Professor Dr.-Ing. Petra K. Schäfer Shaping future mobility
Ms Schäfer, you are the Professor of Transport Planning and Head of the "New Mobility" group at the Department of Architecture, Civil Engineering, Geomatics at Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences. You are also one of the academics working at the LOEWE cluster entitled “Infrastructure - Design – Society” under the leadership of Offenbach University of Art and Design. Please tell us something about the goals and special opportunities associated with this LOEWE project. The exciting thing about this cooperation arrangement is that designers, urban planners, computer scientists and transport scientists are jointly conducting research into the attractive design of environmentally-friendly means of transport. We are learning a great deal from each other here thanks to our different approaches and we hope to gain interdisciplinary insights that we could not acquire if we were working alone.
You graduated from the Technical University of Darmstadt as a civil engineer in 1999 and then worked as a research assistant in the field of traffic planning and traffic engineering until you gained your doctorate. You obtained your doctorate in 2004 on the subject of "Alternative methods for monitoring parking times and paying parking fees". How did you develop a fascination for this very special topic? I have always been interested in the acceptance of new technologies in transport planning – that is to say, how can we convince road users to be more eco-friendly when they travel, and how can we actively support this change in behaviour through new services? My PhD thesis developed from a research project supported by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, which aimed to find out whether and how road traffic regulations should be adapted because of new parking services. My thesis prepared the way for this change. There are now so many services related to parking that you almost lose track of them.
Your research is focusing on the range of topics associated with electromobility: the media repeatedly report that Germany has long since missed the boat in this field. Does the country still have time to catch up? Or are electric cars already outdated so that we need to introduce other ideas? Electric cars are just one of many approaches. It is still a car; it takes up the same space as a conventional vehicle and it creates the same traffic jam. We will only transform the world of transport in conjunction with other measures, such as car sharing and linking different means of transport in a positive manner. Electric cars are now becoming more popular in Germany (with some delay) and will increasingly penetrate the market, but we will only achieve a revolution in transport if we strengthen the environmentally-friendly means of public transport, cyclists and pedestrians and combine them with electromobility.
What is Germany’s standing in the field of transport planning compared to other European countries and what can we possibly learn from the others? In Germany, we have some areas where we are doing very well: the public transport infrastructure is excellent, even though we still need to add some important services, of course. Our road network is perhaps too good to some extent and, fortunately, we are just catching up in cycling. We are only just making a start on boosting pedestrians and we will still have to do a great deal in this field during the next few years.
You work in the city of Frankfurt, but live outside, which means that you are one of the many commuters who travel to work in the city every day. Could you imagine living in Frankfurt in future, when the new, more modern urban planning scheme starts to come to fruition? Frankfurt is a pleasant place to live with many exciting developments. When I took up my professorship here more than ten years ago, we also looked at the local housing market. At that time, however, it was difficult, if not impossible, to find a family-friendly apartment in Frankfurt that would have satisfied our needs. I also notice that my children have been able to become independent much earlier in the rural area where they are growing up, as everything is within walking distance. But I can also imagine living in a city again in future. Currently I use my car and the train to commute, depending on my daily routine. If possible, I work from home too.
"Women take over the engineering profession" is a headline that you could still read in 2018, underlining that it could not yet be taken for granted that women would enter professions that are more science-oriented. Can you explain this this, and, if so, do you perhaps have an idea about what needs to be done to change this situation? We have a ratio of about one quarter to one third of civil engineers who are women. Women make up half of my specialist team. I believe that the times when female students were the exception in this field are largely a thing of the past. Young women now just have to conquer the labour market. The differences are already visible and a great deal has happened compared to when I started out in this male-dominated field of engineering; I was often the only woman in those days.
You received the Innovation Award from the Support Association at Frankfurt University for outstanding achievements in research and transfer in November 2017. In addition to your enormous achievements in the field of mobility, the speech in your honour also highlighted your outstanding commitment to linking research and teaching. Why do you think this is so important and what specific measures are you using to achieve this? Research should always be an integral part of teaching, because we are training the specialists of tomorrow, who should definitely be up to speed and know about the latest developments and ideas. In addition to five research fellows, as many as ten research assistants and student assistants are working with us on research projects in our "New Mobility" specialist team. Alongside this, degree dissertations and projects are linked to the research projects and the research fellows are involved in teaching. This broadens their skills and makes research accessible to the students at an additional level.
About the Person
- Professor of Transport Planning at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences