New Mobility: Evolution or Revolution?

Increasing urbanization, congested roads, air pollution, and ever stricter climate laws: When it comes to mobility of the future, we’re in need of a rethink.

There is a need to rethink mobility. Graphic: Michael Stach

There is a need to rethink mobility. Graphic: Michael Stach

Anarchy and the Wild West: At first glance, one wouldn’t necessarily associate these two catchphrases with the topic of mobility. Tobias Schönberg, Senior Partner and Co-Director of the Center for Smart Mobility at the international management consultancy Roland Berger, however, uses this pair of terms quite deliberately to illustrate the dangers posed by urban mobility and urban logistics, should the respective players not pick up the pace in terms of holistic concepts and regulation. The urgency is also underscored by a United Nations forecast, according to which around 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030 – more than 5 of the by then estimated 8,5  billion people. By that time, the number of mega-cities with over ten million inhabitants is expected to rise from 33 today to 43, most of them in Asia and Africa.

As far as urban mobility is concerned, “anarchy” is the worst-case scenario, according to the transport expert. “It describes a state in which there’s no targeted traffic control, no collaborative control of networked autonomous vehicles, and no planning and regulatory control momentum,” says Schönberg, referring to the study he co-authored on “Urban Mobility 2030”. More than ever before, decision-makers from politics and business are called upon to combine intelligent island systems into a highly networked overall system and to prevent uncontrolled growth of individual traffic. The management consultant sees the electrification of road traffic with corresponding charging infrastructure, the increasing spread of ride sharing (i.e. organized carpooling), and the introduction of highly- or fully-automated vehicles as the central building blocks in achieving this.

New traffic planning solutions required

“The increasing scarcity of space in cities, for example due to urbanization, combined with a simultaneously growing need for mobility, requires new traffic planning solutions that include a higher degree of noise and emissions control,” emphasizes Schönberg. Successful approaches already exist. For example, the “Superilles” in Barcelona. Since 2017, nine blocks of houses have been combined into one “super block”. Within these areas, cars are largely taboo. Only residents and businesses are allowed to drive into the complex, at a maximum speed of 10 km/h and only to get to the underground garages or to deliver goods. There are currently six “Superilles”, with eleven more in planning. According to the concept developed by the city administration in 2016, there will be as many as 503. Salvador Rueda, Director of the Barcelona Urban Ecology Authority, is sticking to a plan that would see 70 percent of streets in the Catalan metropolis become mixed use.

At 800 meters, this covered escalator in Hong Kong is the longest such system in the world. Photo: Tuomas Lehtinen - Mauritius ImagesAutonomous driving platform: No more separation of passenger and freight transport with Mercedes-Benz Vans' "Vision Urbanetic". Photo: DaimlerIn the "Superilles" in Barcelona, intersections were converted into public space. Photo: Confederation de Talleres de Proyections de Arquitectura.

For years, many other metropolises have also been thinking about how to improve the congested traffic situation. Hong Kong, for instance, set a notable example back in 1993 with the construction of the Central Mid-Level Escalator: The covered escalator system, which at 800 meters is still the world’s longest outdoor escalator system, connects the Central and Mid-Levels districts in the business center on Hong Kong Island. In 20 escalators, staggered one behind the other, the system climbs 135 meters in altitude. To counteract the gridlock, the two Bolivian cities of La Paz and El Alto, which have grown together, also have an unusual concept in the form of the world’s largest cable car network, which was built in 2014 and has been regularly expanded since then. It covers around 33 kilometers, consisting of detachable gondola lifts, and has become the main means of transport in both cities. And in Las Vegas, Elon Musk’s The Boring Company completed the second tunnel for the “people mover” as recently as May 2020. Cars no longer travel along a road, but are instead transported by shuttles at high speed through a network of tunnels under the city. This should help shorten travel times and avoid traffic jams.

The world's biggest cable car network connects the Bolivian cities La Paz and El Alto. Photo: iStockphoto - Juan Cristhian Valenzuela

The world’s biggest cable car network connects the Bolivian cities La Paz and El Alto. Photo: iStockphoto – Juan Cristhian Valenzuela

Creation of holistic mobility ecosystems

The “Urban Mobility Readiness Index: How Cities Rank on Mobility Ecosystem Development” shows how fit cities worldwide are for changing mobility requirements. The mobility study presented in Paris in November 2019 was written by Professor Alexandre Bayen, Head of the Institute of Transportation at Berkeley University in San Francisco, in collaboration with transport experts from the international strategy consultancy Oliver Wyman. The study focuses on the question to what extent the 30 cities evaluated, across all continents, are prepared for future challenges or whether they’re open to modern technologies and means of transport. Five categories were examined in more detail: system efficiency of local public transport, social impact of transport, including road safety, air quality, and traffic flow, innovative spirit of city administration, attractiveness for market participants in the mobility sector, and infrastructure.

“Whether it’s drones, autonomous vehicles, hyperloops, the electrification of traffic, shared networks of cars, scooters and bicycles, or the introduction of 5G radio technology: The world of mobility is changing almost daily,” affirms traffic researcher Bayen. Nowhere will this change be more noticeable in the coming decades than in the world’s major cities. Increasing population density and congestion will make the creation and maintenance of urban transport systems ever more complex. This, in turn, requires active transport and demand management. “More than ever, city managers must therefore think in terms of creating holistic mobility ecosystems instead of building a subway here and bike lanes there,” adds Joris D’Incà, a partner at ­Oliver Wyman in Zurich and a specialist in the transport and logistics industry. As the latest technologies blur the boundaries between infrastructure, vehicles, sensors, and mobility applications, these ecosystems are evolving around the interplay of different networks and modes of transport. “It is best when they function seamlessly, constantly connected in real time,” says D’Incà.

Different stages of development worldwide

In this respect, as the “Urban Mobility Readiness Index” underlines that many of the world’s metropolises are on the right track. The ranking is led by Singapore, followed by Amsterdam, London, Shanghai, and New York. The fact that a total of five Asian cities are among the top ten – Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul in addition to Singapore and Shanghai – comes as no surprise to Bayen: “One of the decisive factors is the cities’ determination to either be among the first to introduce the latest technologies and solutions, or to at least be at the forefront when it comes to advancing their implementation.”

Whether bus, supermarket, hotel, or delivery van - Toyota's "e-Palette" is multifunctional. Photo: Toyota

Whether bus, supermarket, hotel, or delivery van – Toyota’s “e-Palette” is multifunctional. Photo: Toyota

From autonomous cars and ride hailing, i.e. a ride in a private car booked via app, to electric vehicles and high-speed trains, Asian cities are on the front line. Singapore, in particular, is showing a strong political will to develop mobility beyond the status quo. Still, there’s no sure-fire solution, as development stages in terms of mobility are very different worldwide. In Los Angeles, for example, 89 percent of trips are made by car, compared with only seven percent in Hong Kong, according to Bayen. In Amsterdam, 60 percent of people travel by bicycle or on foot, and in Mexico City, 70 percent use public transport.

New Mobility: New understanding of traffic

The challenges in the field of urban logistics are no less great. This is where the catchphrase “Wild West” comes into play. “This scenario threatens if more and more logistics providers with innovative delivery concepts compete for the favor of customers,” Tobias Schönberg of Roland Berger points out in the study “Urban Logistics 2030”, which he co-authored. Due to the strong growth in e-commerce and the trend toward faster and more flexible delivery of ever smaller quantities, the number of delivery vehicles is increasing. They, in turn, are far from being used to capacity due to a lack of cooperation. As a result, inner-city logistics traffic will continue to increase massively. Integrated management of logistics traffic, for example, would be a good way of counteracting this trend. “While the public sector would have to define logistics areas for the establishment of joint micro-depots, companies should create the technical and physical conditions for operating on a joint platform,” Schönberg explains. This would also include the contribution of their own spaces and vehicles, which could be used across companies via the platform, if necessary. In his view, a prerequisite for any further development is the even stronger promotion of new technologies, such as electric mobility in urban areas. This would make it possible to realize low-noise night logistics. At the same time, highly- or fully-automated vehicles could soon play a decisive role: “Because these vehicles are on the road in the city with a significantly higher capacity utilization than today’s private cars, parking space will become available, which could serve as decentralized logistics space, for example,” says Schönberg. Even with partial introduction of autonomous vehicles in individual city districts, such systems could lead to a completely new understanding of traffic. For example, public robocabs – autonomously driving taxis – could be used for the transport of people and goods.

Positioning of different mobility concepts. Graphic: DEKRA

Acceptance is the key

“Whether a new mobility offer is successful or not depends on whether users find it attractive and whether the price is right,” says Konrad Götz, mobility researcher at the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) in Frankfurt am Main. Last year, together with the Fraunhofer Institute of Labor Economics and Organization (IAO) in Stuttgart, ISOE presented a study on the topic of “robocabs”. The declared objective was to show the range of conceivable autonomous vehicle concepts and to evaluate them in terms of acceptance. To this end, around 2,400 people in Germany, China, and the USA were interviewed. The results of the study show that acceptance is highest in China, followed by the USA and Germany. “In Germany, robocabs are seen more as a supplement to the means of transport currently used; in China, however, they’re actually seen as a replacement,” summarizes Maximilian Jakob Werner of the Fraunhofer IAO.

As, according to the scientists from ISOE and Fraunhofer IAO, the robocab and automated driving aren’t mere trends in the automotive industry, but also socially relevant issues, then the state must also carry responsibility. State institutions must continue to provide financial resources to advance research. In particular, the conditions under which robocabs contribute to sustainable transport systems must be researched more closely. In addition to initial scenarios, simulations, and modeling, comprehensive experimental projects in designated spaces are necessary to investigate the real effects on the road and in the city. It is an exciting field.


“Sustainable mobility management is an ongoing development process”

Peter Paul Ruschin, Head of Sustainability Services, DEKRA Assurances Services GmbH

Peter Paul Ruschin, Head of Sustainability Services, DEKRA Assurances Services GmbH

DEKRA has been advising companies for years in regard to their sustainability. How important is the topic of mobility in this context?

In light of the fact that the vehicle fleet is often by far the largest contributor to CO2 emissions of, say, a service company, mobility consultancy is of great importance. Our experience shows that the use of passenger and road freight transport vehicles that run on fossil fuels often doesn’t yet meet today’s requirements for corporate sustainability. In many cases, there’s a need for action. With our service, we support companies in effectively reducing traffic-­related pollution. At the same time, we support them in creating suitable measures to improve their corporate mobility management in order to change mobility behavior throughout the company and to be able to travel sustainably.

How do you go about this?

First, we analyze the status quo of the existing mobility management and review the efficiency of measures already taken. The results of the analysis serve as a basis for an optimization concept, including cost, financing, and time schedules, which is worked out in collaboration with the company, for example by redefining the car policy or creating necessary charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.
Or by promoting public transport tickets so that some employees can use public transport to get to work and back home. Our objective is to put together a holistic mobility package for and with companies, with the best mix of different means of transport.

Do you also check the effectiveness of these measures?

Naturally, efficacy monitoring is also part of our range of services. After all, sustainable mobility management is no passing phase, but an ongoing process of further development.

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