Europeans are on the move! According to official figures, EU28 countries had an average of 342 passenger cars per thousand inhabitants in 1990. This increased steadily year-on-year, and by 2016 the number had reached 507 cars per thousand inhabitants. Across the same timeframe, the stock of registered buses and coaches in the EU increased from 740,300 to 849,600.
Globally, we have seen a huge increase in railway passengers. In the EU, the railways saw over 450 billion km travelled by passengers in 2016, up from 405.4 billion km in 1990. By measure of almost every conceivable data point, it is clear that transport and mobility has skyrocketed over the past 30 years.
We have now entered uncertain (yet exciting) times. Technological advancements are nothing new, and they constantly shape our society. Technology allows us to get from A to B, onwards to C, and back to A. But the pace of change is heightened, and the established structures are becoming more fluid. New players have entered the game, driven by the consumer demands of a service-centric era.
In this article, we interview Giuliano Mingardo, senior researcher at the Erasmus Centre for Urban, Port and Transport Economics. Giuliano specialises in parking policy and mobility management. Here he talks about the future of mobility, focusing on alternative vehicles, Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), and parking.
The mobility landscape
Before we explore the future, it’s important to understand where we are at the moment. What has contributed to our changing perceptions of how to move around?
Over the past decades, consumer mobility preferences have changed – like in many other fields. The way in which we move has adapted. We have different travel patterns, and these change daily and weekly. Fifty years ago, it was normal for people to just go from home to work. Now we have many other tasks; shopping, leisure, taking the kids to school, and more. It’s more complicated these days…
… The same person is doing different things every day. As a traveller, this means your needs change. Sometimes the car, sometimes the bus, and sometimes the train. Sometimes all of them. Sometimes you stay at home, sometimes you want to travel business class, and sometimes you go cheap!
CCV recently published an eBook about the opportunities of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), which also talked about increased flexibility for mass transit payments. In the eBook, we discuss the huge potential of user-friendly public transport. However, Giuliano has his doubts about “the ultimate form of MaaS”.
In some ways, I believe MaaS is a bit too hyped. There is a lot of pressure and hope placed on it, as if it will solve all of our problems. I think there’s an underestimation of people’s capacity. People aren’t stupid, and they don’t need an app for navigating to their local train station. You might need it when you’re somewhere unfamiliar and your car breaks down, but generally people know how to move themselves. An app definitely helps in some circumstances, but not for everything.
Even if the complete form of MaaS isn’t realistically needed, surely it’s hard to argue against the fact we’re creating more integrated methods of mobility, with technology at the core?
Yes, that’s true. However, the challenge is to move beyond local forms of MaaS. Firstly, there’s huge fragmentation in transport. Every city has its own public transport setup, with its own regulations and schemes. If moving from local to national and beyond, you don’t have two or three stakeholders – you have thousands. Every player has its own technology and platforms…
… You also have the problem of motivation and incentive. Who is responsible for scaling MaaS? Why should Helsinki help the rest of Finland, and why should Finland help Scandinavia and the rest of northern Europe? Technically, it’s not their problem. It might be the role of central government, but it’s more likely to involve private players. This is why you see the large car manufacturers such as BMW and Mercedes join forces and invest $1 billion in urban mobility. If it works, they have millions of customers globally and don’t need to ask local, regional, or national governments for much help.
In a world driven by commercial interests, Is there a real lack of collaboration in the public sphere, and a reluctance to work together towards a better big picture in mobility?
It’s absolutely normal that this sort of solution should be economically viable, without needing too much subsidy. We can’t expect that governments will subsidise transportation in the future. The money won’t be available forever. In public transport, they are pushing for more companies to find more funding in the market. Even with infrastructure, we see new ways to finance. Governments will agree that it’s a great idea to build a bridge, but they won’t pay for it. There are other options being encouraged.
Electric and self-driving vehicles
Giuliano brings interesting nuance to the discussion about future mobility. In his mind, there is a clear difference between trends and hypes. Delivery drones are certainly in the “hype camp”. And completely self-driving cars are also there, albeit due to administrative reasons rather than technical limitations.
There are five stages of self-driving. Stage one is the in-car help that you already have – cruise control, lane assistance, and autocorrections. Stage five is completely automated, meaning you can literally sleep in your car and it will get you to your destination. Most experts agree that this won’t happen in the way that many people believe. For sure, there will be more automation and in-car assistance to improve safety and comfort, but I consider the anticipated “self-driving world” as pure science-fiction.
However, with production and sales of electric vehicles going through the roof, it’s clear that consumers want a cleaner method of personal travel.
Electrification is a genuine trend. We might see hydrogen become more prominent in the near future, but regardless of power, there is a demand for cleaner cars. It’s possible that electric cars are a temporary solution, but we’re certainly moving away from fossil fuels.
According to Giuliano, we must remain conscious about the environmental impact and limitations of EVs.
You must understand how electricity is produced in your country. What is the fuel mix? If you produce electricity using huge coal-burning power plants, it might actually be better to use a petrol car! But if it’s sourced renewably, the ongoing emissions are zero. The other issue is with batteries. We don’t have enough lithium to produce batteries at the rate required. It’s great for governments to encourage EVs, but someone has to produce the batteries. If you want to extract lithium, it is a huge investment.
This need for heavy investment could be crippling on many levels, because there isn’t absolute certainty that electric vehicles are the long-term solution. Even if we accept that they are the solution, it’s unclear how they will perform in the future. This uncertainty impacts investment in infrastructure, especially because the grid cannot sufficiently support so many charging points.
We can assume that EV charge range will improve. Therefore, do we really need charging stations everywhere? At the moment, we don’t have gas stations everywhere – no small gas tanks next to parking spaces for example. If battery performance improves or hydrogen vehicles become more viable and popular in ten years, investors could lose a lot of money.
Parking is a well-established sector, and in many ways it hasn’t changed a lot. As it moves towards a more service-oriented approach, parking is adopting technology and integrating smarter solutions. As space becomes more valuable in overcrowded towns and cities, Guiliano sees a shift in parking.
Every single car trip ends in a parking space, and this makes it a very important factor of the urban environment. If you talk about parking, you talk about traffic. Parking uses space, and we’re starved of space in our cities. Generally, we are seeing a shift from on-street to off-street. In many cases, parking is going underground, but this is very expensive. Amazingly, it’s not abnormal for one single underground parking space to cost €100,000 to construct!
The move from on-street to off-street provides extra opportunities for centralisation of services. If people are congregating in one space for one purpose, this opens up the chance for added value. Parking garages might develop into mobility hubs, rather than simply a place to park your vehicle.
These mobility hubs won’t just facilitate car parking, but also other transport modes. These locations will also enable deliveries, power swaps, bicycles, storage, and everything in between. There will always be movement, but perhaps the balance changes. Goods come to you. Residential areas might have a central parking facility, which operates as a central hub for multiple services.
Final takeaways: Looking to the future
We’re shifting to a smarter form of mobility, integrating IT with transportation more readily. There is an effort to increase flexibility and ease of use, catering for changing needs. This will involve “mobility integrators”. If you look at Apple, they gave us everything we needed in terms of entertainment; music, hardware, software, movies, TV, and more. The same is happening in mobility. The big players are investing in providing holistic mobility in an entirely new way, but it’s unclear who will take leadership.
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