Michael Schreckenberg teaches and researches as a professor for the physics of transport and traffic at the University of Duisburg. He is one of the best-known traffic researchers in Germany. In the early 1990s, he helped develop the Nagel-Schreckenberg model of freeway traffic, which can be used, among other things, to explain how traffic jams develop.
WORLD: Mr. Schreckenberg, on March 27, a strike is to paralyze all rail and air traffic in Germany. What consequences can you expect on the streets?
Michael Schreckenberg: People's first reaction will be to switch to cars. That's the only chance to move over long distances during a strike like this. We know such situations, for example, from the unexpected onset of winter. In a second reaction, however, one will say: Even if things get difficult with the car, one tries to spend the day at home. Thanks to home office and flexible working hours, some are no longer so dependent on the car. But there are many who cannot avoid it. Craftsman trips, for example, commercial traffic and truck transport must take place. Anyone who has to drive will consider being on the road as early as possible before the others set off.
WORLD: Does that really help with a big strike?
Schreckenberg: The only advice I can really give is to leave the car behind and try to organize your work differently. In such a situation, avoiding traffic that is not absolutely necessary is not only in your own interest, but also in the interest of others. In the best case, there can be an overreaction, as we saw with the closure of the A40 in Essen: drivers have avoided driving, which has led to less traffic and less congestion.
WORLD: Would that also be possible with such a shock to the transport system as it is now threatening?
Schreckenberg: With the A40, people were able to prepare for the closure long beforehand. This is not possible now. The strike was announced on Thursday, which means there were only two working days left to organize Monday. A lot of traffic could probably no longer be rescheduled. That is of course also the intention, the unions want to create as much chaos as possible.
WORLD: Tunnels like the Elbe Tunnel may also be blocked.
Schreckenberg: We haven't actually experienced that in such a massive form. If you block air traffic, trains and also the motorway, you can bring the transport system to a complete collapse. Then nothing goes further. But I assume that freight traffic will continue to roll. The trucks will drive and the deliveries will continue. But a great many people will try not to drive themselves. It will be interesting to see how big the impact of working from home really is.
WORLD: The Ifo Institute estimates that 56 percent of Germans could work at least partially in the home office and 25 percent actually do it. If everyone stays at home, would that take the pressure off the system?
Schreckenberg: Definitely. But if you look at the streets now, the numbers are not quite consistent. With 25 percent home office, we should have significantly less traffic, but that's just not the case. Instead, we are back to the pre-Corona level. I'm a little skeptical, but we'll see on Monday. The media reports have also made people aware of the situation, which could help.
WORLD: In such a case, would it also help to lift the Sunday driving ban for trucks, as the logistics industry is demanding?
Schreckenberg: That might take some of the pressure off Monday morning, but it wouldn't do much. Trucks are mainly used for long-distance traffic, every tenth vehicle on the Autobahn is a truck. But they start on Sunday evening at 10 p.m. Commuters on Monday morning are particularly affected by the strike, which is the second major peak in traffic during the week after Friday afternoon. This peak is narrow but very high. So there is a lot of traffic in a short time. You don't see any leisure drivers on Monday morning, but mainly commuter traffic. And it will hit him above all.
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