Private cars need to be banned from city centres, warns a German expert.

And travelling long distances for business is “absurd” when we can communicate electronically, says Professor Gesa Ziemer.

Professor Ziemer heads up the CityScienceLab at HafenCity University Hamburg in partnership with MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts and conducts research into the future of cities and the mobility of tomorrow.

“I believe that we all move around far too much, and often for nonsensical things,” Professor Ziemershe said.

“We’re invited to conferences in Shanghai or Kiev to offer input for five minutes — but it’s completely absurd.”

Professor Ziemer believes we need to “decelerate” mobility.

“I see deceleration. I see people walking and cycling more again, but generally moving less,” she said.

“I’m imagining a city society that doesn’t constantly ferry people everywhere.

“This requires a city of short distances. This, in turn, is achieved by generating much more within the city itself to save on transport routes.

“And digitalisation of course helps us to save a lot when it comes to distances. For example, Skype technology is improving all the time, so people don’t have to go to every single meeting anymore.

“An interesting aspect in this is the virtualisation and augmentation of communication. At the moment we are still Skyping via a screen, i.e. a flat surface.

“But if at some point we have the opportunity to talk to a person on the other side of the world in a virtual space as well as if we were standing next to each other, walking through the lab together and doing things virtually on site — then we wouldn’t need to fly to the other end of the world as often.”

There’s little room in Professor Ziemer’s vision of the future for privately owned motor vehicles, which on average are parked for 23 hours a day.

“I still see vehicles being there in the delivery and goods sector, but private cars need to be taken out of city centres,” she said.

“But I see a lot of different small vehicles flowing smoothly. They’re always in motion and hardly ever stand still. Mobility on demand, i.e. combining different vehicles, will be the new trend.

“This is crucial in my opinion. This way, we can reduce the space needed for parking and people can move around more smoothly.

Car makers won’t been too pleased with this vision of the future, nor will the people who rack up millions of frequent flyer points in the name of business.

Professor Ziemer said in future the automotive industry will no longer build cars in the true sense of the word, but will develop new business models based on these different vehicles, which are of course primarily data producers.

“The future of the automotive industry will involve new business models based on a lot of new data. However, it is important to me that not all the data goes to the companies.

“This is still a big problem at the moment. Cities are dependent on technical innovations and the help of companies. However, the data must remain accessible to all citizens in the city.”

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Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.