Individual Mobility, Societal Challenges

Andreas Michalovcik, Project Manager for Business Development at IAV, on the forces that are driving future mobility concepts

automotion 1901 49 mann 16 9

The number of innovative mobility concepts is growing fast and continuously. The potential of future mobility is being debated over and beyond our own sector, with laws being relaxed for shared mobility services. And yet our roads continue to be dominated by cars that frequently have only one passenger. So does the discussion about a mobility revolution digress from reality?

To answer this question, it makes sense to look at the change in mobility behavior that new mobility providers refer to, and to examine the underlying mobility preferences. There are in fact signs of a change in mobility behavior among certain parts of the population. It is above all young, tech-savvy city dwellers who are making increasing use of cheaper, faster and more sustainable options, with the latter reflecting sociopolitical aspects. The catchphrases are multi-modality and inter-modality.

However, these changes in mobility behavior mainly come from an improved service brought about by digitalization. Individual cars remain unchallenged in areas where these services are not yet available or only to a limited extent, particularly in rural or suburban areas with a lower population density.

Accordingly, the share of the population that regularly uses car sharing is still in the low single-digit percentage range. Even fewer people use ride-sharing where the individual ride is shared as well as the vehicle. This would tend to suggest that society has not seen any fundamental change in mobility preferences at least.

Just a handful of criteria decide how we move around. What’s the fastest way to get where I want to go? And the cheapest? And the most environmentally friendly? The answers to these questions are measurable and objective, so that it is easier to make comparisons. However, our decisions are also often dictated by emotional criteria that can’t really be measured. What’s the most comfortable way to get where I want to go? Which option is the most reliable in terms of planning?

These questions are a huge challenge for new mobility concepts, as every service must be seen in relation to the status quo. For many people, privately owned cars are still the epitome of mobility and freedom. They extend our freedom of movement almost ad infinitum and uphold what is probably the most important aspect of individual mobility: private cars give us the individual freedom to decide when our journey begins and where we’re going – without leaving our private sphere.

Most people won’t want to sacrifice this luxury even in the long term. As a result, there will continue to be great demand for the kind of mobility that at the moment at least is associated with private cars – a kind of mobility that automotion | Changing track 49 people are willing to dig into their pockets to pay for. Even if the car then actually looks a bit different.

At the same time, the debate about banning diesel vehicles from inner cities shows how the mobility sector is increasingly shifting into the political focus, whether justified or not. Environmental and health requirements are getting stricter all the time, while people start to question the car-focused streetscape that we’ve taken for granted for so long.

Which brings us to a classic tragedy of the commons: the sum of the individuals’ preferred mobility preferences no longer matches the preferred mobility preference of society as a whole.

There are two ways of restoring balance to this disparity. Firstly, by consistently implementing environmentally-friendly technologies while continuing to develop sustainable mobility concepts so that these become genuine alternatives. This would improve the status quo. Or secondly, by restricting mobility options by imposing regulations, driving bans or prohibitive charges, such as London’s congestion charge. This would worsen the status quo.

Over the next few years, the threat of this happening will be one of the most important forces driving new mobility concepts, alongside digitalization. One of the key chances for the automotive industry and all adjacent sectors contributing to the development of mobility concepts is that society as a whole has a fundamental interest in their success.

Initial concepts and approaches already exist: we have to further their development. Combining autonomous driving with concepts of shared mobility will improve the mobility experience without causing more traffic on the roads. Smart data-based coordination of services and journey needs will boost fixed-route local public transport also out in the rural areas, for example with needs-based feeder services. Transfer times are no longer an issue when transfer site and time match in real time. At the same time, we can still enjoy private individual space even in public means of transport.

This expertise opens the door for entirely new fields of business such as integrator for complete systems, consultant and implementer of mobility concepts. On the contrary, they must also grasp how the elements interact. Such end-to-end expertise demands continuous building of knowledge and networks. This expertise acts as integrator for complete systems, as consultant and implementer for mobility concepts, opening the door for new fields of business with completely new creative freedom.

If we do it right, the mobility experience as a whole will improve, for the individual and for society at large. Our aspiration must be nothing less.

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