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City, Slicker: Developments in multi-modal navigation

Connectivity and data is revolutionising urban travel. But how will cities, and business travelers, make sense of it all? Martyn Collins reports from the inaugural Niu Urban Mobility Summit in Paris.

General thinking is that cities need to push for a global platform for urban mobility

So, what do cities want to do with this data?

Cutting congestion and pollution are priorities for cities, and though that means investing in road and transport capacity the big trend is to improve the multi-mobility and transport demand with availability in real time. The only way to make it happen, and help end-users to get around efficiently, is via large amounts of data.

Cities are already collecting, sharing and publishing data, which could be seen as a good example for private operators to follow, as it gives the best solution and user experience, taking into account natural things like the weather forecast, to anticipate the needs of the consumer. For example, a user could go to an underground station in the city, travel for five-to six-stations, then afterwards can take a scooter from outside the station to travel the last five-or-10 miles. The challenge is connecting the different modes together and coming up with a much more efficient solution.

 

How could this accommodate the growth in remote working?

Electric scooter manufacturer Niu, which organised the summit, sees sharing services as a core part of its European expansion, and is already partnering with companies across the region. Niu’s CEO and co-founder, Token Hu, says changing habits don’t mean an end to travel: “70% of people have a journey every day, this is why we’re working on a share programme – it is really good for an emergency, or occasional trip out. I think this, combined with a system of connected services, will help with irregular commutes.”

This data will help match drivers to a mode that suits them, whether that’s the fastest, or most comfortable, or the most cost-effective. For operators, it can also help anticipate scenarios, such as sunny days, when there will be more electric scooters on the road. In turn, it places more emphasis on how those forms of transport interact to form one journey.

 

What effect does the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have on these projects?

GDPR isn’t just about informing people about what will be done with their data, the mobility sector believes it can only be positive and encourage people to share, if it’s done well. As the regulation evolves, this will allow companies and cities to work with this data and offer mobility services.

Gion Baker, CEO of Vodafone Automotive, says: “MaaS, or Mobility As A Service, is the one service that only works if we have data — we cannot deliver services without it. So our position is that it’s all about protecting the privacy of the people, with the transparency to choose how we use the data and for which medium. So, for GDPR, it’s all about security and privacy by design. But to also design the data flow with the customer, for the best approach to keep the customer in the economy of trust.”

According to Baker, the ‘economy of trust’ is the next evolution in Europe to come out of GDPR. It means data will be handled with transparency with state-of-the-art technologies of security and privacy, monitored by consumers and providers. Instead of being about individuals, it will aggregate that data to help develop new urban mobility services.

 

What role can 5G high-speed mobile data play?

Handling all this data requires mobile infrastructure far more capable than today’s, and this is where 5G connectivity comes in, giving low-level messages with a high level of ability and designed to have a higher density of connection. The implementation of 5G services is important for urban mobility solutions, as it will bring new opportunities for new services, within autonomous cars, managing data, security and more.

 

When?

Well, Baker adds: “By the end of next year 2019, 80% of the city of Milan will be covered by 5G. To do this, we need to define a new case for using this connectivity. So we are envisioning at least four different uses, one is a coordinated approach on traffic with vehicles talking to each other. Then seeing what’s in front of traffic, without overtaking — thus improving road safety — which is also a need we have for our cities. Plus platooning or automating the highway and speed control in the cities.”

 

Who will take the lead on providing the connected transportation infrastructure?

Local experimentation has, so far, been a cooperation between public and private businesses. Cities are taking an important role, not leaving it just to the operators. More operators and new modes of transport are coming on stream, which is positive, but the challenge for cities is to somehow put that all together and have a global view on transportation possibilities. Being able to adapt capacity to the demand, react to incidents and to make sure they put the right mobility on the road is key.

The multifaceted nature of modern commutes, plus the variety of options and modes of transport for people to get where they need to go, means we are likely to see a brand new range of sharing vehicles, including scooters, bikes and cars, that would all operate on the same platform. There is already an app aggregator in place for car sharing, but companies want to add to their solution, with Niu suggesting 80% want to add scooter sharing services. Consensus from the industry is that cities need to push for a global platform for urban mobility, to provide multi-modal services. This would put everything – mass, or individual transit – all in one place, quickly streamlining diverse urban travel.

 

And where does the electric scooter fit in?

Mobility is changing rapidly in a lot in cities – especially very big cities – and growing concerns over air quality are likely to accelerate this process. And, while car sharing offers a solution for moving around urban areas, electric scooters are said to offer advantages of taking up a quarter of the space of a car, with no pollution. Stakeholders are suggesting it could become as common as bike sharing in the near future, provided regulation is designed to help, rather than hinder, the process.

 

Timo Buetefisch, CEO of Europe’s largest electric scooter sharer, eCooltra, explains: “The battlefield for us is the cities, so I think it’s very important to have a major position in the cities where we go. We’re currently in five cities: Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, Rome and Milan. “Using Madrid as an example, the government has made us really welcome in the city, accepting this new mobility service. Regulation is coming up, it has to be a way to make money, but regulation doesn’t mean we can just operate in the city, it is more about helping us to operate in an efficient way.”

In Madrid, Buetefisch explains, that there are not enough parking spaces because it wasn’t a city where people were used to riding scooters. So, the need for public parking for scooters would help them to operate better. However, this regulation is also expected to lead to consolidation, with three to four major players in cities.

The only stumbling blocks for scooter sharing growth is being able to fund the fleet of bikes, the regular threat of vandalism taking bikes off the road and what to do with the scooters after three years. There isn’t a second market for them yet in what is described as a ‘long game’ investment for investors, in what is likely to become a key part of connected city transport infrastructure. But while this is a complex process behind the scenes, for those who us it, navigation the urban jungle could become easier than it’s ever been.

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