Hamburg is making public transport available everywhere within 5 minutes using autonomous mobility
If high-quality public transport can be made this convenient and accessible, cities can make meaningful steps to limiting car dependence in their suburbs. The accessibility benefits are also important. Many reduced mobility users are currently locked out of public transport because of the distance to their nearest bus stop. A 5-minute service powered by automation could have a huge impact on their quality of life.
– Nicolas Freitag, Mobility Innovation Consultant
Senator for Hamburg Dr Anjes Tjarks has a bold vision for mobility in his city. He aims for his region to be one of Europe’s first 5-minute public transport cities. Written into the Hamburg-Takt, the city’s vision for sustainable, high-quality public mobility, is a commitment to offer a public transport service within five minutes of any part of the region, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
5-minute public mobility could have a transformative impact for Hamburg’s residents. For citizens with reduced mobility – the elderly, young families and people with physical disabilities – a reliable bus service five minutes from their home would transform their ability to complete everyday tasks. Elderly people who struggle to walk long distances would have a lifeline to shops, pharmacies, and social activities.
“Hamburg’s citizens need to get from A to B in an economically efficient and ecologically climate-neutral way,” said Dr Tjarks. “To achieve this mobility transition, our citizens will need local public transport they can use much more”.
The 5-minute concept drives the mobility transition forward by making public transport convenient enough for citizens to consider leaving their car at home. “Convenience is king when it comes to our journeys in daily life,” says Nicolas Freitag, mobility innovation consultant at Bax & Company.
“The better A to B public transport service that Hamburg can provide for its citizens through public transport, the less they will need to rely on their private cars. The 5-minute city, along with the Hamburg-Takt’s other plans, will make this convenience possible”.
The challenge of integrating Hamburg’s suburbs into the public transport network
With an area around the size of New York City to cover with 5-minute public transport access, Hamburg’s mobility plan is one of the most ambitious in Europe. While much of the city centre already enjoys 5-minute access, serving larger, less densely populated districts in the outer city like Harburg or Bergedorf will require a big step up in mobility provision.
“We want to have up to 10,000 cars on public transport in the outer city, with the aim to significantly improve mobility options beyond the city centre” said Dr Tjarks. This is a challenge for Hamburg. Using conventional buses, an extra 10,000 vehicles would mean 10,000 new drivers. But like many parts of Northern Europe, including the neighbouring state of Lower Saxony, the driver shortage in public transport is a growing problem in Hamburg.
The autonomous solution
As the city government advances the Hamburg-Takt, they face a problem that many European cities will soon face – how can regions provide an increased quality of public transport service while dealing with persistent driver shortages?
Hamburg’s solution is to invest in buses that don’t need drivers. “Autonomous and connected driving will be central to making 5-minute public mobility work for the outer city” said Dr Tjarks. With the aim for up to 10,000 autonomous vehicles in circulation by 2030, the plans laid out in the Hamburg-Takt will transform the city into one of Europe’s leaders in autonomous public transport.
Some cities in Europe have already experimented with automation as a solution to overcome driver shortages. In 2022, Bax & Company supported the Region of Hannover to pilot their first autonomous shuttle service, servicing a route between a train station and a university that had faced a lack of willing drivers.
Hamburg’s ambition for autonomous public transport goes one step further. Far beyond a pilot, Hamburg has set a vision for public autonomy that solves a long-standing mobility problem – public mobility access out of the city centre – and a growing one – oncoming driver shortages – through one investment.
Bax & Company are pleased to be supporting the City of Hamburg with financing their vision for 5-minute mobility. “5-minute mobility represents the gold standard in public transport for any city,” said Nicolas Freitag, Bax’s lead for the financing project.
“If high-quality public transport can be made this convenient and accessible, cities can make meaningful steps to limiting car dependence in their suburbs. The accessibility benefits are also important. Many reduced mobility users are currently locked out of public transport because of the distance to their nearest bus stop. A 5-minute service powered by automation could have a huge impact on their quality of life.”
Next steps for Hamburg
Hamburg began its journey to autonomous mobility in Summer 2023, with planning for the deployment of autonomous shuttles. Preparations include identifying suitable partners, developing concepts and requirements and raising funding. Once the foundations have been laid, the first autonomous shuttles will be procured or provided by the transport companies active in Hamburg including Hamburger Hochbahn, Verkehrsbetriebe Hamburg-Holstein and vehicle manufacturers.
The first wave of shuttles will be integrated into the region’s existing fleet of on-demand buses. This approach helps citizens experience automated public transport in the way the Hamburg-Takt intends – not as a novelty, but as a key support to the mobility needs in daily life.
About the Hamburg-Takt
The Hamburg-Takt is Hamburg’s vision to increase public transport’s share of total mobility to 30% by 2030 (from 17% in 2017), leading to the saving of 1.4 million tonnes of CO2. The vision combines upgrades to traditional public transport and the exploration of new mobility options. Measures include the expansion of the rapid transit network, making all buses zero-emission, and encouraging people to leave their cars at home with the 10,000 autonomous shuttles into Hamburg’s public transport services. Read more about Hamburg-Takt here.
Learn more about Hamburg’s 5-minute city concept
Reach out to Nicolas to learn more about the project!