Forecasting the future of mobility is inherently tricky when considering the raft of hypotheticals that come with it. How will solutions to road safety, emissions, accessibility, affordability and countless other factors be taken into account? When will they be implemented, who will pay for them, and how can those investments be reclaimed?
The simplest solutions often prove to be the best. Connected, autonomous, shared and electric (CASE) vehicles remain at the forefront of the automotive industry’s aspirations, but budding partnerships with public entities have highlighted that more readily available solutions are lurking in plain sight.
City buses, for example, are relatively inexpensive to operate; cater to both inner-city and outer-suburb travel; meet the needs of those with disabilities; and tickets come cheap. Throw in the element of a zero emissions powertrain, and that’s the ‘environmentally friendly’ base covered as well.
Getting to work costs money, and research has found that mobility plays a key role in attracting, and retaining, talent
Mobility solutions also need to take into account the most common trips taken by most citizens: the commute. Getting to work costs money, and research has found that mobility plays a key role in attracting, and retaining, talent. In fact, mobility is a key indicator to a city’s economic success—transportation networks that work well can enhance growth and improve quality of life.
The concept of future mobility is also punctuated with the idea that autonomous vehicles could be an additional living space, supplementing the home and, for those that have one, the office. Autonomous shuttles could even become a restaurant on wheels, according to Michigan-based start-up May Mobility. But however exciting these services may prove to be—and however profitable—they do not solve the issue of mobility; they add to it. With roads already stretched to the limit during peak hours, such business models would do little to alleviate congestion.
Future mobility requires a pragmatic approach. Complex solutions may bring significant benefits, but a fleet of robo-taxis may not be the answer when a simple expansion of public transit could solve many of the pain points facing urban dwellers. The industry certainly appears to have tempered its view on autonomous driving; while the hunger for coast-to-coast technology holds strong, many recognise that a long wait is in store. On-demand shuttles operating within underserved neighbourhoods, with the needs of all riders in mind, present a more realistic opportunity with distinct mobility benefits.
Buzzwords remain part and parcel of the future mobility conversation today, but an unmistakable air of pragmatism is washing through the automotive industry
In the meantime, micro-mobility solutions are already growing in popularity; e-scooters in the US, electric mopeds in Europe and pedal-assist bicycles globally. Early investments from today’s automotive giants into such solutions appeared bizarre, but they do make sense. Low-cost, easy to use and zero emissions—they certainly tick the right boxes. Revenue can be sourced continuously and, in combination with other mobility services such as ride-sharing, curate the desired image of an end-to-end ‘mobility provider’.
Buzzwords remain part and parcel of the future mobility conversation today, but an unmistakable air of pragmatism is washing through the automotive industry. In years gone by, the rhetoric has been that autonomous and electric is the only way, with such solutions just around the corner. That idea remains, but bullish enthusiasm has largely been replaced by level-headed optimism.
Freddie Holmes is the editor of Automotive World’s M:bility | Magazine
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This article was featured in our March 2019 special report, ‘Special report: M:bility | Detroit – key takeaways‘, which is now available for download.