Analysis: Mobility budget could solve several transport transition problems

It is a dilemma that accompanies the entire energy and transport transition: on the one hand, fuel and electricity should be sufficiently expensive to provide an incentive to save. On the other hand, these costs hit poor people much harder than rich people.

Gregor Honsel has been a TR editor since 2006. He prefers to ride a bicycle – without an auxiliary drive.

All measures to cushion this social imbalance have so far been unsatisfactory. Those who live in the country and have to travel long distances benefit most from the commuter allowance. On the other hand, those who live in the city and have to pay higher rents, thereby causing less traffic, do not receive any support themselves, but nevertheless indirectly subsidize the commuting of their fellow citizens through their taxes. Even more blatant is the imbalance in the “company car privilege“, which primarily promotes car ownership among employees in the upper pay scales.

The so-called mobility budget promises a way out of this dilemma. A similar one has been running in Hamburg since last September pilot test with ten companies and around 500 participants. They each receive a monthly budget of 50 euros. It is financed in a similar way to the company car model: through wage conversion with tax benefits.

The linchpin of the pilot project is the Switch-App of the HVV. It can be used to book public transport tickets, on-demand services, sharing services or e-scooters and automatically offset them against the budget. The whole thing is something like a job ticket, expanded to include sharing offers. The tax concessions of the mobility budget could also be worthwhile for the state – if it abolishes commuter allowances and company car privileges in return.

The project is part of a “real laboratory” whose results are to be published in February or March. However, one can already draw a positive interim conclusion, says Constanze Dinse, press spokeswoman for the Hamburger Hochbahn involved: “The hoped-for increase in public transport use has happened. The participating companies have signaled that they want to continue using the system – and we have inquiries from 20 other companies.” That is why there are plans to transfer the pilot project to regular operation.

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The mobility budget would be a way of better dovetailing public transport and on-demand offers – to bridge the “last mile” to and from the bus stop, for example. Because an expansion of public transport alone will not lead to a turnaround in traffic, says Henrik Falk, CEO of Hamburger Hochbahn. “Despite the expansion of public transport, the number of car registrations is increasing – here and in other cities,” he said in November 2021 at the German Mobility Congress in Frankfurt am Main.

“The advantages of the car cannot be denied. But the car is not a model that scales – just like public transport.” That’s why you need on-demand and sharing services to bridge the gap to cars, Falk explained. “If you can do that, you have a business model that really scales, because all cities in the world are looking for such a solution.”


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