A New Generation of Entrepreneurs is Redefining the Focus of the Shared Mobility Industry

What started in the late forties by the tenants of a housing cooperative in Switzerland, has now reached the masses. Anybody you talk to today has heard of Uber, Zipcar or car2go. And the revolution has only just started: The industry is evolving and changing at a break-neck speed. New entrants to this market turning their focus to the customers and technology to define their business models and innovate how we get around. This article explores three trends that will shape the future of the shared mobility industry.

1. There is a big shift in who enters and shapes this space at the moment

Just like news, people demand mobility, the ability to move anywhere freely and easily, to be at their fingertips any time of the day. They expect the services to be tailored to their specific needs and expect them to change fast like everything else these days. Public transportation bodies and vehicle manufacturers, grown over centuries are saddled with expensive union contracts, infrastructure, delivery logistics and overhead.

Entrepreneurs with a strong business background, such as Travis Kalanick, David Black or Greg Moran, have realized the opportunity that this presents: they can bypass these hurdles with agile structures and build smaller and more specialized services, often targeted to serve a very specific customer group and need. Which leads me to my second point:

2. Mobility as service – the consumer is the focus

What Grush Niles calls Transportation as Service, I call Mobility as Service. The focus of shared mobility, unlike transportation solutions, is offering a service to the consumers, not to provide infrastructure that transports them from A to B.

Regardless which area we look at, products today have a higher service component than in previous decades. Gone are the days when engineers analyzed a city and its requirements, then build a transportation model that then is implemented over 10 years with a mega budget, but consumer needs are varied, they depend on cultural, educational, financial and social background. Which is why mobility is starting becoming fragmented, just like the news industry.

Entrepreneurs are able to capture the need of one demographic really well and then tailor the service to that group. There are taxis offering services to only women in the Gulf region or India either because of safety or cultural preferences. There are carsharing operators that are delivering services to employers as part of a staff retention program.

3. Technology with customizable user experience

With an increased focus on the needs of specific user groups, the demands on customizations of shared mobility software or hardware solutions are getting louder. Many of the shared mobility solutions are off-the-shelf products and in the past a carsharing operator in the United States looked very similar to one in Germany. The past years the focus for telematics, software and hardware specialists was on solving some of the technical challenges to connect thousands of vehicles to the cloud so they become shareable.

While there are still a lot of challenges on that front, such as security or scalability, there are new demands on the user experience. Players in this realm need to ensure that they have someone on the team that can bridge the gap between engineering and design. Many of the large shared mobility players are now hiring UI (user interface) or UX (user experience) experts focus on customizing the user experience.

Shared mobility has become a business model and has moved past the dreams of a small environmentally focused group. Entrepreneur with strong business acumen are entering the space and turn their attention towards the consumer. This is a good thing because it will ensure that the industry keeps innovating, serves the need of larger groups and will ensure that the industry is here to stay.

How can shared mobility operators make the experience better for the customer? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

How a Shared Mobility City Index Will Help to Evaluate Which Service Fits a City

Bikesharing, scooter sharing, free-floating carsharing, station-based carsharing, taxi hailing and the list seems to grow longer every day, but not every model does well in every city. A shared mobility city index should be used to evaluate cities along a set of criteria and to decide which service fits a city.

Looking at shared mobility projects all over the world, we wondered what the secret ingredients for success are. Why for instance is bikesharing a winner in a small town like Mainz, Germany, but is struggling financially in a large city like Montreal? How is it possible that Vancouver has attracted four carsharing providers and they all are successful? Yet a city like San Francisco just had a large carsharing provider close its service?

The research study looked at 16 cities on the East Coast of North America, analyzing demographic data, transportation patterns and political landscape. How densely populated is a city? How do people need to move within their city and how well are they supported? Is there great biking infrastructure or a high density of subway stations? Is there an overarching vision of city hall to support alternative modes of transportation?

Two surprising key findings when deciding which shared mobility service fits a city

There are two surprising findings of this analysis. Firstly, density is not an indicator for the number of shared mobility services offered: the city with the lowest density has five shared mobility options. This goes against the notion that you need high density otherwise people will not use shared mobility services.

Second, if there is good public transit density and terrible traffic congestion, free-floating carsharing services are not doing as well as station-based ones.

Cities are geographically, culturally and socially different and this seems to play a huge factor in how successful a particular shared mobility service is. Ultimately, everyone wants services that are financially sustainable and viable in the long run. Only then will they remain in a city and support alternative modes of transportation. It is possible to make better choices when selecting services, but transport agencies and operators need to evaluate cities better before entering a market.

Leave a comment: What do you think which geographical, cultural or social factor plays a role in adoption of shared mobility?

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Micromobiles Enter Shared Mobility: A Trend to Watch Out For

While everybody is watching the developments around autonomous cars, there is a silent technological revolution happening in the shared mobility world. New types of vehicles are developed specifically to address sharing and urban mobility purposes. Are people ready for this new category?

One of the leading research firms in urban mobility predicts that by 2020 more than 100 micromobility options will be available on the market. Vehicle manufacturers have realized that smaller, two or three wheeled vehicles, which have seating for one passenger, address the majority of commuting trips.

In the United States, about 90 percent of today’s commuting trips are done alone. Micromobility options are built specifically for city commuters. They connect us with public transit at a fraction of the price of a regular passenger vehicle.

Designers and engineers of this new category of vehicles are inspired by different lighter modes of transportation. Often they look at bicycles, a transportation option that is optimized for first and last mile travels, but this means vehicles look anything, but conventional.

Sometimes they are a hybrid between an electric bike and a car. Other designs are inspired by Segways, which then are covered to protect against rain. Yet others again look like small modular bus cubes that can or cannot be connected. They only have two shared key features: they do not fit our general notion of a passenger vehicle and they are mostly electric.

These smaller electric transportation options are perfect for shared mobility projects, especially the free-floating model. They require smaller parking spaces and can be operated with no charging infrastructure. The challenges to introduce these projects on a larger scale may lie in other areas.

Micromobility: Implementation challenges faced by manufacturers and operators

While working with city officials and the public for a micro mobility project, it became very clear that safety is on everyone’s mind. One of the vehicles for instance is classified as an electric bike, yet with a width of over 1 meter it is much wider than a traditional bike. Should this new vehicle use the bike lanes or should it share the road just like an electric scooter?

Another challenge is the operation of these new types of vehicles. People take lessons to learn how to operate vehicles, learn the rules of the road and be safe. Some of the new vehicles are intuitive to handle, others are not. If these vehicles are offered in a shared network, will the operators offer driving courses specifically designed for these vehicles?

It is fantastic that designers and engineers are working together towards developing compact, lightweight and affordable vehicles that leave a smaller urban footprint. Yet it is a bit like when society moved from horse carriage to car: people needed to get used to the new vehicles and regulations have to be adjusted to ensure the safety of everyone.

When would you use a micromobility vehicle? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Shared Mobility Design: Create Sustainable and Livable Cities

Shared Mobility has disrupted the transportation landscape of urban centers. Municipalities allow services to be launched in their cities provided they are self-funded. Some of theses services have to close again because they are not financially viable, which is why urban planners should learn about shared mobility design.

Since 2013, there have been discussions within urban planning circles that the development of sustainable urban transport systems requires a conceptual leap. The ultimate goal of transportation and mobility options is to provide access to destinations, activities, services and goods.

Some groups have developed toolkits and guidelines to assist urban planners dealing with the increasing complexity of designing an urban transportation system. Yet, generally they do not mention shared mobility; instead the focus is on public transit, walking and cycling infrastructure to provide safer cities.

Role of Shared Mobility Design in planning tomorrow’s cities

Shared Mobility Design is the design and planning of strategies to launch new mobility services. Good Shared Mobility Design is rooted in the real world and reflects functional, technical, social, environmental and aesthetic considerations. It looks at practical approaches to creatively manipulate and resolve conflicting priorities. Since each city is geographically, culturally and socially different, shared mobility solutions should be tailored to its specific needs to be sustainable and viable in the long run.

For instance if we compare two different American cities like Philadelphia and Tampa, it becomes obvious why one city may be ready for a bikesharing system while the other is not yet. Philadelphia has over 1.5 Million inhabitants and a population density of over 4,400 inhabitants per square kilometer. The average commuting time is over 40 minutes, one of the worst in the country, but Philadelphia boasts an impressive number of public transit riders having the third oldest subway system in the country.

Tampa on the other hand is a city with just over 340,000 inhabitants and a density of less than 1,200 inhabitants per square kilometer. It is known to be one of the deadliest cycling cities, is home to a bus system and the average commuting time is only about 22 minutes.

While both cities host a bikeshare system, Philadelphia is ready for it, but Tampa is not. Philadelphia’s population density, combined with a viable public transit system and a walking culture are in favour of a bikesharing system.

Tampa on the other hand still lacks safe bike infrastructure and both the commuting pressure as well as the population density are too low. Tampa’s initial success in bikesharing memberships would benefit from good shared mobility design. If operators, urban planners and city official collaborate to improve infrastructure, bikesharing will be financially viable in the long run and hence will stay.

Shared mobility is no longer a dream, it is reality. And it is one that benefits all of us: on a personal level because we gain access to more options, to more convenience and savings. It can also benefit us on a social level with more green space, less congestion and ultimately a future of moving around in cities that is saleable, provided there is good Shared Mobility Design.

What are key features of your city that should be taken into consideration when planning the next generation of mobility options? Share your opinion in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Three Trends That Will Shape the Future of Shared Mobility

There is no doubt: we have reached the era of shared mobility. Technology and the adoption of the sharing economy have enabled simple and convenient access to any type of vehicle. How will shared mobility evolve in the near future?

Service offerings for carsharing, ridesharing and taxi hailing are ubiquitous in urban centers. Almost 1.5 million members use carsharing services in North America. More than 8 million users are members of the largest taxi-hailing provider and the largest ridesharing provider claims to have more than 20 million members worldwide. There are over 500 bikesharing systems worldwide: China alone has more than 127 providers.

Yet, shared mobility still is an emerging industry and there will be more changes to come. Vehicle design and engineering is adapting to address the needs of a large group of members instead of an individual vehicle owner.

There will be more and more companies that specialize in improving the existing business models to make shared mobility more viable and sustainable in the long term. Last but not least, there are large demographic groups and geographical areas that are thus far underserved.

Rise of micromobility services

One of the most interesting trends in vehicle design are the two or three wheelers, so called micromobiles. They are perfectly suited to serve the first and last mile travels if they are placed strategically next to public transit hubs. They allow for further travel than a traditional bike and generally protect the driver from weather.

Currently there are about 118 companies developing vehicles in this space; anything from an electric assist bicycles to covered segways. Designers and engineers focus on vehicles that will be shared later from the start, which allows for a fully integrated system. One research firm predicts that approximately 60 of these micromobility options will be production-ready by 2018.

Emergence of specialized suppliers

It used to be that all one needed to run a shared mobility service was a vehicle, a telematics system and a member service operation. With increased competition, there is a need to fine-tune business models and to outsource costly operational tasks. There is a trend for specialized suppliers especially for fleet management.

One of the biggest challenges of free-floating systems is the optimal distribution and relocation of their assets. A tool is needed that integrates the latest trends in big data analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning to forecast demand and predict the best relocation places. Not something most operators know much about – which is why there are companies that specialize in big data analysis and visualization.

Another area where we see an increase in specialised providers is the daily maintenance of the vehicles. Shared mobility fleets do not only need a car-washing partner, they need eyes on the ground to manage their fleet. Someone who checks the exterior and interior for damage, collects parking tickets or lost items, refuels and even relocates vehicles for the operators. There is a trend to outsource this portion of fleet management to so-called infield operators.

Expansion to different demographic and geographic markets

There is no question that urbanites have been the primary beneficiaries of new mobility services. Free-floating carsharing providers for instance focus mainly on the millennial generation that own a driver’s license, but no vehicle.

However, more than 30 percent of young people under 25 do not have a driver’s license: this is a prime new market that requires other types of shared mobility services that some new service providers are tapping into.

Most shared mobility services focus on the largest metropolitan areas, despite the dominance of medium-sized urban regions. In Europe alone, there are over 580 cities with a population between 100,000 and 500,000. This is a large market shared mobility options have not yet entered. There are groups that try and resolve the operational challenges that come with lower population density and devise service models that would serve these regions.

Shared mobility is a booming industry and we will see more carsharing, bikesharing and ridesharing providers over the next few years, copying the existing models and expanding them to new demographic and geographic markets. They will have access to vehicles that are designed solely for shared use and to suppliers that can accelerate growth.

What other trends do you think will shape the future of shared mobility? Share your ideas in our comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.