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Berlin study finds only a third as many shoppers came by car than retailers assumed

Research also found that more than 90 per cent of takings were from people who arrived on foot, by bike or using public transport

A new study from Germany has found that retailers in Berlin massively overestimated the number of shoppers arriving by car – with only a third as many doing so compared to what they believed. The same research found that people arriving by foot, on bikes or by public transport accounted for more than 90 per cent of takings.

The research, which analysed two shopping streets in the German capital, was conducted by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, with its authors saying that the findings can help city authorities around the world make better informed planning decisions.

Some 145 retailers and 2,000 shoppers were involved in the study, conducted on Kottbusser Damm in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district and Hermannstraße in Neukölln. Retailers believed that 22 per cent of customers came by car, when the figure was in fact just 7 per cent, and making up 9 per cent of spending.

The vast majority of shoppers, 93 per cent, came by public transport or walked or cycled to the two streets, and were responsible for 91 per cent of spending.

IASS researcher Dirk von Schneidemesser said: “The results of this survey confirm the findings of studies published in 2019 on the inner cities of Offenbach, Gera, Erfurt, Weimar and Leipzig.

“Studies on mobility and local economic impacts conducted in other European countries, North America, and Australia paint a similar picture.

“The car is less relevant for local business than is often assumed in policy processes. Pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders are the important customer groups for local business in an urban context.”

Around the world, interventions aimed at promoting active travel are often met with hostility by many businesses in the areas concerned, and von Schneidemesser says that the research suggests that this could be due to preconceptions held by some retailers based on their own behaviour.

Those who drove to their businesses estimated that 29 per cent of customers did likewise, compared to those using other means to get there, who ranged between 10 per cent and 19 per cent – all higher, of course, than the actual figure.

Shop keepers also wildly underestimated the amount of local trade they receive, assuming that just 13 per cent of shoppers lived within 1 kilometre, whereas the actual figure was 51 per cent.

“The findings of this survey are in line with the growing body of literature that suggests improved active travel (ie for pedestrians and cyclists) and transit infrastructure is likely to benefit local business”, said von Schneidemesser.

“Business associations should consider this evidence when weighing the benefits and disadvantages of infrastructure development in order to best represent the interests of local business,” he added.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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