This article is part of the special topic "Future Mobility".

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Rideshare company Lyft describes temselves as "Your friend with a car, whenever you need one."
Rideshare company Lyft describes temselves as "Your friend with a car, whenever you need one."
( Bild: Lyft)

Future Mobility Analysis of Reuters Events Mobility Report: How do we get mobility right?

Author / Editor: Cate Lawrence / Erika Granath

Mobility is an ever-evolving space with innovation bringing new technology, new business models and new social norms for how we move about cities. But with an influx in nascent technology, how do we evaluate the effectiveness of the efforts of micromobility startups, OEMs and governments alike, and how do we create meaningful partnerships that put citizens first?

Reuters Events recently released a whitepaper Getting Mobility Right: What Will it Take. Its insights include interviews as part of the US Impact>Mobility conference proceedings late last year. At a time when our ability to attend conferences is limited to the virtual for the unforeseen future, the whitepaper offers a detailed analysis of the themes, trends, successes, and concerns of the mobility space; from micromobility startups to tech providers, local government, and OEMs.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has attended many conferences flush with hyperbole and shilling. By comparison, Impact>Mobility suggests a solutions-focused sector where 3Ps (public-private partnerships) are paramount and there's plentiful discussion of location mobility solutions including the failures, learnings, and future goals. Here are some of the key insights:

Mobility is not just about transport

Chuck Wemple, Executive Director of the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) said that a truly integrated mobility plan must encompass all of government and its services. He said: “Mobility doesn’t just belong in the Transportation Dept.”

H-GAC’s initiatives include a governmental cooperative purchasing program that recently procured autonomous shuttles, cooperation with agencies that serve aging populations, as well as public safety organizations overseeing transportation needs such as evacuation from floods.

Accelerators offer an incubator for testing new ideas

In Northern California, Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) created Civic Lab to provide a space for transportation technology and research, as well as to establish models for pilot testing and procurement that can be executed across cities and towns with varying budgets and infrastructure.

In three years, SACOG has launched 10 projects, including two autonomous shuttles, six micro-transit shuttles, and two congestion-relief projects.

Monica Hernandez, Director of Innovation and Partnerships at SACOG noted that part of their incubator was not only trying new solutions but new decision making. She shared: “Innovation is not just about new technology. Our board was ready to embrace risk. If we’re scaling all the pilots we develop in our region, we’re doing something wrong. Part of embracing risk is acknowledging that not everything will work,”

Mobility discussions need to include OEMs

As OEMs are transitioning from manufacturers to mobility service providers, they are also service providers in the B2B space. William Knapp, head of urban mobility concepts in the Americas for Daimler Mobility Services contends: “Probably in 15 years, you’ll see a different landscape about who is considered an OEM.”

Scott Belcher, president of SFB of Consulting asserted: “There’s a very real tension between OEMs producing new mobility services and tech companies doing it. Can OEMs survive in this world where change happens so quickly?”

Johannes Gruenenberg, sales and business development manager for the Americas and Oceania, INVERS, suggests that traditional OEMs can learn from the agility mindset of micromobility startups, sharing:

“The OEMs that are succeeding approach it more flexibly. They follow the tech approach of getting a minimum viable product to get out there and learning from it. To do this, he said, “They need technology partners to supply a flexible, modular platform.”

Mobility as a catalyst for social good

Smart mobility can also contribute to societal good in a number of ways:

Reduce traffic injuries and deaths and property damage

New York City is using data as part of its Vision Zero initiative. NYC implemented Vision Zero in 2014 and now reports a 28 percent reduction in traffic fatalities and a 45 percent reduction in pedestrian deaths. Nate Veeh, business development manager for Geotab, explained how data was able to provide key analytics to understanding traffic fatalities with software deployed with NYC police vehicles, allowing them to capture data on every road they drive. This lets cities find dangerous intersections so planners can mitigate the dangers, identify areas where traffic calming is necessary, and understand intersection throughput for traffic.

Equity in transportation

Toyota's stylish and eco-friendly Walking Area BEV (battery electric vehicle) is designed to help passengers move quickly around a city for that “last mile” of their commute.
Toyota's stylish and eco-friendly Walking Area BEV (battery electric vehicle) is designed to help passengers move quickly around a city for that “last mile” of their commute.
(Bild: Toyota)

Aside from not being able to own a car, many people are without credit cards or smartphones, and thus unable to access mobility services. Ray Traynor, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), is creating pilot programs for the City of Chula Vista to reach seniors in low-income communities who might not have smartphones, or who may be underbanked or unbanked. Call centers have been created for dispatching and cashboxes on board vehicles.

With many aging people and those with a disability often unable to access basic public transport due to a legacy inaccessible infrastructure, new solutions are called for. Nicola Dallatana, head of the new e-mobility division of Toyota Tsusho, showed several innovative Walking Area—small, slow-moving devices that can travel with pedestrians. Designed to be used in densely populated areas, they include sensors to automatically stop when they meet obstacles.

Much like smart cities, mobility is yet to hit its financial sweet spot

Despite goodwill and enthusiasm, speakers suggested that new commercial models and sustainable long-term business models for monetizing mobility services are yet to emerge. Mobility startups are keen to partner with government but are encumbered by slow decision-making and inscrutable procurement processes.

Columbus Ohio is the winner of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. They've created a plethora of partners and vendors including the Columbus Partnership, which now comprise more than 100 public, private, and academic organizations. The group realized that, if it couldn’t always support a vendor with funds, it could act as a partner in the marketplace, Davis said. For example, it collaborated with SHARE, a mobility provider focused on scheduled, recurring shared rides, for example, from employment centers.

Data is the glue that underpins decision making

long with an analysis of geospatial data of vehicles to reduce car accidents, data provides critical insights to guide town planning, inspire new business ideas and change business priorities. The pain point is, of course, integration and collaboration. Many cities are already operating with open data platforms. Then there are companies such as Moovit that generates its own data via crowdsourcing within its app. This has allowed the company to generate real-time mobility information even when cities refuse to share their data.

However, the power lies with integration such as vehicle-to-everything (V2X) data gathering from app usage as well as partnerships with fleets. Such data can deliver close-to-real-time information to solve traffic problems and improve public safety. The problems are not limited to cities—the City of Los Angeles is currently in a legal fight with Uber over its mobility data specification (MDS) that requires scooter providers to provide full trip data and the losers are the residents.

Business models are still evolving

While private mobility providers can currently coast on investor cash, they will only too soon face the challenge of ROI. In turn, public transport providers must work with limited, earmarked funds—and their funding is geared toward traditional services that often lose money. The ecosystem must move beyond pilots toward a scalable and profitable business model that benefits the public good, as well as private investment. To accomplish this, the kind of open and frank dialog that took place at Impact>Mobility must expand and continue.