The navigator

As Germany’s minister for transport, building and urban development, Peter Ramsauer has one of the biggest jobs in transport in Europe. Monocle met him in his Bonn office to find out how he wants Germans to get from A to B in future.


  • Mai 2010


  • Albrecht Fuchs

Monocle: As our cities grow and grow, how can their transport systems cope?

Peter Ramsauer: My immediate predecessors dealt with the concept of urban development by putting metropolitan regions first [in their plans]. I emphasise the equal development of liveable cities and rural areas that work well too. People should not be forced to migrate into cities just because the countryside lacks infrastructure.

M: So will we see charging stations for electric cars – like the ones now being installed in many German cities – in villages as well?

PR: Electromobility is a major issue for us. Together with the industry we are spending €2bn on thinking about how to develop this. There are now 150 research projects going on in big cities but also in the mountainous rural area of Allgäu.

M: What is this research about?

PR: We want to find out what technology suits each region. It’s likely that in urban centres – because of the low range and the density of charging stations – battery-powered cars will work well, while in rural regions fuelcell technology is better.

M: Have German car manufacturers been slow to explore electromobility?

PR: They may have taken a bit longer to take the right course. But when we Germans have taken the proper decision, we implement it with determination. It takes time to develop a new high-technology product. Other countries may be retrofitting a few thousand cars with conventional batteries now. But I want a real electric car as a mass product. This is what all German manufacturers are working on. We are making the world’s best cars today – in the future we must produce the world’s best electric cars.

M: Other countries will subsidise the purchase of electric cars. You refuse to. Why?

PR: At a time when you don’t even know when series-production will hit the market and what it will cost, I’m not ready to guarantee, say, €2,500 per capita from the state. In 10 years I want to have at least one million electric cars on the road, which would mean €2.5bn in grants alone. That’s something I cannot promise at a time when we must overcome the consequences of the economic crisis.

M: This winter, Germany’s fast trains got stuck in ice. In Berlin half of the S-Bahn broke down for months. Does Deutsche Bahn now have an image problem?

PR: German logistics know-how, personified in Deutsche Bahn, is a worldwide export-hit. The latest example is a large order from Abu Dhabi; late last year there was a spectacular deal over €17bn with Qatar. This goes back and forth across the globe: we are selling our technology to the US, to China…

M: Still, what must Deutsche Bahn do to get back on track?

PR: I expect economic leadership but also customer orientation. Then we will improve the image of Deutsche Bahn again. Seven million daily passengers want punctuality, speed, cleanliness, safety and reliability.

M: Can trains replace planes in the future of business travel?

PR: Business travellers will take the train if, for example, they can travel from Munich to Berlin in four hours. But this requires enormous efforts in financing new lines as well as winning the support of people living along these routes.

M: What do you think transport will be like 20 years from now?

PR: Today, mobility is not fundamentally different from 20 years ago. Although the pressure for innovation is significantly higher: in 20 years we will still have internal combustion engines on the streets. The road will remain the main mode of transport. Railway will still not have taken sufficient capacity from the street. Aircraft will be an indispensable means of transport. We will still see traffic jams in urban areas. But all will be much cleaner and there will be much better integration between modes of transport.

M: What does that mean?

PR: Together with Deutsche Bahn and Daimler we are testing a system that will make electric cars available at Berlin central station. Passengers can take them during the day and get back on the train in the evening. We are also testing a bike rental system where the bicycle is free if you have a train ticket.