May 29, 2015

Eastern German activities target declining rural area

Mobility campaign highlights underused bus link to larger cities

The region of Verkehrsverbund Oberlausitz-Niederschlesien (VON), a sparsely populated area in eastern Germany bordering Poland and the Czech Republic, faces transport challenges typical of rural Central Europe: the population has been in decline for 20 years, and public transport services struggle to survive with a diminishing ridership.

The number of inhabitants has dropped mainly because young people are leaving the area for urban work opportunities. Elderly people thus comprise an increasing share of inhabitants. In 2009, the proportion of people aged 60 and older was about 33 percent, and this share is expected to increase to more than 45 percent by 2025. This demographic change has had an impact on the entire labour market as well as mobility behaviour. These days, children and working-age adults tend to commute long distances for school and employment, while elderly residents must do the same for medical visits.

The SmartMove activities in VON will focus on a single bus line (#147), which runs from the small town of Herrnhut, with just over 6,000 inhabitants, to the region’s largest city, Görlitz, an industrial hub of some 54,000. From Herrnhut, the bus line runs about 25 km to the northwest through the town of Bernstadt and several smaller towns and villages. It is a vital connection for various destinations in Görlitz itself, and also serves as a feeder line for trains connecting to Berlin and Dresden as well as Wroclaw (PL) and Liberec (CZ).

The line was established a few years ago to address numerous requests from the travelling public. However, ridership has been relatively low, and it is hoped that an active mobility campaign can bring it up.

The AMC campaign in VON will mainly target eight municipalities, and first contact with participants will be made by letter. Most of the target municipalities will support the campaign by sending out this letter to their constituents. Lead partner ZVON, a cooperative venture that works to harmonise local rail, tram and bus services, will send out the rest.  

ZVON plans to sort participants into several segments. They will be categorised according to age; whether they have children at school or university; whether they own a car; where they live in relation to public transport stops; and whether they are willing to use public transport rather than a car.

ZVON plans to offer mobility consultancy, including personal visits to those participants who request them. The campaign will include a number of active measures, such as guided walking tours for up to 20 participants and presentations at public events. A demonstration of pedelecs is also being considered.

The initial results of VON’s AMC campaign have confirmed that many residents simply don’t know about line 147. It is hoped that ridership will go up by simply drawing people’s attention to the service’s existence. If demand does grow, the public transport authority might boost the frequency of the line, which should stimulate yet more patronage. Investments to make the service more convenient and modern are also conceivable, although no decisions have been made.

Photo credit: VON