Rapid urbanisation in recent decades has driven people closer to city centres, but many continue to live on the outskirts or even further afield in remote communities. Despite this, the subject of future mobility has been dominated by addressing the needs of city slickers; rural dwellers have experienced very little, if any, of the new mobility services being rolled out.
The emphasis being placed on urban mobility is understandable. Cities are bloating and roads that were once designed for horse and cart are struggling to cope with the high volume of today’s traffic. Things are only expected to worsen, with the vast majority of the global population expected to reside in urban areas in future.
Will MaaS become the new normal? In big cities: yes. In rural areas: not so much
Investments in technology and infrastructure also need to serve as many people as possible, and that naturally points toward deploying in a city. “Would I build up a business around the small number of people that live in rural areas around Oxford? No. I can see why the emphasis is on cities,” noted Morgan Holt, Chief Strategy Officer at brand consultancy Fitch, during M:bility | Europe, a two-day conference held in Stuttgart.
Cities are also heavily dictating the demand for electric vehicles (EVs), with free parking in some areas and greater access to charging stations. Earlier in July, the declaration of a ‘climate emergency’ in Paris further underlined that air pollution is becoming dangerously high. EVs are largely seen as an answer, but not for those with long commutes from the suburbs just yet.
At the same time, traffic congestion has led many to ditch car ownership altogether in favour of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) options. And not only with cars—e-scooters and pedal-assist bicycles are also on offer. But outside of the city, MaaS in any form could have a limited impact unless things change. Shared mobility here is more a case of borrowing the neighbour’s bike, and private car ownership is a given due to infrequent, unreliable or inconvenient public transit links.
According to Dr. Robert Schröder, Deputy Managing Director at Kantar Automotive, automakers in Europe generally derive around 40% of their sales from vehicles bought by city residents. With 60% of sales coming outside of cities, he suggested that private vehicle ownership will prevail in rural areas for some time to come. “Will MaaS become the new normal? In big cities: yes. In rural areas: not so much,” agreed Jacob Fellman, Associate at NGP Capital.
The emphasis on urban mobility is understandable. Cities are bloating and roads that were once designed for horse and cart are struggling to cope with today’s traffic
However, those that live out in the sticks should not be forgotten, and as things stand, they look set to be underserved. Benjamin Moncrieffe, Head of Auto+ at customer relationship agency C Space, observed that consumer demand is unlikely to change as rapidly outside cities, primarily due to the fact that cities will take the lion’s share of future mobility investments. “The infrastructure in rural areas will slowly improve, but nowhere near the rate that cities will,” he explained.
Relieving congestion, improving accessibility for marginalised members of society and reducing the number of road fatalities: that is the mantra of future mobility. However, it should not be exclusive to urban areas and the industry must not underserve the needs of those away from the concrete jungle.
This article was featured in Automotive World’s Special report: M:bility | Europe – key takeaways