Corporate mobility management: How Daimler employees get to work

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(Future) commuters shuttle in company

In Germany, 60 percent of the employees commute to their jobs on a daily basis, spending an average of 44 minutes a day on the road. That adds up to seven full days per year. And this trend is rising. Individual mobility plays a huge role in this process. About two thirds of the commuters use their own cars, which are generally powered by a conventional drive system. More and more companies are considering how they can make their employees’ way to work less congested and more environmentally friendly. At Daimler as well, employees from various units are developing new corporate mobility solutions.

It is still dark outside when Kai Neugebauer leaves his home in Gaggenau for his workplace in the early morning. He does location planning for assembly processes at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Rastatt. Every morning, he walks to the station and then takes the train to Rastatt for about 15 minutes. Until about a year ago, he would have switched to the bus followed by a tight walk to the plant. Since July 2019, his mornings have been more relaxed. That’s because an employee shuttle service to the Rastatt plant was launched last summer. Every quarter of an hour three Mercedes-Benz Vito vans now drive employees like Kai Neugebauer from the train station directly to the plant — in less than 15 minutes.

Neugebauer likes the shuttle service. “Especially in the winter, the shuttle saves me a trip in a crowded public bus and long walks in the cold,” he says. He enjoys his job, but that the daily rush to Rastatt is sometimes stressful and leaves him less time for his family and friends. “The shuttle service has significantly reduced stress,” he concludes.

The employee shuttle service at the Rastatt train station.
The employee shuttle service at the Rastatt train station.

Rastatt is a medium-sized city with about 42,000 inhabitants that is located about 20 kilometers south of Karlsruhe. Around 6,500 employees work at the local Mercedes-Benz plant.

Mobility services provided by employees for employees

Because of the city’s relatively rural surroundings, the plant has a large catchment area. On average, the plant’s employees travel 33 kilometers to work. Most of them work in shifts in the production units. “Individual travel still plays an important role for our colleagues,” says Alexander Klepp. He and his colleagues take care of the corporate mobility management at the Rastatt plant. “Many of our colleagues still drive to work in their own cars,” he says. This applies especially to those colleagues who live further away from the plant and have to travel long distances every day. “The commuter flows come together in front of the plant, and that often results in more time required.”

In 2018, Klepp and his colleagues started to develop a local concept for alternative mobility services for the plant. Their goal was to reduce the employee-related traffic volume. The project was launched with an employee survey. “We wanted to find out what the plant’s employees really needed,” says Klepp. “The survey revealed two top needs: a better connection between the train station and the plant and permission for employees to enter the plant complex with their bikes.”

Alexander Klepp develops mobility concepts for the Rastatt plant
Alexander Klepp develops mobility concepts for the Rastatt plant

With the help of the plant management, both employee wishes were fulfilled. In addition to the employee shuttles the plant complex was opened up to private bicycles. Special turnstiles for bicycles were mounted at the plant gates and bike stations were set up in various locations. “Our colleagues can now park their bikes close to their workplace,” says Klepp. Annoying morning routines such as congestion, searching for a parking space, and the long walk from the car inside the plant have become a thing of the past. These measures have been a huge success. “The employee shuttles are well utilized,” says the mobility expert. “The bike racks are also frequently used — even now in winter.”

It all sounds so easy, but it is the result of lots of work and negotiations. That’s because corporate mobility strategies cannot be implemented unilaterally. They require good and uncomplicated cooperation within the project team and with the plant management. Cooperation with the local authorities and public agencies is important, too. The aim is to understand the users’ needs and put together an effective package of measures to address them, Klepp explains.

Together with the plant’s communication unit, Klepp and his colleagues made a video to present their concept. “Of course we also wanted to do a bit of advertising for our mobility services,” he admits. And the video was a success. It attracted considerable interest. “By now, several other locations have contacted us because they want to know how we got these measures started and how we design our local mobility management in general,” Klepp says.

”There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You always have to take into account the local conditions”

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Dieter Feder Lab1886

Alternative concepts for employee mobility are also an important issue in metropolitan areas. Stuttgart, which has a population of about 614,000, is the city with the largest population in the state of Baden-Württemberg. As a center of business and industry, the city attracts many people from the surrounding region. The State Statistical Office of Baden-Württemberg has calculated that about 265,000 people commuted into Stuttgart in 2017. Daimler has about 80,000 employees in the greater Stuttgart area, most of them in Sindelfingen, the Neckar valley, and Affalterbach. All of these locations are outside the city center with its high volume of traffic.

Dieter Feder wants to put a “flow” on the road
Dieter Feder wants to put a “flow” on the road

The southern boundary of Stuttgart is formed by one of Germany’s busiest highways, the A8. Right next to it, just before the intersection popularly known as the Echterdinger Ei, is the office of Dieter Feder, project manager at the Daimler innovation laboratory Lab1886. “There are days when nothing flows on the A8,” he says. However, that’s exactly what his team is working for — putting a “flow” on the road. They want to reduce the number of kilometers driven as well as the CO2 emissions that are generated. “Ultimately we want to help to achieve our Ambition2039 goals,” Feder adds.

In 2018, the lab teamed up with colleagues from the External Affairs and Public Policy unit, the factory planning team, and the Works Council to establish the mobility initiative f.l.o.w. “Within this initiative we develop and combine measures that reduce traffic congestion, for and with Daimler employees,” Feder says. “For one thing, we develop new work models, above all models that enhance employee mobility.” The f.l.o.w. initiative promotes very different kinds of mobility. There are services for cyclists, solutions within the framework of local public transportation, and various possibilities for driving one’s own car.

A dating app for ridesharing

One example is flinc. The app is a kind of “dating platform” for Daimler employees who commute to work. But it’s not meant to help them to find partners for life — only for the ride to work. All the same — considering that they will be together for an average of 44 minutes per day — one should choose these partners carefully. “Through flinc we bring together people who go to work via similar routes at similar times of the day,” explains Feder. “We offer them a platform for joining together in carpools.” In this way commuter networks are formed.

The benefits of this system are obvious. “By means of the app, the users suddenly realize how many of their colleagues live in their neighborhoods. Instead of driving to work alone, they form networks and share a car for their way to work,” says Feder. The drivers generally take turns. “We’ve already got carpools that are using an electric or natural gas vehicle,” says the innovation expert. Ridesharing not only puts people in touch with different technologies; by traveling with colleagues from every corporate unit, they also get to know their own company better.

Climate protection and stress reduction

Currently, the flinc-app is available for employees at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen. About 12,000 have registered for the program since February 2019. By forming carpools, they have avoided about 3.3 million kilometers during this period alone.

”That has saved about 750 tons of CO2 emissions — about as much as 100,000 trees absorb in 12 months.”

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Dieter Feder Lab1886

But it’s not sustainability alone that makes flinc a good idea.

Yiqing Yan and Verena Bartscher can confirm that. They work in vehicle development at the Mercedes-Benz Technology Center in Sindelfingen, and they use the flinc app regularly to commute to work together. On weekdays, Bartscher uses her own car to drive her daughter to school in Darmsheim. “At some point we realized that I live more or less along the route Verena takes to work,” says her colleague Yan. Since then, they have been a carpool.

“Whenever Verena can’t make it, I look at flinc to see which of my other colleagues are driving to Sindelfingen,” Yan explains. For her, driving to work alone in her own car is not an option. “There are simply too many colleagues taking their own cars to work in the morning. Sometimes the cars are stuck in traffic jams back from the front of the parking garages all the way back to the access roads — even at 6:30 a.m.,” she says. And once you’re inside the parking garage, it still takes over 15 minutes to park the car in a free parking space. “That can be quite annoying,” Yan remarks.

flinc puts people in a good mood on the way to work
flinc puts people in a good mood on the way to work

The plant managers have identified this problem, as well. Since February 2019, employees who use flinc to form carpools can use parking lots that are exclusively reserved for them. These are located on the ground floor of the parking garage, and they are also close to the exit nearest the plant. As a result, flinc users like Yan and Bartscher don’t have to join the line of cars weaving its way through the parking garage, and they only have a short walk from their car to their workplace. “We also have good talks during the drive,” says Yan. In addition, they can come to work a bit later once in a while. The flinc parking lots are occupied 80 percent of the time on average, but usually people can also find free parking lots in the late morning hours.

In the long run, solutions such as flinc have the potential not only to reduce traffic volume and CO2 emissions but also to decrease the number of parking lots that are needed. According to Dieter Feder from Lab1886 it will take some time to reach that point.

”We are currently in the midst of a flowing transformation process — what we need is a good mix of incentives and sanctions, as well as lots of persuasion among the employees.”

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Dieter Feder Lab1886

And surely sometimes a small push and a step outside our comfort zone.

Mobility at short notice

What about the colleagues who still can’t find the right match, despite all of the services on offer? What about those who only want to communicate with their cup of coffee in the morning? And those who prefer to decide spontaneously when and how they get to work? They might be interested in the latest trend in the field of employee mobility: mobility budgets. Here’s the principle behind it: Employees receive a time-limited, flexibly usable digital credit for their daily way to work. They can draw on this credit in a completely individual way, depending on which mode of transportation they decide to use to get from A to B. They can travel by bus or train, taxi, carsharing or by joining a carpool.

Traveling flexibly from A to B — that is the concept behind REACH NOW
Traveling flexibly from A to B — that is the concept behind REACH NOW

Especially at locations with good connections to local public transportation, flexible employee mobility concepts of this kind could enhance an employer’s attractiveness in the long run. After all, more and more people in cities are relying on flexible mobility solutions, especially when for short distances — and, depending on the traffic or the parking situation, are leaving their cars at home.

So are mobility budgets for urban locations the company ticket of the future? About 3,000 Daimler employees already have been trying out this service. As part of a pilot project at Daimler Mobility AG, they are using the mobility app REACH NOW in Berlin, Stuttgart, Hamburg, and other cities, to take advantage of various mobility services such as public transport, car sharing, ride hailing, bike sharing and e-scooters in completely individual ways.

Today, no one can yet determine with any certainty whether and how commuting will change in the future. However, it is clear that different locations have different requirements and require different solutions. Only if we can successfully design alternative forms of mobility that users perceive as attractive options in terms of costs, safety, flexibility, and comfort, will we be able to reduce long traffic jams during rush hours and make commuter traffic sustainable and environmentally friendly. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Thorough analyses and creative ideas is what we need. Examples such as the mobility concept of the Mercedes-Benz plant in Rastatt and initiatives such as flinc show that new (commuter) paths are possible. Yiqing Yan and Verena Bartscher will continue to use the flinc app with enthusiasm in the future. Will Kai Neugebauer soon join them? This spring, flinc will be launched at the Rastatt plant. “It will be a great complement to our shuttle service,” he says. “I’m looking forward to it.”

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Pascal Thiel

works in the Corporate Communications unit at Daimler, where he mainly deals with sustainability and change topics. In his daily life he uses many different means of transportation. To work he usually rides his bike.

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