How the city of Karlsruhe develops partnerships to further mobility aspirations

Intelligent Transport met Jochen Ehlgötz, Managing Director of TechnologieRegion Karlsruhe, to discuss mobility partnerships and developments in the German city of Karlsruhe and beyond.

The city of Karlsruhe, home to TechnologieRegion Karlsruhe

What is mobility like in Karlsruhe at the moment?

I think there is a special atmosphere in our region because we have an open innovation system between a number of partners. The region is about 3,000km2, with 1.63 million inhabitants. We are partly in Baden-Württemberg and in Rheinland-Pfalz/Rhineland Palatinate.

There is an international and cross-border component to our work, and therefore in mobility, because we need to cross the river Rhine. We want to build a project with this cross-border element in the hope of regulating movement over the border. We want to bring the expertise and competency of the University of Strasbourg, and other science research partners from France, together with our partners in Germany.

Our activities in mobility over recent years have been aligned with UITP, who we are currently creating a mobility innovation partnership with. We signed the partnership in April 2019 and launched it at the UITP Global Public Transport Summit alongside UITP’s General Secretary, Mohamed Mezghani.

At the core of this mobility partnership is the creation of a training centre in the region. We want to bring the capabilities of our UITP partners to TechnologieRegion Karlsruhe and involve all of our partners in the training programme. This will demonstrate to all participants in the training programme the kind of expertise we have in our region in science, research and development, and business. We want to show with our projects and services what we can offer to not only Europe, but the whole world.

We are part of the ‘RegioMOVE’ project, which is making progress towards seamless mobility. It is a product service from the whole region, together with a consortium of partners. The main focus is various aspects of seamless mobility, like the database and the business model, but also the physical infrastructure. There needs to be unique points where people can switch between different modes of transport such as cars, trams, bicycles and so on. We have a lot of partners, like KVV, car-sharing provider stadtmobil Karlsruhe and Next Bike, helping to achieve that.

What advice would you give to other regions and cities who might want to develop these kind of partner relationships?

You need someone on a political level, but also an operational level, who’ll give the time and attention necessary to build such a partnership, but you also need time. There are three components – step by step projects, a success story to attract new partners and, the first-time round, you need strong flagship players who will commit on a political, business and scientific level. You need someone who has all of these attributes – and obviously you need a little bit of money!

TechnologieRegion Karlsruhe GmbH was founded after IT-TRANS in 2018 and now we have 27 shareholders made up of local authorities, cities and districts in our region. One of the chairs of the board is the Lord Mayor of Karlsruhe and we have 16 local authority partners. We also have nine business partners such as SEW-EURODRIVE, EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG, the Grenke AG (a private finance institute), the Karlsruhe Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and the Chamber of Trade. We also have two science institutions, the KIT – Karlsruhe Institute for Technology – and the FZI Research Centre for Information Technology in Karlsruhe. We have this triangle of innovation, with the public side, business side and the science research/development side all represented.

My job is to bring them together to create new projects like RegioMOVE in Karlsruhe. It is challenging, but it is also very interesting – plus we’re also seeing some success. We have a French local authority, the Département Bas-Rhin in Alsace, that has joined as a new shareholder. I have done cross-border work for many years, so I can say for sure that it is no small feat that a French public authority has become a partner in a mostly German-dominated enterprise.

Do you hope that now you have secured your first cross-border partner that you will be able to expand into partnerships around Europe to a larger degree?

I think so, because now we can to go to the European Commission with a stronger backbone; as a cross-border enterprise, our goal is the goal of the European Union.

There are new opportunities to make cross-border works, friendships and projects, and we will try to drive new projects, like Volocopter. For me, one ambition could be a project that field tests autonomous flying, not only in my region but over the border – over the Rhine. I think we have a lot of new opportunities because there are now a lot of new partners in very close proximity to one another.

In your opinion, what are some of the most exciting innovations at the moment for urban mobility and transport?

What we need is cross-sector development, and a cross-sector solution between different vehicles. I believe we need a system with a lot of different components that come together to provide the traveller with the best choices to move from A to B. The integration of all those systems is the most important innovation we can make at the moment.

It is a little bit like the field of energy behind mobility. At the moment there is a strong trend towards e-mobility, but I think we need to be technically open. Hydrogen technology is a point we shouldn’t forget, but, equally, there are synthetic fuels. We have a project called ‘reFuels’ where KIT, together with MiRO (the largest refinery in Germany), create gasoline or other traditional fuels from electrical processes instead of from the pipeline. At the beginning you have CO2 and water, and at the end you have a fuel like gasoline of the same quality.

The biggest advantage of this project is that the very first litre you get from the refinery can be put straight into a system that is already there. You have the infrastructure for the distribution, the technology and the vehicles. For mobility as a whole, we need to explore different avenues to provide energy for our vehicles. For short journeys we need e-mobility, for mid-length journeys and freight we need hydrogen technology, but for shipping and airplanes I think we need fuels based on renewable energy.

What do you think are the best solutions to these issues?

We want to bring everyone together and link these issues. Every two months, I bring politicians and those from a working background together for meetings to learn from each other, to discover why they think the way they do, what their background is, why perhaps sometimes people do not understand the topic in question. We need to have better understanding between shareholders in order to progress global mobility.