All that is possible with individual mobility

Imagine the following scenario: you run a smartphone app and your location is constantly adjusted via GPS. You order a vehicle for a destination, let’s say a customer’s or acquaintance’s address, that would not be reachable with conventional public transport. The vehicle arrives without a driver and looks like a space capsule, without a steering wheel and equipped with numerous sensors. You sit in the vehicle, which has six spaces, and the destination has already been entered. The vehicle sets off, because the streets and routes are mapped in the system. The vehicle looks for the most favourable route.
Car- und Bikesharing als Beispiel für die Digitalisierung

Data-optimised individual transport makes this possible. The vehicle drives via remote control, fully automatically. At the same time, the passenger can receive information on the latest news reports on a tablet or make purchases or book a seat at the cinema via an online portal. From time to time, the vehicle stops to recharge at charging stations, where the wait time is short and the electricity price cheap. The price for the journey is calculated based on the capacity utilisation of the vehicle and is invoiced and paid immediately.

Unthinkable? Who knows? The mobile future could be this convenient. It is not yet possible to clearly anticipate what effects these developments will have on the automobile industry. But we are already internalising the idea that traffic jams, a lack of parking spaces and fine particles mean more effective and sustainable mobility concepts are required. Technologically, anything will be possible. We can already see this in the components that are installed in intelligent vehicles: automatic parking assistants and safety supports for avoiding accidents are already standard features that can be ordered whenever you purchase a car. Driverless cars will revolutionise everything. Mandatory driving licences and driver training will no longer be necessary, the vehicles will not need parking spaces and it will be possible to send them home or to the depots so that the power drive can be recharged or refuelled independently of the technology. The benefits to society should not be underestimated either. Traffic- and environmental friendliness, public roads and spaces can be utilised better, and emissions noticeably reduced.

Leasing instead of owning

However, let us remain in the present and first look at options for sharing cars and bicycles. Why should I still own my own car when I can make use of the extensive range of car and bike sharing available in major cities and urban areas?

Car sharing is the result of digitally networked mobility between cars and people. Currently, there are two versions (Figure 1). Station-based offers do not differ significantly from conventional car rental. The only difference is that the vehicles can be booked online and more immediately, as users are already registered. The duration of use is also much less than with a rental car. When the media talks about car sharing today, it is usually referring to station-independent offers, known as free floating. Using an app, you search for a vehicle close to you and when you have finished using it – which could even be for just a few minutes – you simply park the vehicle back in the business area.

Figure 1: Car sharing is manifested in two versions.

“All the benefits of a car without owning one – parking, fuelling, and insurance included.” These are the words that car2go, a leading provider in the industry, uses to advertise. After registering, customers can drive in numerous European metropolises and stay mobile even when not at home. In addition, according to a survey1, a leased car can replace up to 20 private vehicles. Private car sharing is particularly exciting in this context. It’s almost like “Airbnb for the road”. This includes portals where the owners of up to 50,000 private vehicles make them available for leasing. Here, the theory is that vehicles are used for only an hour per day on average, meaning that, in reverse, more than 20 hours are available for sharing with other people.

Apart from private cars, car-sharing services currently compete with or supplement other mobility offers, in particular public long-distance and local transport, the taxi network, car-pooling opportunities and the Uber online service, in which private persons offer cheap taxi services using their own cars.

Let’s go!

In parallel to car sharing, bike sharing – consisting of a network of self-service stations for bike rental, again via an app – has also become popular. When a user needs a bicycle, he or she registers and identifies themselves in the customer centre. There, he or she can reserve a bicycle close to them on the touch screen and the smartphone screen shows the parking space number including street name and house number where he or she can pick up the bike. While the user is walking to the parking space, an electro-mechanical lock device opens. Another version uses a key code that opens the lock. Bike sharing is an ideal method of dealing with congested roads and poor air quality and effectively supplements local public transport in areas that their buses and trains do not serve. For this reason, the bike parking spaces are often located at stations, where they can be used to continue the journey. There is even a limited offering of motor scooters, which include a helmet.

All providers use apps in which all the vehicles and bicycles in an urban area are marked down to the metre on a map. On registering, customers have access to the offers once they have provided their personal details, a customer account with bank details and their desired rate. All the steps, including the start and end of use, are performed in a self-explanatory process online via a portal. This ensures that the offers are always available across an urban area.

However, unlike with car sharing, bike sharing is also resulting in wholly unwanted developments. One reason for this is the bulk business, since national providers have up to 20,000 bicycles available in major German cities, which also need to be maintained. Recently the Spiegel news magazine wrote about the excessive impact of bike sharing in an article entitled “Voll gerädert”2 (An Outbreak of Bikes): Hordes of bikes are clogging up beer gardens, parks, roads, pavements, underground railways stations and schools. In some cases, the major cities cannot get to grips with this uncontrolled proliferation of rental bikes.

Everything is embedded in a multi-modal mobility concept, that also envisages a destination being reachable on foot, among other methods. With the use of bicycles, “walkability” is presented as an advertisement for an environment that encourages movement from a holistic perspective. The claim is always the same: space for traffic, parking spaces, and CO2 emissions are reduced dramatically.

Interaktive Karte zur Veranschaulichung der Standorte von Leihrädern

Figure 2: Nextbike, a leading bike sharing provider, presents the locations and numbers of its rental bikes on an interactive map.

All-in-one solutions for mobility

In this context, mobility as a service (MaaS) covers all developments and solution offers. Software providers create integrated apps for the mobility platform, which are what make the transparency of the networked offers in a major city possible in the first place. In the future, we will talk about a traffic ecosystem that incorporates all the data from existing MaaS offers and autonomous vehicles. This digital integration will then enable convenience for the individual users and their movement profiles.

The transparency and use of mobility offers will be bundled via mega platforms that act like search engines (Figure 3). This facilitates cross-provider access to almost all mobility services in local and long-distance transport. Big data makes this possible. The algorithms of platforms, social networks and search engines are the interfaces to the user. Providers like myscotty, memobility and allryder combine all the information on how to get from place A to place B. All forms of car, bike and scooter sharing, the municipal local transport with trains and buses, and taxis are thus networked together and provided for the user. The location-based search shows the various providers’ offers clearly on a map within seconds. The only thing users still have to do for themselves is go to the desired location.

Mega-Plattformen bündeln die Mobilitätsangebote komfortabel in einer App

Figure 3: Mega platforms bundle the mobility offers of various providers and make them available conveniently for users via an app3.

It cannot be ruled out that, in the future, users will own their own driverless vehicles and will participate with these vehicles in this integrated, digitised traffic image. When this will happen is no longer necessarily a strategic or technological question. Rather, this is a current example of how future digitisation will shape our lives.

  1. https://carsharing.de/presse/pressemitteilungen/neue-carsharing-studie-belegt-geteilte-autos- koennen-innenstaedte-deutlich
  2. Der Spiegel, Issue 45/2017 “Voll gerädert”
  3. Bundesverband CarSharing e.V., Berlin
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