Mobility Changes at the Erkner Junction? Citizens’ Perspectives on Tesla and Traffic
Mobility Changes at the Erkner Junction? Citizens’ Perspectives on Tesla and Traffic

Mobility Changes at the Erkner Junction? Citizens’ Perspectives on Tesla and Traffic

by Ann Katzinski

Abstract This study investigates the perceived role of the Tesla factory in Grünheide on the mobility dynamics at the Erkner junction since its opening, using post-critically reflected Vox-Pop interviews. The main research interest is to capture the perceptions and evaluations of citizens to gain a better understanding of a) the changes in local infrastructure and b) the roles played by Tesla, railway companies, and governmental institutions. The key findings indicate that citizens perceive the changes and issues not solely as attributable to Tesla. Passenger fluctuations are also associated with COVID-19 or the 9 Euro and 49 Euro tickets, and problems arise mainly when railway companies fail to communicate delays and cancellations (digitally). Responsibility for stabilising rail traffic and communication paths is met with a shrug. This is presumably a consequence of my overly open and complex questioning.

In March 2022, the Tesla factory opened in Grünheide, Brandenburg.[i] With an initial workforce of 12,500, now reduced to 11,800, the factory has significant impacts on local infrastructure and traffic.[ii] Despite recent layoffs due to sales difficulties, further expansion of the factory is planned.[iii] This expansion could increase traffic load, especially concerning truck and freight traffic, without much consideration for the citizens.[iv] Since September 2023, Tesla has introduced its own shuttle service from Erkner to reduce local bus traffic.[v] These changes indicate a shift in mobility dynamics, which I have examined in this study.

As a result, my main interest was to give space to the opinions and perceptions of many citizens on the topic and to gather initial impulses for more in-depth scientific research in this area. This study is driven by the assumption to explore the changes in infrastructure and the interest in testing a new research method suitable for this purpose.

Under the overarching research question: “What role has the Tesla factory in Grünheide played in the perceived changes in mobility dynamics at the Erkner junction since its construction?” the aim is to capture citizens’ neutral opinions on traffic changes, responsibilities and potential improvements. The study aligns with the VISION research project by similarly trying to capture the perceptions of local people through vox pop to get a comprehensive picture of infrastructural changes caused by Tesla and its influence in these European regions.

The choice of vox pop, also called “Man on the street interviews”, which are well known in journalism and television, makes it possible to capture a random and diverse picture of opinions and sentiments.[vi] For this purpose, many short individual interviews, one to two minutes long, with two to five predetermined questions, were conducted. The approach was made directly on the street or, in this case, directly on the S-Bahn 3 and the RE 1 between Erkner and the next major transfer point towards Berlin, Ostkreuz. The interviews were conducted on 8 November 2023, during rush hour, which is characterised on the RE 1 by a higher frequency with three trains per hour.[vii]       

From initial assumptions to sharing the results          

Before the interviews, I expected that the RE 1 trains would be significantly fuller and that many commuters would express a desire for more trains. Additionally, I assumed that many would see Tesla as a responsible entity for improving the mobility infrastructure.

To check this assumption, I prepared a folder with information sheets about the study as part of the research seminar, as well as a sheet with data protection and data processing information to approach the individuals. I also printed a name badge with my full name and institution. To avoid immediate rejection, I tried the following direct approach on the trains:

“Excuse me for the brief interruption. I am conducting a study on (topic) as part of (seminar, institute) and would like to speak with you for 1-2 minutes. If you would like more information beforehand, I also have an information sheet for you. (…)”.

Despite initial scepticism, especially regarding the stated length of one to two minutes, the feedback was 50:50, though always positive after conducting the interviews. There was also general interest in the topic among those listening, sitting and standing nearby. The short interviews were recorded with a voice recorder after obtaining verbal consent otherwise, I took notes. At the end, I offered the interviewed persons a moment for further thoughts on the topic or feedback, which was rarely used and is methodologically likely overdue.

Due to the short travel time, only two interviews could be conducted on average, partly because preparation and follow-up were important parts of the process. On average, about every second person approached agreed to the short interview. A total of 37 people were interviewed, most of whom were interested in the results. Since I did not have access to the blog at that time, nor could I mention it on my information sheet, I referred to my contact details on the sheet so that I could inform them via email after publication. But this presents a significant challenge: by sending me an email, they would completely lose their anonymity.

Considerations on neutrality and question focus 

Since the sampling itself only involved approaching people on the train, I tried to include a variety of outwardly different individuals (based on perceived gender, clothing, and assumed age) with each approach. However, I couldn’t initially determine how long and to what extent they had experience with commuting. Is my question about the commuting route sufficiently justifiable with this reasoning? Would there have been other interesting and ethically acceptable sociodemographic questions?

I also considered whether I should have framed my questions more provocatively and specifically towards Tesla within this method. While this maintained the neutrality of the investigation, kept me more in the background and allowed me to explore additional factors that could have influenced mobility dynamics, I received relatively few impressions and opinions about the impact of the Tesla factory. Moreover, the question about who was responsible for solutions often led to uninformed shoulder-shrugging, suggesting that the question might have been too complex for this method.

Potential and challenges of the vox pop 

In my opinion, this method offers even more leeway to tease out opinions and moods, depending not only on what might be perceived as my very ‘scientific demeanour’ but also on the specifics of the questions asked. Moreover, while it doesn’t provide a representative picture, it captures a broad spectrum of opinions and thrives on its ephemeral nature, allowing engagement with new individuals in public spaces. I’m thinking of individuals for whom household surveys are too personal, interviews too lengthy, or who lack access to digital tools and online surveys. The direct approach also comes across as more authentic compared to phone surveys (CATI). Additionally, the method allows for location-specific targeting, which was crucial for my study at the Erkner junction, enabling the identification of perceived problem areas in a concrete manner.

Complex factors of mobility dynamics 

It was repeatedly mentioned that the mobility dynamics in the past two years seem influenced by several factors: the opening of the Tesla factory, the COVID-19 pandemic, increased remote working, and the introduction of the 9 Euro and 49 Euro tickets. Overall, the burden on train routes does not seem solely increased by the Tesla factory; the main issues reflected are the cancellations and communication problems with the railway companies. Some see the railway companies as responsible for more reliable, faster and possibly digitised communication, but the responsibility for cancellations and process improvements remains unclear. Perhaps politics, or maybe the tracks and old switches cannot handle more.

Explorative insights and impulses for further research 

Regarding the original research question, it can be concluded that, in the respondents’ overall perception of the Erkner junction, the Tesla factory does not have a sole influence on the mobility dynamics, nor is Tesla seen as the problem or responsible entity in this context.Thus, the study offers initial exploratory insights into the mobility dynamics at the Erkner junction and the citizens’ perceptions, potentially encouraging further research. Interesting follow-ups could include analysing timetable changes, discussions with railway company representatives, or reviewing changes in passenger numbers collected by ODEG. For me, the vox pop method remains a preliminary approach to capturing a wide range of sentiments, useful for exploratory work in a scientific field. However, it necessitates methodologies that can delve deeper into specific themes and/or achieve a representative character in contrast to this method. In any case, through executing the method, reflecting on it and participating in the course, I have become more sensitive to my methodological craft and have sharpened my focus on the interplay of targeted interview questions in relation to the research question.

This blog post was translated from German to British English paragraph by paragraph using DeepL and ChatGPT, trial version 4.0., and then revised.[1]
This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.

[1] The ChatGPT prompt was „Bitte übersetze mir folgenden Text ins britische Englisch“; translated: „please translate the following text to British English“.

[i] (last accessed: 29.05.2024)

[ii],Beschäftigten%20von%2012.500%20auf%2011.800. (last accessed: 29.05.2024)

[iii] (last accessed: 29.05.2024)

[iv] (last accessed: 29.05.2024)

[v] (last accessed: 29.05.2024)

[vi] La Roche, W., & Buchholz, A. (Hrsg.). (2013). Umfrage/ Vox Pop. In: W. La Roche & A. Buchholz (Eds.), Radio-Journalismus, Journalistische Praxis (S. 91–101). Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.

[vii] (last accessed: 29.05.2024)