Commuter Solutions

Packet Switching for Mobility: Measuring Mobility Efficiency

In earlier articles we advocated applying some of the principles of packet switching, the backbone technology of Internet and telecom, to mobility and transport. After all, the similarity is clear. Packets carry bits, vehicles carry people and goods. How should we measure its efficiency?

If Mobility is a Service, then we should have ways to measure the service level. In the case of sustainable mobility, this is a fairly complex matter. Many criteria come into play and not a single solution can be optimal. In the end, it is a trade-off exercise.

In addition, mobility as a service is a lot more than a story of vehicles. Vehicles need a road and energy infrastructure, both involving long-term investments. The mobility service emerges as a mix of all these elements. Select the wrong mix and the economic impact can be dramatic.

The key elements required to increase mobility efficiency

So, let’s go back to the basics. The goal is to move people and goods from a starting point to a destination. In other words, we must think door-to-door as this is the essence of the service. As to the solutions, we must also think “well to end-of-life”.

All the elements of our mobility eco-system will require resources. Resources to produce (materials, energy), resource to operate (energy and space) and if nothing can be recycled, the end-of-life value will actually be a disposal cost.

Some elements are more difficult to calculate. For example, a vehicle also produces by-products while being operated: heat, noise and air pollution. Another issue is that mobility also involves time. Time as such is also a resource. It can indirectly be taken into account by measuring the average speed over a given door-to-door distance.

If we take all these elements into account, then the measure to compare becomes how much cargo (for example measured in kilogram) or people (assuming an average weight) we can move per unit of road (square meter), per unit of production resources (measured in money value), per unit of energy used while moving for a given average speed. It is clear that this can be a mix of different types of vehicles (airplanes, ships, trains, buses, cars, etc.), but that the connection time must be included in the calculation.

From above, one can also see that during operation, mobility is essentially a “density” problem. Roads are fixed resources and we can only increase the efficiency by allowing more people and goods to be moved over them. This has several implications: smaller vehicles are better, driving closer is better, less vehicles on the road is better, less vehicles not driving, but being parked is better. It also means that lightweight vehicles that can be recycled are better.

After all, the law of physics remain valid: the energy needed is proportional to the mass and the square of the velocity. Hence, also the hidden costs like air pollution will be proportional to the mass of the vehicle.

What does it mean for electro-mobility?

These vehicles have a very low pollution in heat, noise and air. And it easier to automate them, even to let them drive autonomously. All things considered, this leads to scenarios whereby the vehicles are shared in time; else they use resources while not being used. A parked vehicle is actually very inefficient, also when it moves too slowly. They are also standardised as this reduces the production cost, but not necessarily by using composites and heavy batteries, but by using lightweight metals and small batteries.

If we compare different vehicle solutions, than we see also that the defining classification depends on the average speed over a given distance. Hence, for longer distances, mass is less important because the energy is mostly used while accelerating to reach a given speed.

While above observations are not really new, the inclusions of space and time used as a resource is often neglected because mobility is seen as a vehicle and traffic question not as a sustainable service. When done, it leads to the concept of shared and small vehicles that are optimized for a specific environment. City cars are clearly not the same as open road cars, whether electric or not.

What do you think? Is this way of measuring MaaS (Mobility as a Service) efficiency adequate? What important element was left out of the equation? Share your opinions in the comment section.


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

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