Mobility on Demand in Rural Areas

Discussions about smart mobility tend to focus on cities. But what happens in smaller towns and rural regions?
Kathrin Wildemann , 13. December, 2017
Kathrin Wildemann has been a part of the permanent Copy Team at ZF since 2016. In her online and offline articles, she likes to cover electromobility and other topics that involve sustainability.
Tom Kirschbaum, founder and head of the mobility start-up door2door, on changing demands, autonomous driving, ride sharing solutions and the success factors involved in mobility concepts.

What are the attributes of a successful smart mobility concept?

The way in which individual modes of transport currently work is incredibly inefficient. The key is to better organize transport, particularly by combining journeys – the watchword here is ride sharing. I think it is very important that new concepts do not cannibalize the classic transport infrastructure. It is more about supplementing them with digital options in order to make optimal use of them.

What happens if this principle is violated?

In this case it is ultimately the city that suffers. The popularity of companies such as Uber and Lyft in New York has led to even more cars taking to the roads there. Mobility is also a very regional product. Each city has its own topography, its own culture, and different underlying economic conditions. These local factors must be taken into consideration. This may make the development of new technologies highly challenging, but rigid one-size-fits-all solutions will not work.

In your view, what are currently the most important developments in the mobility sector?

We have three megatrends in terms of products: electric drives, networking, and autonomous driving. The networking of vehicles among one another or with platforms is very much changing the way in which fleets are coordinated. Even though autonomous driving is the one development among the aforementioned three that is still furthest away, it will have the most significant influence.

Thus far, you have only mentioned technical aspects.

That’s right, but user behavior is also changing: Mobility is increasingly becoming a commodity. This is where the subject of sharing plays a key role. People will no longer want to own a car, but simply use what they need. From both of these directions we are seeing the emergence of innovative mobility systems that are geared toward people’s needs in a highly agile manner.

Does this mean that there will soon be no more privately owned cars?

I think this is conceivable in the medium term. In cities with networked on-demand solutions there will no longer be a reason for someone to drive around in their own car. It will take somewhat longer in rural areas. The staff costs for drivers carry more weight here. As such, individual modes of transport can only be completely replaced in a scenario with autonomous vehicles.

In what other ways do rural areas differ from the cities?

Driving your own car in the city is often purely a matter of convenience and comfort. Rural regions, on the other hand, are frequently so severely spoilt by sprawling development that there is simply no alternative to using your own car. Local public transport networks are fragmented; routes and timetables are underdeveloped. The bus maybe stops at one bus stop in the village – and an elderly lady has to get there first.
In an interview with Tom Kirschbaum, founder of door2door.

How can this be changed in future?

On-demand solutions can also be utilized in the countryside. It simply involves analyzing beforehand which routes are actually profitable for large buses and where funds can be allocated more efficiently for solutions such as ride-sharing vans. In the first instance, the aim here is not to do away with people’s own cars, but make the second car superfluous.

You have cooperated with small to medium-sized towns and cities in the pilot projects you have run to date. Are they even more suitable for new mobility concepts than larger cities?

One solution could be the provision of shuttle services: You pick up the passenger at home and take them to the nearest train station, for example. An intermodal transport concept of this kind effectively increases the catchment area of the local transport system. This is especially interesting to commuters.

When will we see the first autonomous vehicles on the roads?

It certainly won’t be long! By 2021 I think we will see the first cities in which autonomous vehicles are driving around on a larger scale. In around ten years’ time it will be commonplace in inner city areas. There will be certain parts of cities in which the authorities will only permit the use of autonomous vehicles. This will help them to circumvent the challenges associated with having a mix of traffic on the roads – autonomous vehicles and people who drive their own cars.


A world without privately owned cars – that is the vision of door2door . The Berlin based start-up has developed an on-demand mobility platform that complements the existing local transport system by offering needsbased ride-sharing solutions. Two pilot projects have been running since fall 2017 in Duisburg and the Bavarian town of Freyung, with its population of 7,000. The company founded in 2012 employs more than 100 people and has a second office in Porto Alegre (Brazil).