Happy New Year!
What a ride in 2021! Increasing floods, droughts, storms and wildfires, a record number of refugees, disrupted supply chains, political sabre-rattling and a global pandemic on top. But mankind deals with it and life goes on. A good moment to look ahead.
Humans are the dominant species on earth because of their incredible ability to cooperate and adapt. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that even mankind as a whole has the ability to radically adapt to critical situations in almost no time. This gives hope that mankind may also be able to master the climate crisis. One key lever to it is transportation.
Transportation accounts for more than 20% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, trending upwards and with car traffic being its major contributor. In consequence we need to reduce traffic while keeping up mobility. A sole switch to electric vehicles won’t be sufficient. We would also need a radical change in our behaviors towards shared & active mobility. Enforcing such a change would cause resistance and slow us down. In order to be fast and effective, we need a positive vision for sustainable mobility – a vision that everyone supports voluntarily, where transport is
Reducing traffic while keeping up mobility is the hardest nut to crack – but the most effective one and the one which can be applied fastest. Therefore it is the first step in the avoid – shift – improve approach.
Only a fraction of trips are done for the sake of enjoying the freedom of driving. In contrast the vast majority of trips are done in order to get a job done. If the job could be done without the transportation part, it would save time, money and emissions and so be positive for everyone.
What would be more convenient than comfortable transportation? It would be no need for transportation at all. This can be realized e.g. through transportation demand management and “virtual mobility” replacing demanding business travel with video conferencing or via delivery of goods avoiding shopping trips and the use of a car as a shopping cart. If you have ever done grocery shopping with two screaming kids, you will love that option. It has become more popular during the COVID pandemic and new delivery formats are being tested, including delivery via wheeled drones or to self service parcel lockers. Other examples include near-shore sourcing and vacation, fewer but longer business trip stays, combined delivery from consolidation centers, parking management with user guidance and pupil’s bike convoys instead of “parent taxis”.
Ideally the remaining traffic will be less congested and with no need to search for a parking lot, saving time and money even for those poor folks, who still need to drive.
While car ownership might still be the best option for those, who need the same car almost every day, e.g. young families, craftsmen, people with limited mobility or living in the outback, the majority would benefit from a variety of shared mobility services instead. “Consumers want to use multiple means of transport alongside, or in some cases instead of, car ownership.”
These mobility services can range from public transport trips on trains and buses, attending ride sharing in a private car, getting chauffeured in a taxi-like service up to the rental of shared vehicles like bikes, scooters or cars – whatever is needed. Ideally all these mobility services would be seamlessly integrated and offered as one Mobility as a Service (MaaS) product. Why get stressed behind the steering wheel when you can get chauffeured and leave the hassle of traffic jams or parking space search to someone else?
Research from acatech, Capgemini, MIT, PWC and others have shown the importance of accessible, reliable, and time-saving transportation. This explains why the personally owned car is still often considered to be the best option, ignoring the high societal costs and the time it takes to drive it, service it, find parking lots, … Nevertheless the research clearly indicates that public transport needs to drastically increase quality in order to become an alternative to the own car. In order to convince hard-seated car drivers, we will need a premium public transport. They will likely have a higher willingness to pay a premium for a first class mobility service – but they will also be more demanding and expect a true first class customer experience along the entire intermodal travel chain and customer journey.
Premium Public Transport
The share of public transport is very different from country to country and city to city. Very different examples like the dense Singapore and rural Switzerland set benchmarks on how well public transport can be organized and in consequence well-accepted. Quality matters.
What could convince engraved car drivers to switch to Mobility as a Service? It simply needs to be a better alternative to the car in relevant aspects:
All mobility services should be available close by or delivered to the user with a guaranteed service level as a paid premium service. In cities, where parking space is limited, bike sharing and shuttle services – also for people with special needs – at stations and mobility hubs will be essential for the last mile. Preferred parking at the home station could also give peace of mind for Park & Ride users.
A mobility guarantee should be an integral part of any MaaS product. It will assure that travelers will reliably get to their destination, regardless of what happens. In case of any service delay or disruption the user should get proactively notified and offered an alternative, handled automatically in the back and covered by a capable customer service.
- Convenience and use of time
Shared mobility services will rarely be as fast as driving one’s own car from point to point. If the setting allows passengers to relax or work during their ride, travel time could be productive time and not be wasted and speed won’t matter that much anymore. Reserved seats in vehicles but also at mobility hubs or attached co-working spaces will support this as well as more space, separate quiet zones or even flexible dividers around the seat for more privacy. Think of the business and first class seats at premium airlines as an example. Separate, HEPA-filtered air conditioning and partition screens might also be a selling proposition as an after-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. A stable WiFi connection and power plugs for laptops and handheld devices have become a basic requirement.
Public transport with large vehicles can be efficient in densely populated areas and on highly frequented routes but it is either meaningless poor or gets very expensive in rural areas and in off-peak times. Here cars can help – if being shared.
Ride Sharing by Default
In Germany about 75% of the transport performance (person miles traveled) is performed by cars, while less than 20% being performed by public transport. Even if public transport will achieve the very ambitious goal to double their transport performance, there will still be 55% of the person miles left to cars. Too much.
The transport capacity of the empty seats in cars is about five times the current public transport’s capacity: a huge untapped potential. So cars are not just part of the problem. With carpooling or ride sharing cars can be part of the solution. In this context ride sharing means sharing empty seats in cars, which drive anyhow, independently from the usage of these seats. This is not to be confused with professional taxi-like services such as Uber. They don’t “share” rides with passengers, when they chauffeur them.
If we would just better utilize the empty seats of our cars and increase the car occupancy from currently 1.5 to 2.0, we could further reduce car traffic by 25%. A car occupancy of 2 or more people per car is feasible with the given mobility patterns in combination with public transport, when ride sharing would not only be used for direct point to point connections but also act as a public transport feeder service for the first and last mile to the next station.
With just a few exceptions ride sharing is not well established. The reason seems to be socio-economic barriers rather than an information gap for matching supply and demand. A radical approach to tap this potential would be to make ride sharing the standard. If every empty seat would be offered to neighbors by default, a huge transport capacity would be available almost everywhere.
This approach could also strengthen communities in an aging society and support the mobility of elderly and handicapped people in their neighborhoods. Other than autonomous vehicles, human drivers could offer a helping hand at the doorstep and provide social interaction and a bit of warmth.
There could be different approaches to tap this potential. For example drivers, who give a lift, could receive a financial contribution to their vehicle costs. In contrast, if drivers don’t want to share their empty seats, they could do so by paying a fee. Testing this approach will require many aspects, such as safety, privacy or user acceptance to be looked at and for sure lead to controversial discussions – worth to be done.
40% of all car rides are within a range of 5 km. This is a range where people capable of riding a bicycle are usually faster than if they would take a car. Unless the car is needed for transportation, taking a walk or a bike for short distances instead of a car could save time – and increase health at once. Employees who regularly cycle are healthier, feel more performant and have lower sick leave rates, which is a clear benefit compared to passive micromobility modes, such as electric kick scooters. So every employer has good reasons to support cycling and a safe pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in their area.
Time savings on short distances via walking and cycling
Even if the workplace is further away than 5 km, cycling could be an option for the first or last mile in combination with buses or trains. Especially in cities where parking at train stations is an issue, bike sharing can offer a flexible and reasonable feeder service from a company’s facilities to the next train or subway station. For longer distances or hilly areas, e-bikes or pedelecs provide a sweat-free opportunity with a high fun factor. Give it a try! Your employees will love it.
sustrans: Active Travel and Economic Performance