Antoine Maartens from Urgenda
Urgenda is a foundation that has been founded in 2007. The mission is to improve and stimulate sustainable development. Antoine is the program manager for sustainable Wadden Islands. The interview was conducted in a semi-structured way. We had prepared some topics which we wanted to know Antoine’s on. This report is therefore not an exact transcript but more an impression of the conversation.
To start the interview of, we were very curious where and by whom the project of “Texel as a sustainable island” was initiated. Antoine immediately had to correct us however. “Texel as a sustainable island” is not a project but more an overarching name for several smaller initiatives. The ideas for these initiatives were originated in so-called arenas. These are meetings which try to envision sustainable transitions. These arenas were organised all over the country, but Texel is a very good place to start such a case because, since it is an island, it is rather isolated. This minimises external influences and makes it more easy to initiate transitions. Several examples of these initiatives are:
- 25 new charging poles for electric vehicles;
- electrical transport hospitality;
- a new docking method for the TESO ferry in Den Helder;
- a new ferry (the old one is using between 3,5 and 4 million liters of diesel every year.
At the first meeting of the engineering for sustainable development course we were told that the goal of Texel is to be completely durable in 2020. We thought of this as being energy independent as well. We asked Antoine on his vision for this goal. According to him the goal is not to become energy independent by 2020 but to be energy neutral. This means that as much energy must be generated as is being used. The electricity cable connecting Texel and the mainland will still be required and no large electricity generators will be installed on Texel, but rather a few small ones. It will be very hard to reach this goal in 2020 however.
We were also wondering how the Texelaars are dealing with the plans for their island. According to Antoine we can look at the elections for the city council as an answer to this question. The parties which are in favour of sustainability are in the coalition, although no one wants to install windmills. The Texelaars believe that this will negatively influence tourism due to visual pollution, which Antoine doubts. He mentions that one of the German Wadden islands (Borkum) has installed a number of windmills and no drop in tourism was measured.
When asked about his stance on solar energy Antoine tells us that the permit for a solar field near the Pontweg has been granted. The solar panels will be partly be installed floating on the freshwater reservoirs. The province however is not willing to decrease the amount of farmlands in order to create more solar fields. Solar panels that are floating in the sea are unfortunately also not possible because the waves of salt water will damage the solar panels. The efficiency of modern solar panels and the overall space of possible locations, according to the current zoning, is too small to provide enough energy to fulfil the demand.
This is why Antoine was focussing on a combination between wind and solar energy, as the solution for Texel to become energy neutral. Because of the lack of space for solar energy, solar energy will only provide a reasonable amount of clean energy during the day and especially during summer, whereas wind energy will provide a more consistent flow of energy during times when there is no generation of energy by solar panels. The only problem to overcome is to decrease the opposition against wind turbines.
Stance of the Texelaar
Since Antoine’s projects are very much focussed on electric driving we asked him about the feedback he received from Texelaars with regards to electric driving. Antoine starts of with indicating that nowhere in the Netherlands the number of charging poles per capita is as high as on Texel. He and others have put in great effort to persuade people of buying an electric vehicle. This has been moderately successful up to this moment. There are about 50 electric vehicles on the island, of which one is a taxi.
The Waddenfonds has granted subsidies on a purchase base. Another idea is to introduce a car sharing program with electric cars. An entrepreneur called Hans Werner has recently started such a company on Terschelling. Antoine has put his plans in the fridge to offer the space to Hans Werner, with whom he is regularly in touch. Antoine is leaving the space for Hans Werner because Urgenda is not a company, it takes its hands from initiatives whenever the market picks it up. The Skylche e-auto as the project is called can be rented for a monthly fee of 50 euros with additional costs of 19 eurocent per km. Since the distances that people travel on the island and the average monthly costs of owning a car are around 350 euros, this would be a perfect solution for many Texelaars.
For Skylche e-auto, a car needs to be driven 37 hours per month to be cost efficient, the extra time is profit. On the other hand Antoine highlights that Terschelling has a natural protection, the ferry to and from Terschelling is not able to take on cars. The Texel ferry on the other hand is. This would mean that people will be able to transfer the cars to the mainland, which is not desirable. We think however, that these problems can easily be overcome by introducing a GPS-connected chip, that turns off the car engine automatically as soon as the car leaves the island. Technology will be able to provide solutions for problems such as these. Nevertheless, people can attempt to do strange things with rental cars Antoine knows from Hans Werner, who has considerable experience in the business.
The main problem with starting such a company is the software that needs to be put into the cars. On Terschelling there is also the problem of mobile connection. Some parts of the island have no mobile coverage. On Texel this problem does not exist however.
When enough cars will be available, Antoine thinks that Texelaars will use this system and that tourists will try them out. Cars are very popular, the main question is: who is willing to do the initial investment? Antoine has calculated that about 100 cars are needed on Texel to make this a successful initiative.
When asked after other possible initiatives like package drones or hydrogen cars Antoine states that hydrogen is a hoax in his eyes. The technology is far behind when compared to electric cars, which also boast the first mover advantage in the field of cleaner transport alternatives.
When looking forward to 2020, Antoine thinks that the amount of electric cars will increase a lot. The population of Texel is aging, younger people often leave the island. The total population will therefore decrease in the coming years and with them the distance travelled on the island. What is considered as a small distance on the mainland is quite a trip on Texel. Some people from De Cocksdorp are never in Den Burgh because it’s on the other side of the island. So people don’t travel often but when they do, it’s just a small trip. This makes Texel ideal for electric cars because the limited range is no issue on Texel.
Antoine thinks that the municipality can enforce or change regulations, to stimulate electric driving. However, to think that all cars have to be electric, or that fuel cars will be banned from the island, or parts of the island, is unrealistic. That would harm tourism to much. Most families own a MPV or a SUV and there are no affordable electric solutions in these car segments yet. But nonetheless, electric driving will become popular if the regulation and possibilities that facilitate electric driving will come into place.
Getting things done
One important issue that was stressed from the beginning of the course is the possible resistance to change from the Texelaars. We asked Antoine what his experience is on this subject. He thinks that it is all about respect and striking the right chord. Most changes on Texel are initiated by people from the mainland, ‘outsiders’ according to the Texelaars. The Texelaars are open to change, but it is important that the outsiders respect their ways. Money is even a of secundary importance, the respect for their lifestyle is primary.
One of our ideas is to use local people as policy entrepreneurs, local people that have a leading role in society and that can inspire other people. We asked Toine who he would find suited to fulfill such a function. These were the people that Antoine mentioned:
- Mark van Rijsselberghe: father of the olympic medallist Dorian van Rijsselberghe and already a policy entrepreneur in the field of saline agriculture. This man has no links to any political parties and therefore has a lot of freedom.
- Jacco Dros: from ZO Texel, an organisation that aims to give a new twist to tourism on the island. This party really has a different view according to Antoine.
- Maarten Drijver: a fisher who has experience in lobbying. He successfully introduced pulse fishery, a way of fishing that saves about 35% of diesel and reduces bycatch. Because the engines are no longer required to run at full throttle during fishing, the ships are fueled with a cleaner diesel. This diesel contains less oil because the engines require less lubrication. The combinations of these measures reduces CO2 emissions a lot.
- Gijs Berger: has worked a lot on the mainland, but is currently involved in the Texel energy corporation. One of his projects is the solar field mentioned before.
- Urgenda: Antoine explains that his organisation has a lot of contacts on different places on Texel.
Before thinking about introducing new kind of transporation systems, the necessary underlying energy system should be in place. Currently Texel is still heavily depending on energy from the mainland. By deploying a combination of wind and solar energy, Texel could become a lot more energy neutral already on the short term, such as the year 2020. New transportation systems such electric rental cars can then be applied on top of this clean energy system, which should be able to provide sufficient energy all year round. In order to create a behavioural change among the Texelaars, four things are needed:
- Further development of sustainable technologies;
- Local Texelaars or mainlanders that are willing tot take the entrepreneurial risk of deploying this new technology on the island;
- Local regulations paving the way for the Texelaars to adopt these new technologies;
- Local policy entrepreneurs that want to take the role of innovators or early adopters, meaning that they adopt as one of the first ones the new technology and actively promote its use.
When these 4 prerequisites are in place, Texel makes a good chance to rapidly transition to a more sustainable mobility system.
Hans Werner from Skylche e-auto
During our interview with Antoine Maartens, mister Maartens mentioned Hans Werner as an interesting sustainable entrepreneur who has recently started a car sharing business with electric vehicles on the island of Terschelling. We contacted him to find out more about his experiences.
Hans Werner has his fair share of experience in the car rental/business. He is a former member of the board of directors of KAV car rental. Connect Car is a department of KAV which is operating in the car sharing industry. In his time at KAV and connect car, mister Werner had some unpleasant experiences with car sharing. After a talk with Robert Henrich, CEO of Amsterdam based car sharing company Car2Go, mister Werner started brainstorming about possible alternatives that could make car sharing with electrical vehicles work. He started thinking about the main disadvantages of car sharing (criminality) and electrical vehicles (range) and started thinking about locations where these disadvantages could be neutralised. He soon came to the conclusion that this location should be an island. The range no longer plays a major role, because distances on an island are small. There is less criminality on an island like Terschelling. The water surrounding the island creates a natural border around the island and prevents the cars from leaving the island and the amount of social control is high, which keeps people on the right track. Besides that mister Werner found out that the price of mobility on an island is shockingly high compared to the mainland. A car sharing business has something to offer to the consumer on the island because it can save them a lot of money.
According to mister Werner sustainability is very important to the people of Terschelling. The inhabitants are proud of their island. It has some beautiful nature areas, which the inhabitants want to preserve. Nature is also important for the local economy because it is one of the major reasons that tourists are drawn to the island. On the other hand do the people of Terschelling fit in the Dutch money saving stereotype. Sustainability is important, but it should not come at a higher price. The business of mister Werner fulfils this demand. The slogan of the company is: more mobility for islanders, at lower cost. This is the mind-set on which the company is based. This company combines the sustainable desire of the island with an attractive offer. According to mister Werner the company is not just a nice story, he really has something to offer to the people of Terschelling and to the sustainability ambition of the island itself.
The service is originally targeted towards the people of the island, but also open for visitors of the island. Everyone who wants to use these cars can apply. In fact, tourists are eventually needed to make the company a success. The company is able to continuously monitor the occupancy of the cars. Mister Werner indicates that the company will make sure that the occupancy from tourists doesn’t prevent island inhabitants to use the service. This however is not yet the case and the company is still considering different possibilities on how to handle this in the future. One possibility is to limit the amount of tourists that receive a password on a monthly basis.
Initially the inhabitants received the service with a lot of scepticism. Fortunately for mister Werner this scepticism rapidly transformed into enthusiasm. The service has been released 9 weeks ago and already has 1025 subscribers. It is safe to say that the people of Terschelling have quickly embraced the service.
Before the company was launched, a feasibility study was conducted, which gained a lot of publicity. In this study the participants were presented with a calculation of the price of owning a car versus a subscription to a car sharing service. Already with 5000 annual kilometres it can easily be shown that car sharing is cheaper on the island. With a small Korean car it is possible to drive up to 37 hours per month. Since the island is small, almost no one on Terschelling reaches this number. Next to this feasibility study, four cars were placed on the island for a few months for the people to try them out free of charge. This turned out to be a success. When eventually the subscriptions were opened the company added one week of free driving to the subscribers. This has significantly boosted the amount of subscriptions, but the largest amount of subscriptions came in after the service was available for a few weeks.
Ever since the release mister Werner has been receiving a lot of positive feedback. Some people have even indicated to sell their (second) car. This was also one of the outcomes of the feasibility study. Of the participants, 17% indicated that they were willing to sell their secondary, or even primary vehicle. This number provided mister Werner with a good argument against critics who stated that 100 vehicles were added to the total amount on the island. This number shows that the amount of cars will in fact decrease with 240.
The first goal of the company is to survive this winter and to make the system work completely flawless. Thereafter a logical next step would be to expand the company to other islands, like Texel. Mister Werner already has established contact with the municipality of Texel.
There are a number of islands between Den Helder and Denmark. On some of those islands the service could easily be copied, other islands however are different, and those islands will need a tailored approach. On some islands, research into the local infrastructure will be needed. Texel is one of those islands. Mister Werner is willing to investigate, but only wants to launch on other islands when he is possible to live up to the promise of sustainable and cheaper mobility. According to mister Werner there are too many initiatives in the Netherlands that can’t live up to this promise at the moment and he is not willing to be one of them. Mister Werner stresses that trust is a very important matter. When you want to offer people a new way of mobility, these people must be able to trust you. Mobility is very important to all people and is therefore a matter that should be carefully handled.
As a final advice mister Werner points out that he thinks that sustainable initiatives in the Netherlands need more decisiveness. He sees a lot of initiatives that lack a proper business case. Often large claims are followed with limited actions. A frequent problem is that these initiatives lack feasibility calculations and that halfway through the project extra finance is needed. According to mister Werner initiatives should first be thoroughly thought through and proven to be effective before large claims are made.
Pieter de Vries from Gemeente Texel
As part of our field trip to experience the mobility on Texel, we arranged an interview with Pieter de Vries. He is a civil servant of the municipality of Texel and primarily assigned with projects on sustainability. The focus of this interview is on the new Texelhopper service, which at the time of the interview had been implemented for just a few weeks.
Mister De Vries started off with explaining how the project was created. The Province of North-Holland initiated it because the province is responsible for public transport all around the province. At the same time a project group on Texel itself was planning to revise public transport. There certainly was room for improvement within the public transport system. A lot of people were not served by the old bus service (line 29) that would circle around the island. Some trips would take such a long time that it was no longer feasible to use the public transport. Occupancy was also very low on this line. Actually the line was on top of the to-be-terminated list. So both the province and the people on Texel desired a new way of public transport on the island. The project group in the end came up with a concept that combines public transport and taxi’s and eventually the project evolved into its current state.
When asked about the first local reactions mister De Vries explains that initially the project had to cope with a lot of resistance. According to him the underlying reason for this protest is resistance to change, but the main mistake that was made was that the wrong information was communicated in the early stage of the project. The municipality and the province had to decide on the financial aspect in a public meeting. This was in the early stage of the project and details were not yet known at the time of the meeting.
The first media coverage also was not communicated by the municipality but by the chauffeur of the old bus line who was afraid to loose his routine or even his job. This negative coverage made sure that the municipality was lagging behind the opposition and this is far from ideal in a decision making situation. On top of that a few people started a campaign on social media to protest against the closing down of line 29. This caused a lot of noise on the island as well. According to mister De Vries, the majority of the Texelaars had a wait-and-see mentality concerning the issue. Since these people don’t have the incentive to seek media attention, the emphasis soon was with the protest. This lead to a lot of political discussions. It also is a very difficult project. The province is responsible, Connexxion is the tenderer, and the local authorities need to convince the people of Texel. And there are more actors with influence like the national government and TESO. However, since the service has been introduced a change towards more positive feedback and media coverage can be observed.
When asked about the fact that it is not yet possible to use the OV chipcard mister De Vries indicates that the idea was to make a stand-alone system. This system should include a card system but there would also be a possibility to check in with a smartphone connected to the internet.
Currently users can pay by opening the app with their smartphone, reserve a ride and than use ideal or a credit card. Paper tickets are also available at supermarkets and hotels. A third option is the personalized Texelhopper card, which is available for free as well. The rides are billed on a monthly basis when using this card. Up to this point 1100 people (10% of the total population) own a card.
The service is conducted with four dedicated minivans each with a capacity of eight passengers. When needed during peak times, 25-30 vehicles are available, including large city busses for large groups. The initial idea was that the dedicated busses should be electric in order to immediately start reducing the carbon footprint. Unfortunately it turned out that charging is a problem. This would require more busses, because a part of them would permanently be charging. Combined with the higher price, the use of electric busses would have raised the cost of the project a lot. Therefore the municipality decided to start the service with regular petrol busses. The service still has the potential to be more sustainable because it can reduce the use of cars on the island. It should be more attractive to use a Texelhopper than it is to use a car. The life expectancy for the busses is not yet known. The project currently is a two year pilot and will be evaluated after that time period. The busses currently run on time in 97% of all trips.
The Texelhopper operates according to the times of the ferry. It starts with the departure of the first boat and terminates after the arrival of the last one. This is a huge improvement because the other bus used to terminate its service at 18:00. In a control room a large screen shows all bookings and predictions of occupancy. The system of course still is a work in progress.
The biggest cost at this moment is personnel. Therefore we asked mister De Vries what he thinks of our driverless vehicle initiative. Could this eventually take over a service like Texelhopper? According to mister De Vries it could be, but there are many constraints. ”But in the long term? Who knows! Why not?” Texel is really willing to be a pilot island and it is an ideal location because of its unity and visibility. But the social function of the driver should also certainly not be forgotten
According to our research the busses should have been fitted with bike racks. It is at this moment still a wish and not yet implemented. Mister De Vries appoints that it would be ideal to take the bus against the wind and than bike back or the other way around.
When discussing the future of the program mister De Vries indicates that the first goal is to improve and fine tune the system. When the success is proven a next step could be to decrease price, or even make the service available for free. The money to finance this could possibly come from the taxation of other forms of mobility. The Texel vignette system could for instance be expanded. It now allows people to park in selected areas for the entire year at a price of €15. This system can be expanded to other villages as well. But mister De Vries emphasises that this is just one possibility and that we should not take for granted that this will be the implemented solution. There are a lot of possibilities available.
According to mister De Vries the cost is mainly depending on the occupancy. A comparison with the old system has not yet been made. The cost of the new system was higher but it also creates more jobs and serves more people. The average occupancy should be four passengers in order to reach the break-even point. Texelhopper receives subsidies from the government as well.