City bans on diesel-engine cars – is this a public sector innovation?

Features picture: Volkswagen Passat Variant syncro. Source: Volkswagen Media Services.

The German federal administrative court today ruled that municipalities in Germany may impose bans on diesel-powered cars to combat polluted air.

City bans on diesel-engine cars – is this a public sector innovation?

In a public management context an innovation is a novel and useful idea. The novel and useful idea has to be new to the organization adopting it. People outside the organization may consider the novel idea as an imitation in case they implemented the same idea long ago. True – innovation at times is synonymous with imitation. Anyways, as long as the idea has the potential to serve community well, innovative behavior is a good thing.

The idea of banning dirty cars from entering city centers is not novel to Germany. Imposing city bans on dirty cars is a practice that has been in operation since 2007. Since then local governments are allowed to establish so called “low emission zones”, in which heavy polluters are not allowed to enter.

Though not a novel idea can bans might be useful, nonetheless. It is questionable whether banning particular groups of cars from entering cities is a useful attempt to improve air-quality for community members.

Dirty air that badly damages the health is one of the most pressing problems induced by ever increasing individual motor car traffic. But it is not only problem. It is just one of the multiple problems that can be measured more easily than others. I consider individual combustion engine based car traffic simply being an outdated technology in modern and sustainable smart cities.

Modern public managers and elected decision makers will need to shift their attention of attempts of protecting an over-subsidized car industry to developing comprehensive and integrated public transportation systems.

Just two examples for such comprehensive and integrated public transportation systems:

The first one is Paris’ RER system which was set up in the 1970ies.

The second example can be found in contemporary Moscow.

In 2017 Moscow opened its new Central Circle (MCC), a railway transportation system encircling Moscow’s outer center. MCC is one element in the capital’s comprehensive transportation system, alongside the Second metro circle line (currently under construction), and the Diameter project, MCD.

In November 2017 Vladimir Putin approved plans announced by Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, for a new railway transportation network labeled MCD. MCD is planned to established five new routes from outer suburbs to Moscow; the lines will also link to the existing underground rapid system, the Metro, and Moscow Central Circle (MCC). The MCD project is another feature in Moscow’s attempt to create a modern comprehensive transportation system.


Two circle lines outperform a single one

Here is an follow up to a prior post mentioning the new outer circle line in Moscow which is currently under construction.

The figure below depicts all of the outer metro circle’s 30 new stations (bold) and some major interchanging stations.

This is a quite spectacular, or less fancy, ambitious public infrastructure project, since most parts of it will be located below Moscow’s surface.

The outer circle is expected to provide access to an additional million of community members.

Living in Moscow public transport

Re-inventing the wheel , or: back to the future

Berlin, Germany’s capital, currently runs a pilot project with a fleet of 25 e-buses. This is something we could classify as innovative behavior, since an innovation is a novel and useful idea, project or practice that is new to the organization adopting it, regardless of prior adaption in peer units. Good.

Berlin’s pilot project received bad media coverage, however. Not so good. Low operating distance, about 150 kilometres, issues with drive and control  technology were among the main teething troubles. But, hey, these are teething troubles. Sandford Borins in his 2000 PAR article on innovation in the US civil service posited that

„the media’s interest in exposing public sector failings […] is yet another impediment to innovation“ (p. 500).

Borins, S. (2000). Loose Cannons and Rule Breakers, or Enterprising Leaders? Some Evidence About Innovative Public Managers. Public Administration Review, 60(6), 498-507.

The story about Berlin’s fleet nicely supports this notion. But the point I want to make is another one: namely that all the effort now being put into e-buses partly are reinventing the wheel. Why?

Moscow, Russia’s capital, and several other cities in Russia and Eastern Europe still use an alternative technique, was was once disposed as outdated – trolley coaches.

Trolley coaches maintain a continuous supply of energy from power supply lines that are installed throughout major routes in Moscow.

Governments pushing newly constructed autonomous e-buses, keeping energy stored with the vehicle, to reduce carbon dioxide emission are re-inventing the wheel! Though innovative behavior is a good thing, re-inventing something that has been in operation long enough to show results is inefficient.

True, several of the trolley-buses in Moscow were in a rather, say, retro shape. Frequent stops are annoying at time, but I am fan of the metro anyway, and in case you do not have a metro station down the street you will be happy about a serving bus line. But over the course of the last year, with the FIFA championship approaching, Moscow bought a significant amount of brand new trolley bus vehicles. So the technology has been developing over the last decades, because seemingly there are business companies and construction facilities that are producing these new vehicles.

Visitors of Moscow thus will be able to travel back to the future! My point here is that some technologies, that are no labeled as innovative, have been in operation long ago. The general message is that innovative behavior closely connects to organizational learning. Learning from peer abroad may spur innovation at some lower costs –  and less bad media coverage.


Living in Moscow public transport

Take me to the underground

Amid waiting for a new federal government Germany’s sees talk about how to free community members in most larger cities, such as Hamburg, Berlin, Stuttgart, Bonn, and Cologne, from polluted air induced by excessive use of fuel based cars. Free use of public transportation is one potential policy solution to this complex issue.

Nudging people to switch from individual to public transportation requires significant and continuous investment in public infrastructure.

In Moscow, which is plagued from heavy congestion on major avenues, riding public metro already comes at rather low costs. Accessibility is a even more relevant issue. The city puts a lot of money in extenting the accessibility of its rapid underground railway system. The largest construction site is the creation of a third circle line. The first one, the brown line, was constructed between the 1930s and 1950s. The brown line essentially mirrors the Garden Ring below the surface. The second ring is the new Moscow Central Circle, MCC, on the ground, opened in 2015. Costs were around 2 billion Euros, according to estimates. The third line will run underground again. It will cross the existing lines at the height of Sololniki in the north-east and Kalushskaya in the south-west. Prospekt Vernadskovo station on the red line will also see a new connecting station including a new vestibules. A new entrance already opened this weekend. It is pictured above.