A ‘quid pro quo’ approach could hold the key to reshaping city mobility

For decades the daily commute has been spent in gridlocked traffic, crowded buses and cluttered train cabins, but that could change if public and private players are willing to scratch each other’s backs. By Jack Hunsley

The potential benefits of the connected, autonomous, shared and electric (CASE) vehicle megatrends are well discussed. Greater connectivity could allow workers to access their latest projects from the cloud and connect to conference calls on the go. Autonomy could be used to create a seamless, conveyor belt-like mobility network. Shared services could remove the need for private vehicle ownership by eliminating the single occupancy vehicle, while electrification could yet go some way in aiding the battle against climate change.

However, possibility and reality are two very different concepts. Even if the CASE trends look set to profoundly change city mobility, it remains unclear exactly how this future will be moulded.

A future shaped city by city

An important point to recognise is that the CASE trends will have a significantly different impact on a regional basis. Embracing the future of mobility is unlikely to be achieved with a single sweeping effort, as Tom Mayor, a Partner at KPMG and the consultancy’s Industrial Manufacturing Strategy Practice Leader, noted at this year’s M:bility | Detroit conference, a two-day event hosted by Automotive World.

“This future will be shaped city by city, as living and commuting patterns are very different,” said Mayor. For example, in 2018 KPMG tracked 500,000 mobile phones in Chicago and about 400,000 in Atlanta during the morning commute. In Chicago, there were many five to ten-minute journeys, with few people going from the exterior tollway into the city unless they were on a train. Atlanta was very different due to its spread-out suburbs, and thus most of the traffic was from suburb to city.

This future is going to be shaped city by city as living and commuting patterns are very different

As Mayor explained, the suburb to city commute in Atlanta means it is likely to require different forms of mobility services. Even if the underlying technologies used in Chicago and Atlanta are the same, a shared, autonomous pod designed for short inner-city commutes is unlikely to fulfil the needs of a commuter in Atlanta, who may end up spending upwards of an hour in traffic. Likewise, a vehicle designed for an Atlanta commute with greater connectivity, space and comfort could prove cumbersome and surplus to requirements in Chicago. “Cities are going to require different vehicles. That is going to lead to a whole different set of ideas,” added Mayor.

Vehicle miles travelled

While the end result may vary, the initial challenge is the same. As Mayor noted, even by KPMG’s most conservative estimates, by 2040 there will be half a trillion more vehicle miles travelled in the US alone, facilitated largely by greater levels of shared mobility.

“The biggest lever we have in CASE is sharing,” said Justin Holmes, Director of Corporate Communications and Public Policy at Zipcar. “If you picture a street congested with vehicles today and then fast forward to a street with electric vehicles (EVs), they look quite the same. Likewise, with connected and autonomous the picture is still uncertain. If today the most popular mode of transportation is single occupancy vehicles, in the future it could be zero occupancy vehicles.”

As Holmes continued, while connected, autonomous and electric mobility have huge roles to play in the future, their potential will only really be unlocked if shared mobility is truly embraced. In order to achieve this, he stressed the need for companies and governments to offer incentives. “We see a combination of price incentives, and more importantly, the implementation of the right policy levers,” he added. “It may be in the short term that tech providers lead in this future, but the ultimate winners will be cities. What we’re starting to see is that the smart tech operators are beginning to think about that future now—a world where mobility services aren’t necessarily just services to be regulated, but where the government and the private sector can partner together to deliver more solutions.”

If today the most popular mode of transportation is single occupancy vehicles, in the future it could be zero occupancy vehicles

In such a future, the role of the automotive industry will be to provide the platforms and technology. In return, governments will open the door for pilot schemes and proof of concepts that would allow both parties to learn together.

Changing ways

In many ways, this approach is at odds with how the automotive industry has worked with governments previously. As Devin Patel, Vice President of Business Development at Passport, highlighted, the origin of Uber is an example of which automotive should aim to avoid going forward. “When Uber entered the market they came in with a motto of ‘do not ask for permission, ask for forgiveness’,” he said. “In today’s ecosystem, you are seeing new positions being created within the government specifically to focus on how to integrate with new tech providers, as governments do not move as quickly as these companies.”

This growing interest in integrating with the automotive industry comes as a double-edged sword, however. While governments are beginning to increase their understanding of the CASE trends, it is important to stem enthusiasm where necessary. Here, autonomous driving is an excellent example. “All the discussions around automation have made city mayors interested in mobility solutions, which is a fantastic opportunity. The downside is that for some people this can be a distraction,” said Holmes.

“Shared is a huge component of this,” added Patel. “People keep saying that autonomous will solve this and that, but the real way to solve congestion is with shared autonomous vehicles.”

All the discussions around automation have made city mayors interested in mobility solutions, which is a fantastic opportunity. The downside is that for some people that can be a distraction

In short, it is important for cities and automotive players to understand that the CASE trends must be given equal attention to maximise their overall potential. While viewing any of the trends in isolation could help solve certain use cases in the short term, in the long term this approach could prove troublesome.

Room for the old world

Even if the CASE trends can revolutionise mobility, this does not mean that the old world should be totally scrapped. In many cases, it is important to approach new mobility options with an ‘if it is not broken, do not fix it’ mentality. One example here is that of mass transit, which Holmes described as the backbone of any shared mobility solution. “None of us here as mobility providers and operators want to compete against the efficiency and scale that public transportation can offer,” he added.

Tweaks can already be made today in urban planning, explained Lisa Niscoromni, General Motors’ Manager of Local Government Relations.“We are already seeing many changes to zoning regulations that are removing the off-street parking requirements for developers. That has made investing—and especially affordable housing in urban areas—more palatable, because those parking spaces cost a lot of money,” she said. “In many occasions now, we can partner with private property owners as they no longer need to have 1.25 parking spaces per unit and instead would rather invest in five spaces for shared vehicles.”

None of us here as mobility providers and operators want to compete against the efficiency and scale that public transportation can offer

This concept of good land planning is also applicable to dense urban environments. For example, Zipcar this year began working with New York City. As part of the tie-up, Mayor Bill de Blasio has offered the company strategically placed real estate so it can be used as public parking locations. “For emphasis, this is some of the world’s most valuable real estate,” said Holmes. “But Mayor de Blasio believed—as we do—that in order to accelerate this future of more shared mobility solutions, we need to leverage that real estate in more efficient use cases.”

In return for prime real estate, Zipcar is offering insight and data to the city of New York, which will help it evaluate the success of the programme and showcase whether Zipcar can offer a solution that could persuade New Yorkers away from private vehicle ownership.

This quid pro quo could hold the key in transforming city mobility. Just as major automakers are likely to struggle in juggling all of the CASE trends at once, adapting city mobility networks for this future appears a task too large for any one entity to master alone. “We need to remember that many of our customers are the same,” said Niscoromni. “City customers are looking to optimise that quality of life and we want to optimise our customers’ experiences and goals.”

This article appeared in the Q3 2019 issue of M:bility | Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.

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