Iomob’s CEO, Boyd Cohen, explores the new models required to enable fair and more effective city mobility.
Throughout the 20th century, the American dream was commonly depicted as moving out to the suburbs with a white picket fence and a car (usually a Ford) in the garage. Over the decades, this dream expanded to a larger home and a three-car garage to house cars for both parents and one for children of driving age.
The dream was birthed in the US and created a contagion in cities and countries around the globe. As our global population grew and our cities sprawled, the original American dream started looking more and more like a nightmare. Jane Jacobs, of course, poignantly and convincingly demonstrated how America’s fascination with the personal automobile contributed to the decay of culture and quality of life in cities.
Municipal, regional and national governments have spent trillions of dollars to build and maintain highway infrastructure (and major utility connections) for the growing suburban masses.
Traffic congestion costs more than $300 billion (£234 billion) to the US economy annually and reduces quality of life. Emissions from transportation in the EU represent 25 per cent of total GHG emissions in the region. Furthermore, the car-dependent suburban life has exacerbated obesity and ill-health, while air contamination (much of which comes from transportation) leads to more than 5 million deaths worldwide on an annual basis.
Urbanists, transportation professionals and the entire automobile industry have converged on these challenges and begun exploring how new technologies and new business models can adapt to the changing mobility requirements of the 21st century.
The bar has been set high, and what is required is a mobility ecosystem based on shared infrastructure, where resources, data and value can be exchanged seamlessly.
Without shared infrastructure and a collaborative approach, siloed operating systems and data will limit the transformational impact of multimodal mobility, and smart cities will remain only a dream.
We need a mobility ecosystem based on shared infrastructure, where resources, data and value can be exchanged seamlessly.
in 2014 – which now seems like ages ago – Jan Kietzmann and I published a peer-reviewed article* examining how 12 different shared mobility business models could impact urban sustainability and citizen value.
Leveraging four criteria from the concept of business models for sustainability (BMfS), we concluded that the most optimal shared mobility business models for achieving sustainability outcomes are those that blend public and private approaches.
In recent years, we have certainly witnessed major concerns regarding technology-driven, venture-capital-backed mobility companies who have entered cities with more monopolistic approaches to shared mobility.
At iomob, we believe that cities need to embrace experimentation and to liberally apply the concept of sandboxes. Here, experimentation can take place to understand on a small scale the implications of new mobility while regulators catch up to the pace of innovation and solutions.
Mobility is becoming decentralised, multimodal and automated. Increasingly, it aspires to be sustainable too.
Mobility is becoming decentralised, multimodal and automated. Increasingly, it aspires to be sustainable too.
However, without rethinking the city, and even national-level approach to infrastructure for this emergent mobility landscape, we will face yet another tragedy of the commons.
The sharing economy is still young, and we still have time at this unique point in history, where we are technologically enabled to ensure that freedom of movement remains, and is protected as a basic human right.
Regulation is needed to ensure private mobility service providers (MSPs) operate in acceptable ways (and their customers behave correctly too). But more than that, we require technology that enables these companies, who are otherwise competing with each other in siloed verticals, to collaborate and share data between themselves and win municipal governments for a mutually beneficial situation.
The rapid escalation of dockless bike-sharing services is a great example. The potential for dockless bike-sharing to be a vibrant part of the mobility mix is strong. Instead of being reliant on fixed stations that are costly and never ubiquitous enough for the demanding requirements of users, dockless bike-sharing allows point-to-point mobility.
The problem is, if left unregulated, dockless bike-sharing systems in cities can quickly lead to the significant cluttering of public space – and their eventual expulsion, as happened in Melbourne Australia.
We need ways to report users who fail to return bikes properly or at all, and for there to be consequences if they try to access other transport services.
We need ways to report users who fail to return bikes properly or at all, and for there to be consequences if they try to access other transport services. This will help to prevent the continued abuse of the mobility services which ruins things for everyone else. It comes down to a matter of mechanism design and adequate incentivisation for civic behaviour.
In recent years the boom in mobility options for citizens has been unprecedented. The combination of insufficient supply of public transit due to an overemphasis in state budgets on trying to keep up with personal mobility infrastructure demands, alongside the rapid evolution of ICT and the growing ubiquity of smartphones, has supported the introduction of a host of new mobility services.
Most cities today contain dozens of shared mobility start-ups all, competing with each other and with other more established players (public transit, traditional taxi services, etc.). However, the increase in the supply of services has not achieved the efficiencies and improvement that could be possible.
Each of the existing services operates in their own silos, with their own tech stack, their own app and their own closed user bases. The inefficiency of this fragmented marketplace and the inability to enable multimodal routing of different services to achieve increased efficiency has given rise to a revolutionary new mobility business model, Mobility as a Service (MaaS).
At iomob, we believe the current MaaS market has evolved over three steps: Step 1 is single-provider, single-mode MaaS.
Step 2 is single-provider, multimodal MaaS. This is most commonly exemplified by public transit authorities who offer all their different modes of services (bus, metro, commuter trains, public bike-share) in either a pay-as-you-go model (by journey and intermodal) or a monthly package where subscribers can access all the modes of public transit with one fare card.
We are also starting to see some private ride-hailing companies getting into the step 2 model whereby they acquire or invest in alternative modes of shared mobility such as bike-sharing or electric scooter-sharing, and offer a MaaS-type intermodal service to their customers. Some of these initiatives are now starting to introduce APIs to public transit data as well.
This leads to step 3 – MaaS, which is still seen by many as the vanguard. Step 3 MaaS is multi-provider and multimodal. Step 3 MaaS is pioneered by Whim Global of Helsinki, for example. It offers a range of mobility services which are packaged for subscribers. Users can pay as they go or choose from monthly package options, depending on their projected use.
This step 3 MaaS model offers a transformative solution to the fragmentation problem still plaguing most urban mobility ecosystems.
This MaaS model offers a transformative solution to the fragmentation problem still plaguing most urban mobility ecosystems. By packaging in taxi/ride-hailing, bike-sharing, car-sharing and scooter-sharing with public transit, MaaS mobility aggregators are enabling a level of efficiency not previously possible. Subscribers to step 3 MaaS get seamless access to a range of public and private mobility services and even get multimodal routing options.
The Internet of Mobility
While we at iomob embrace the innovators and the innovation that has come from the Step 3 MaaS aggregators, we believe there is another level of advancement in MaaS for it to truly serve people in a seamless and interconnected way.
There is another level of advancement in MaaS for it to truly serve people in a seamless and interconnected way.
Step 4 moves from MaaS to what we refer to as the Internet of Mobility (IoM). While step 3 MaaS has introduced some significant improvements in urban mobility ecosystems, it also has many significant shortcomings. These could be overcome through the creation of an open-source, decentralised mobility aggregation marketplace (IoM).
Open source models can support an open network effect, whereby all MSPs, public or private, large or small, can compete and collaborate on a more level playing field. If all providers can have access to all end users in the system when their particular service is the best for that user, the system as a whole will have increased efficiency.
This does not have to lead to detrimental effects for larger players. Larger MSPs still have more frequency and availability of service and in this open model, they will still be more likely than small players to be the best fit for a particular user.
Furthermore, the open model allows large players to help optimise fleet utilisation by tapping into the unmet demand from smaller providers who agree, through smart contracts, to offload demand from their own users for a fee.
Instead of looking to contaminate and pollute our urban skies, at iomob we believe the solution lies in fixing our ground-level problems. We don’t believe in abandoning the challenge in ways that require those with fewer resources to continue to suffer from congestion and pollution while those with enough resources can just pay to have goods flown by drone to their house and hire flying air taxis.
We don’t believe in abandoning the challenge in ways that require those with fewer resources to continue to suffer from congestion and pollution while those with enough resources can just pay to have goods flown by drone to their house and hire flying air taxis.
Emerging technological innovations such as autonomous vehicles and urban air mobility may solve issues in some use cases. However, for the most part, we believe the future of urban mobility will not be driven by these technologies.
The future of urban and regional mobility will be multi-modal, customised and digitised in ways that enable open collaboration and competition amongst all legal and shared MSPs.
The integrated mobility ecosystem of the future will be characterised by widespread collaboration, where resources value and data can be exchanged seamlessly, invisibly and privately.
This is what motivates me to build and steer the iomob tech community. This opportunity to unify global and local mobility operators in a mutually beneficial system that benefits people, infrastructure and the environment can be grasped and implemented – supported by open source and blockchain technology.
People who can move freely are free people with increased personal and career mobility. We have the technology, we have the awareness, and now, through smart cities mandates, we have the impetus.
If efficiency in transport systems can be created in a way that privacy is protected, diverse lifestyle preferences can be honoured and operators big and small can work together in a transparent, inclusive and profitable manner, then this is something that we can and must do and we invite you on the journey, too.
You can download Boyd’s more detailed report on the future of mobility here.