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Press Release from 2022-01-11 / Group

KfW Research: Mobility transition in Germany demands differentiated urban and rural approaches

  • Transport sector accounts for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions in Germany
  • Cars continue to dominate – especially in rural areas
  • Three in four households would use public transport more often than their cars
  • The best ways of promoting more frequent use of public transport are better rural connections and lower costs in cities
  • More than half of households would cycle more often if the infrastructure were more bicycle-friendly

The mobility transition is a basic building block for achieving the climate targets in Germany. The transport sector currently accounts for 20% of Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions. For an effective transition, emissions from household transport will therefore have to decrease significantly in the future. Key elements consist in the systematic electrification of road vehicles and expansion of public transport services along with improvements to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. This is one of the findings of a recent special analysis of the KfW Energy Transition Barometer conducted by KfW Research on the mobility transition in Germany.

In order to achieve the climate targets, significant greenhouse gas reductions are necessary in the transport sector. Cars, commercial vehicles, trucks and buses are responsible for the highest share of emissions. The long-term mobility trend shows that people in Germany are spending increasingly more time commuting. Between 2002 and 2017, the number of kilometres travelled per person grew by almost 20% to around 3.2 million. Individual motorised transport dominated, accounting for around three fourths of the distance travelled.

Today cars are used particularly often in the countryside and poorly connected regions because they are often the only practicable mobility option. Each private household had around 1.14 cars on average in 2020. Around one third of households (33.9%) use a car on a daily basis. But in rural communities, both the number of cars per household (1.64 vehicles per household) and the proportion of households that use a car on a daily basis are roughly twice as high as in large cities. In large cities only around one fifth of households use a car daily, while around 36% have no car at all. In the countryside, however, the share of electric cars is higher (11%) than in urban regions (7%).

The easiest way to achieve energy efficiency gains in transport is by moving to more efficient public transport. A local bus, for example, produces only around half the greenhouse gas emissions per person per kilometre of a car. The most important conditions for increasing public transport use are improved connections (63%), lower costs (49%) and more comfort (19%). In the countryside the main requirement is clearly for improved connections, which would prompt 71% of households to use public transport more often. In large cities the main aspect is cost. Around 58% of urban households would use public transport more often if the fares were lower.

In addition to public transport, cycling can also contribute to climate-neutral mobility. Bicycles are an option primarily for short and medium distances. They are used primarily for shorter average distances. In bicycle-friendly cities, 30% of all trips are already completed using bicycles. More than half of households (54%) make better infrastructure a prerequisite for using bicycles more often, while nearly half the surveyed households (45%) would cycle more often if it was easier to combine cycling with public transport. For almost 28% of households, the purchase of an electric bicycle could be an incentive for switching. Interestingly, there are no discernible differences between cities and the countryside in any of these three aspects. Bicycles therefore have the potential for becoming an important pillar of the mobility transition in the countryside as well.

“The transport sector plays a decisive role in achieving the climate targets. The systematic electrification of road vehicles and the expansion of public transport services as well as improvements to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure will help bring about an effective low-emissions mobility in the future”, said Dr Fritzi Köhler-Geib, Chief Economist of KfW. “However, the conditions for satisfying people’s mobility needs differ from one region to another in Germany. In order for the mobility transition to succeed, different solutions must therefore be found for different regions. To this end, the most suitable means of transport must be systematically promoted.”

The current special analysis of the KfW Energy Transition Barometer 2021 is available at