. The same applies in rural areas.

And fourthly, what I think makes the mobility revolution very difficult is that it requires everyone to question their daily behavior to some extent and then also be prepared to change - and that's not easy. It's not enough for a few hundred people to do it. Many millions of people have to do it. Then we will achieve the mobility revolution. Anchoring this change not only in people's minds, but also in their hearts and in their hands and feet - that's an issue that needs to be worked on. This also involves the question: What is it that people emotionally associate with mobility?

In the second area, you understand the changing conditions as a pull factor?

Right. We have a fairly fragmented landscape of mobility offerings. An alternative to the car has to be simple, flexible and attractively priced. When I get in my car, I have the feeling that I'm in control of my personal mobility. If the alternatives do not give a similar feeling, then they will not be taken up. Appropriate framework conditions must be created for this.

You just mentioned the feeling associated with the car. In this context, the feeling of freedom is also often a topic - what role does such a narrative play and how could it be changed?

Yes, it plays a huge role. Let me take my generation. For me and for many people in my age group, there was nothing more important than having a driver's license on the table on your 18th birthday and being able to get into a car or on a motorcycle. Because then you had the feeling of taking your life into your own hands, of finally being able to conquer what you wanted. It's probably like that for a lot of people. We will only replace the motif "car equals freedom" or "car equals independence" if we produce a similarly strong different narrative. I think we are well on the way to doing that. I can imagine that in the next few years a narrative will emerge that associates mobility with things that are good for people. That could be, for example, the journey you take on foot or by bike, where you do something for your health at the same time. Or relaxation, because you can do something during a trip that you wouldn't otherwise get to do. You have to work on a new narrative. It has to be strong. It has to create an image. It will take years for it to take hold and solidify in people's minds and also in their behavior. After all, the car narrative didn't come into being overnight.

Who creates this image of the future? Is it something that we develop together as a society? Do we agree on what it should look like?

You raise a crucial point. My perception is that the framework conditions for a new mobility are being created at the European, federal and state levels. But it is crucial that the mobility revolution takes place on the ground. In other words, in the districts and municipalities. We need a three-pronged approach here. First, we need to develop models for the mobility of the future. However, these cannot be imposed on people by politicians or large companies, but must be developed in cooperation with people. Furthermore, we need to get to the point where each individual can answer questions about his or her personal mobility. For example: Will a change in mobility involve restrictions for me - or not? And it requires the latter if the change is to be successful. A picture must be created in the mind of how to get from A to B in the future. And the third thing is: this image should be translated into practice. That means creating opportunities where people can try out a changed mobility. How does it feel to ride an e-bike for ten or fifteen kilometers? I believe that only when all of this comes together - the big picture that you were involved in as a citizen; the feeling for personal mobility and the practice, the trying out - can a change come about.

After all, trying things out is already a way of participation. How can this be institutionalized beyond selective projects, beyond the small-scale, and what would that look like?

Through polisMOBILITY, you are working in this direction very specifically in the Cologne area. In my opinion, Cologne is doing this well. The city has launched a so-called SUMP - a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, in which a mission statement for urban mobility is being developed. With the broad involvement of the entire landscape of stakeholders. This is a big difference from how it was done in the past in many municipalities. I believe it has become clear to the city of Cologne and those responsible for it: Only when everyone is heard is there a willingness to really change something. In addition, they have now initiated real laboratories. This combination of the big picture and the concrete example makes it possible to change things. And what Cologne is doing, other municipalities are also doing. From my point of view, the federal government has acted wisely here and set up funding programs - for municipalities that carry out SUMP processes along similar lines to what Cologne is doing.

Another instrument is the so-called citizens' councils. At ifok, we have had very good experience with citizens' councils - in the area of climate protection, in the area of mobility and also in the area of new democratic elements. The procedure is as follows: Citizens are randomly selected to devote themselves over several weeks and months to the key aspects of an issue - in this case, the mobility of the future. Initially, the focus is not on the individual's own opinion, but on input from outside, from experts. Opinions are contrasted so that the group is able to form a joint opinion. Only then are recommendations made, which are then brought to the attention of policymakers.

This is a powerful instrument, also to make those in charge aware: What would enlightened citizens actually be prepared to do? The results are exciting. In our citizens' councils, we have found that after such a process, citizens would be willing to go much further than the proposed legislation actually indicates.

It is therefore very gratifying that this instrument is to become the standard in the EU's democratic process at the European level. Something similar is also taking place on the German side.

The topic of self-efficacy is certainly a key. With ifok, you support the Copernicus research project "Ariadne", which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and establishes citizen participation as an element of energy transition research. One finding is that the citizens involved feel much more self-efficient and capable of taking action in the area of the electricity transition than in the area of the transportation transition. This is actually surprising, because one would assume that mobility is much more tangible than something as "abstract" as electricity. Do you know why that is? And could this be harnessed for the mobility revolution?

I have at least one hypothesis as to why that is. The topic of the energy transition has been in broad public discussion for much longer than is the case with the mobility transition. We've been discussing wind turbines or PV systems for more than 20 years and have been on the road there for quite some time. People have gained experience in this - also very practical experience. A small example: I own my former parents' house in a small town in Hesse. This weekend, I received an invitation to a citizens' event in my mailbox - an energy cooperative is being founded in my hometown. That means that the citizens organize themselves, build a power plant and supply themselves with electricity. I went to this event, listened to everything - and now I'm going to become a member of this cooperative. That is maximum self-efficacy, because you take your future into your own hands, so to speak.

In this respect, the result - to now return to the broader topic - did not surprise us at "Ariadne". I believe that we will see a similar development with mobility. We're still not as far along here as we are in the field of energy, but we're getting there. The more participation processes that have taken place in practice, the more self-efficacy will be experienced. It takes a while to get an impression of how the mobility turnaround can succeed - also because Germany is much more of a "car country" than other countries are.

The coupling of the two sectors mobility and energy is essential to achieve a turnaround. How integrated do we already think these sectors are?

In my opinion, it is not only at the interface between the energy and mobility sectors that we think strongly in silos. I think it is a characteristic element of the mobility revolution in general. The question of how we want to live together in the city in the future is absolutely dependent on and can only be answered in conjunction with mobility.

Another example: the organization of intermodal mobility chains alone is problematic because we are used to developing each transport route independently. The interfaces are by no means optimized out and it is also not clear who is responsible for these interfaces.

What the whole thing needs is cooperation across borders. And that starts with the authorities. In a typically organized city, there is an urban development department, an environmental department and a transportation department. When these work well together, it's an absolute godsend. But that would have to become the standard. And if you really want to make a difference, they also have to work together across city boundaries. Because a very serious issue is the question of commuting - in and out of the city. If we're not just thinking about how to reorganize traffic, but how to perhaps avoid traffic, then we need a context that allows us to find solutions not only within the municipalities, but also together with the surrounding areas. But our decision-making processes are often not designed for this. This means that other exchange formats are ultimately required.

... So, new forms of cooperation between municipalities?

A positive and encouraging example can be found in Baden-Württemberg. There - initiated by the state government - various mobility pacts have been formed. Here, municipalities or districts from metropolitan regions have joined forces, in some cases also with chambers of commerce, with large industrial companies, and in some cases also with NGOs, and have set themselves the task of developing solutions for the mobility of the future for the respective region. There are now six mobility pacts in Baden-Württemberg, in the Rhine-Neckar area, in the Stuttgart region and in the Freiburg area, in which the problems are being tackled in an integrated manner. This is not an easy process because there is no political legitimacy for it. But there is a willingness to do things differently - and as a concept, I think it's excellent.

A nice concluding thought. Prof. Rompf, thank you very much for the interview.


© ifok GmbH

© ifok GmbH

is managing director of ifok GmbH, on the board of ifok's parent company Cadmus and has held various positions in the mobility, infrastructure, energy and climate sectors for around 25 years. His career started in the field of management consulting, after which Rompf worked for 13 years at Deutsche Bahn, most recently as a board member of DB Netz AG. He has been a professor of transportation and mobility at the International School of Management in Frankfurt for more than 13 years. Milestones of his professional career also included two management consultancies, where he was responsible for the topics of mobility and infrastructure, among others, as a senior partner.