“We drive until the last vehicle is stuck”: how resilient is Hamburg’s public transport system to climate change effects?

University essay from Lunds universitet/LUCSUS

Abstract: Climate change consequences are forecasted to severely affect urban life. Already in the past years, extreme events such as heat-waves, cloudbursts, and storm surges have strained cities’ infrastructures and inhabitants. In this thesis, I investigate the impact of extreme weather events on Public Transport (PT) in Hamburg/Germany. As a framework I apply the resilience concept with the four key dimensions Anticipation, Reaction, Monitoring, and Learning. By evaluating policy documents and seven qualitative PT stakeholder interviews, I assess the current system’s resilience as well as chances for and barriers to resilience building. By applying the resilience concept to the PT system in Germany’s second-largest city, I investigate how a sustainability science concept translates to a practical context and how this practical application relates to sustainability goals. Hamburg’s PT system has already been affected by extreme weather, particularly by storm and flooding. So far, the short-term adaptation has been successful, as operators could respond to and learn from adverse incidents. Although they do not explicitly refer to them in their daily practice, most interviewees are familiar with resilience concepts. However, there is no strategic tool of monitoring and evaluating extreme events and forecasting challenges. Overall, the key dimensions Reaction and Learning are satisfied, whereas Anticipation and Monitoring are not. A major chance for adaptation is timely mainstreaming of resilience properties into existing processes; Barriers are financial constraints, and a lack of political awareness. To overcome the barriers, I recommend a cross-sector adaptation strategy for Hamburg’s PT system hosted by HVV as the PT association. Most of the interviewed stakeholders do not expect social inequality as a result of adaptation. However, it cannot be ruled out that resilience building, embedded into a neo-liberal agenda, happens at the cost of marginalized people. Framed in the Brundlandt Sustainable Development taxonomy, the social sustainability dimension needs to be further investigated.

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