(Repost of an editorial I've written for and was published by Copenhagen Institute of Futures Studies)
Societies in the developed world today have access to two ways of transportation, private and public, which exist alongside each other. We believe the combination of Driverless Cars, the Digital Wallet Revolution and the Sharing Economy points in the direction of a new type of hybrid mobility system. One without clear boundaries between private and public transport, at least from a functional design point of view.
From Ownership To Access
Mobility startups within the Sharing Economy walk a fine line between private ownership and public transport, indicating an evolution towards fuzzy borders between previously strictly separated systems.
The Sharing Economy is leading way to a world where access to goods becomes more important than ownership. Startups like Uber, Lyft, Djump, Zipcar and BlaBlaCar are amongst the most well known examples of shared mobility - providing alternatives for public taxi services and opening up the idea of sharing rides with others beyond the known economically beneficial services like tram or metro.
The Government of Seoul has been one of the first to embrace the Sharing Economy. In September 2012 it introduced a 492 vehicle car sharing service, together with selected government parking lots. Given the abundance of current initiatives on Sharing Cities, many others are expected to follow.
Research indicates these initiatives might be effective in addressing some of the concerns and reasons why governments support and fund public transport. It leads to less congested cities. It provides access to mobility to those groups for whom private car ownership is not an option - the young, the poor, the old,... It reduces the transport cost because of economy of scale.
Drive into the Future
Electric as well as driverless cars are on top of the list of (expected) innovations in the automotive industry. With both major automobile manufacturers and internet giants like Google or Elon Musk working hard to make these innovations come through, a future without driverless electric cars has become unthinkable.
Gemini recently launched a project called the Future Mobility Vehicle - modular mobile units which can be connected together. The purpose is to bring together the resource saving benefits of shared infrastructure with the amenities of personal properties.
Figure 1 - Unit Docking Process of Gemini Future Mobility Vehicle
Taken together, it’s only a short stretch to imagine a world of public transport, like trams or trains, composed of electrical modular units. With all forms of transport being electricity driven and being able to operate on a driverless modus, the idea of a temporarily composed networked mobility system has become technically more possible than ever.
Research shows unreliable service, low frequency or lack of comfort are the main barriers in perceiving public transport as a viable alternative to private car ownership. This indicates a redesign of the public transportation system might accommodate for the levels of service required by customers, which would increase use significantly.
A smart phone enabled, on-demand hybrid mobility system as described above seems to point in favour of increased use of public transportation. Especially since it can easily be combined with private ownership or access to a type of vehicle of your choice. And hence provide for the role of the car as a status symbol, in case current uncertainty on the importance of a privately owned car for millennials would point in that direction.
Digital Wallet Revolution
Digital wallets allow for the simultaneous use of multiple currency systems and virtual assets in financial transactions. These systems can be designed in such a way that taxation or subsidies to be linked directly with social benefits granted and/or the social, environmental and economic effects of certain behaviour.
With the launch of Apple Pay in September 2014, it is expected it won’t be long before digital payments start to break through. Although Apple is not the first to give a shot at mobile payments, it has a reputation of being able to drive widespread adoption amongst it’s users and to disrupt whole industries in its wake.
This is very exciting in light of the opinions held by experts like Bernard Lietaer , who believes at least part of our economical structural instability is caused by our monetary monoculture. According to him, our age needs a monetary ecology to deal with 21st century challenges - complementary currencies of different purposes and scales functioning in parallel with the US dollar.
At present no legal framework exists to guide creation of virtual and private currencies. It is to be expected governments will find ways to manage and guide this new financial reality. Not so much control in a centralised, top down hierarchical way but a decentralised approach written within regulated fractal algorithms seems a probable solution.
Governments could, for example, decide to offer an amount of free mobility to every citizen - comparable with the idea of a limited amount of free electricity. They could provide for lower transportation rates for those making limited use of the system for short distance trips. And people could be charged incrementally according to the social and environmental impact of their transportation behaviour.
Innovations in the automobile industry, together with systems and algorithmic design show great potential to provide solutions for some of the social, environmental and economic challenges our cities face. The same challenges governments try to tackle through providing subsidised public transport today.
We believe transportation systems will evolve towards a decentralised design with fuzzy borders between private and public mobility. An evolution, enabled through technology but ultimately value driven, creating an environmental and social sustainable society in it’s wake.