What if Mobility becomes a service, but nobody gets on board?

Shift Mobility
Sep 10 · 4 min read
Boyd Cohen, Owen Gaffney, Venkat Sumantran and Harald Welzer discuss how society can adapt to changing mobility landscapes

The public acceptance of new mobility solutions has been a hot topic at Shift Automotive, the two-day convention exploring the future of mobility. Held at IFA Berlin, in partnership with the Geneva International Motor Show, the morning of the first day was all about the challenge of getting drivers and passengers on board with the automotive future.

Everybody agrees: The way we live, work and drive is about to change fundamentally. Congested cities, the need to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, new technologies — they are all drivers of change. When it comes to agreeing on solutions, however, things get somewhat trickier. Some of the technological solutions are obvious: electric vehicles and autonomous driving top the lists of most experts. Experts, however, discuss other solutions just as much, from discouraging private car ownership, to persuading people to opt for ride-sharing and car-sharing services instead. Just as important are mobility-as-a-service concepts, which integrate all modes of transport to the point where a traditional bus and metro map with fixed starting and end points become unnecessary. As Boyd Cohen, the CEO of Iomob put it to the Shift audience: “the mobility landscape has changed forever,” because we now realise that “cities are for people, not cars”.

This future of mobility, however, lacks one vital ingredient: public acceptance. Electric vehicles arguably will have it the easiest, despite the ever-present range anxiety. Autonomous vehicles present much more of a challenge, with — for example — more than 70 per cent of Americans saying that they would not want to get into a self-driving vehicle.

People don’t act on data

What might be an even bigger challenge, however, is to get both drivers and passengers to buy into truly integrated transport solutions, whether they offer mobility-as-a-service (a subscription to a certain level of transport experience) or integrated transport solutions that mix public and private transport. “People don’t act on data, but feelings, emotions and personal experience,” says Harold Welzer, a social psychologist and director of Futurzwei. If they have grown up in a car society, they are less likely to give up on it.

As with all transport, convenience and compatibility are key. Take Madrid, for example, where 18 companies are licensed to offer shared electric scooter services, says Cohen. Either there is a winner takes all, where market fragmentation limits acceptance, or there is a mobility-as-a-service solution that integrates them all. After all, which person is prepared to download and manage 18 scooter apps?

Many of these transport solutions are a good fit for urban settings only, because to work, they need to be close together. It means that we might face another urban-rural divide, even though by 2050, four out of six people in the world are expected to live in big cities, argues Venkat Sumantran, the chairman of Celeris Technologies and former CEO of Tata Motors.

But can drivers be persuaded to let go of their beloved car? Sumantran believes that social change is ahead and that our love for digital devices will persuade us to swap our love for cars with digitally powered transport experiences. The benefits are obvious: New York, for example, is one of the North American cities with the lowest level of carbon emissions per citizen, because of the heavy use of public mass transport.

A trillion dollar market

A key part of the solution will be micromobility as the starting point for a “multi-modal”, mobility-as-a-service world, says Cohen. Electric kick scooters, have the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life in cities — provided users don’t start littering roads and sidewalks with discarded shared electric scooters and bicycles.

Across all transport modes, mobility-as-a-service could be a trillion dollar market by 2030, says Boyd, provided there is a deep enough integration across the whole range of solutions — from scooters to trams to peer-to-peer car sharing — regardless of who the provider is. Helping to drive this kind of change are organisations like the Open Mobility Foundation, which brings together municipalities around the world to agree on standards. Whether it is cities or car manufacturers, to make it work, says Sumantran, cities and transport providers need a CHIP approach — with solutions that are Connected, Heterogenous across many transport modes, Intelligent and Personalized.

The starting point, however, have to be local governments “using data to really understand what’s happening in their cities,” because “new mobility solutions — from scooters to car sharing — will not solve their mobility problems,” says Christof Schminke, managing director of Trafi.

The Climate Clock is ticking

While acceptance of new transport solutions may be slow, Earth may not give us enough time for incremental change, warns Owen Gaffney of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research: “With our global climate we are at a tipping point for Earth that might tip us into the abyss in just a few decades.” To survive, we “have to cut carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2030,” which according to Gaffney is achievable if action happens across all sectors — from transport to food production.

The problem, says Welzer, is that people are conditioned to expect growth and wealth, which is incompatible with the resources available to us: “An electric car or autonomous car is not disruptive at all. We have to get rid of cars. Cars are features of the 20th century.”

“Future,” argues Welzer, “is not scaling up the present, but to do something completely different, and that’s a challenging task.”

Shift Mobility

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A festival of global insights and ideas that explores how new automotive technology will change the way we think, live and drive. Visit us at: bit.ly/2RoFrO6

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