When is a car not a car?

Even after starting a family, many city dwellers continue to live without a car. Your motives are not necessarily ecological, but simply pragmatic. Is a change in values ​​imminent in Germany, the automotive country?

In Mats and Leif Schneider's playroom, you can find almost everything a boy's heart desires - just no cars. No bobby car, no Carrera track, not even a quartet of cars. That may be a coincidence, say the parents of the two boys: "We have never forbidden them to." But it could also have something to do with the fact that the Schneider family doesn't own a car. Mother Schneider deregistered her Nissan Micra 16 years ago when the TÜV refused to turn a blind eye, father Christian put his Mazda 626 out of service 22 years ago - after three accidents with a hit and run and 8,000 D-Marks for the workshop.

Technology-savvy generation

Apart from their preference for extreme sports, the Schneiders are an inconspicuous family from the Munich middle class, without a party book and without a solar system on the roof. They eat what they like and go on vacation once in a while. They have nothing in common with the “ecos” and environmental activists who rule in the car-free districts in Freiburg or Tübingen. Except for not having a car. If the distances are too far for a bike or a visit to Ikea, take the subway or rent a car. This is how many families in Munich's Westend do it. In the most densely populated part of the Bavarian capital, where the search for a parking space can turn into a nightmare, it is the car owners who find it difficult to explain. "Friends of ours always justify their car to others by saying that it was so incredibly cheap," says Nicole Schneider. The car-free are not only to be found in Munich's Westend.

In all major German cities, the number of households that consciously decide not to buy a car is growing. This can hardly be proven statistically. In cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart or Munich, the proportion of households without cars is now 40 to 50 percent - but it was not surveyed how many deliberately do without them. However, traffic researchers agree that the desire to have your own car decreases with every generation. “The number of households with a car in front of the door is falling slowly but surely. At the same time, more and more people are getting into car sharing, ”says city planner Gabrielle Hermann. "In addition, people travel longer and longer distances by bus and train and spend less time in the car." The mobility researcher from Esslingen, who advises cities and municipalities, also refers to the German Mobility Panel, which has been investigating everyday mobility in private households since 1994. The younger the target group examined, the clearer the trend becomes. Today, at most, young people in the country adorn themselves with the status symbol of the car, says Hermann. "Which high school graduate wants to get a car of his own today if he doesn't really need it?" Is there a change in values ​​behind this? And do the younger generation feel more threatened by climate change?

Gabrielle Hermann doubts that. The problems have been well known for a long time. What is new, however, is the practice of organizing everyday life with the help of the smartphone. "Those who want to live car-free today can use an abundance of mobility apps without having to forego their standard of living," says Hermann. The Munich eco-initiative “Living without a car” has also registered the change in the group of the car-free. She has been initiating construction projects for this group of people since the 1990s. The new generation not only generates enthusiasm. "For our elders, they are much too fixated on technology stuff," says Eva Döring, a spokeswoman for the initiative. Michael König, 39 years old, married and the father of two little girls is one of the group of tech-savvy people. With twelve like-minded parties - including three BMW employees - two years ago he moved into an initiative project in a new housing estate in Schwabing. Two-wheelers and three orphaned parking spaces are criss-crossed in the spacious underground car park of the house. "The city insisted on this," says König. "In case someone changes his mind."

Cargo bikes in the lifestyle booklet

Michael König has set up mobility apps for every situation on his mobile phone, from the taxi app Uber and various car sharing offers to the scoo.me rental scooter app. Although he owns three bicycles himself, König also uses the rental bicycles from the Munich transport company. "When I take the tram to the office because it rains in the morning, I like to take a bike on the way home," he says. With all the passwords, different price systems and the providers' rules of conduct, it is easy to lose track, König admits. For some, the vehicle has to be returned to the same location or in the parking area, others can be parked anywhere, he explains. "In return, I have the feeling that I can choose my means of transport completely freely." The new mobility culture does not clash with the Munich way of life - on the contrary: men in tweed jackets on retro bikes with balloon tires cycle past Odeonsplatz, where Land Rover cars are also in the shop window. Women do their shopping at Dallmayr on the electric folding bike. Among the Munich people who are crazy about the outdoors, cycling is always socially acceptable even in functional clothing. Christian Schneider explains, who cycles 20 kilometers to the office every day - in all weathers.

His wife Nicole tells about the new neighbors who have settled in the “gentrified” Westend. "At first the women drive around in Jaguars," she says. But after a certain amount of time, many of them adapted to the customs in the neighborhood and drove their children to the day care center on the Danish cargo bike. The Bullit brand from Copenhagen is considered the Daimler among cargo bikes. Carsharing users don't have to shed their brand awareness either. Gone are the days when the car sharing logo on the car was covered out of shame at company meetings. Even more common lifestyle magazines have now discovered the car-free city dweller as a reader. The men's magazine “Men's Health” recently reviewed cargo bike models. In view of these developments, transport researchers are concerned with the question of how stable the new mobility concept is. Will it be thrown overboard when the first child arrives, when the house is built in the suburbs? "The car is a kind of mobility insurance for families: you can jump in and drive away if necessary, but 95 percent of the time it just stands around," says Robert Schönduwe from the Berlin Innovation Center for Mobility. The last representative survey from 2008 was sobering: At that time, 98 percent of all parents with one child owned a car. In 2008, however, car sharing vehicles were still few and far between - according to statistics from the Federal Carsharing Association, there are six times as many cars in circulation today.

A survey currently being carried out by the Federal Ministry of Transport, which will be published at the end of 2017, will show whether families are now more willing to do without their own car. In order to convince parents-to-be that it is also possible without, the city of Munich launched the “Go! Family »launched: Parents can test a children's bike trailer with e-bike for six days for free. They also receive the “Münchner-Kindl-Ticket”, with which a parent and their offspring can travel by bus and train for a month, as well as a free annual membership with the Munich car sharing provider Stattauto. "Similar offers are also made to parents in Leipzig and Halle," says mobility researcher Gabrielle Hermann, who helped develop the Munich concept. A federally funded project is currently being developed in Heidelberg that aims to motivate women to continue using their bicycles while they are pregnant - in the hope that they will not switch entirely to cars after they have started a family. The theory behind this approach is that at turning points in life, such as the birth of a child, people are more likely to change their previous behavior.

Without a moral index finger

Statistics from Munich-based car sharing provider Stattauto show that the city's incentive package is causing many families to rethink. "Almost every second family extends their contract with us after the free year," says Marketing Manager Max Bründl. The results of the bicycle provider Almtrieb, which cooperates with the city, are not quite as successful. "Every fifth family decides to buy after the six days of test drive," reports the owner Marius Neubronner. When Nicole and Christian Schneider became parents eight years ago, the city didn't have to do any persuasion. They made a simple calculation: "Without a car, I have around 500 euros more a month, that is, 6000 euros a year," explains Christian Schneider. If you deduct the rental car for the summer holidays as well as the expenses for functional clothing and bicycle spare parts, there is enough left to get into a taxi in an emergency. Schneider is not the type to raise the moral index finger. He's a pragmatist - and he simply thinks driving is inefficient. “It's crazy how many people move one and a half tons of sheet metal in order to move 80 kilograms from one place to the next,” he says in astonishment. His eight-year-old son Mats has other reasons why he would never buy a wheelchair: "I always get sick from driving a car."