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INNOVATION | 28.12.2020

A new way forward for shared mobility

Marta Villalba

José María Cancer Abóitiz

Director general de CESVIMAP

For some time now, when talking about what mobility is and will be like, we have used the acronym CASE — Connected, Automated, Shared and Electric. In a way, the idea behind “connected” cars is related to the “horror vacui,” or fear of empty spaces, that we seem to have grown accustomed to in recent years. We live in a hyper-connected reality. This means we are used to knowing what’s going on in the world and in our personal lives at any given time and to always being in touch with our contacts online.

This has even led to us wanting to stay connected when on the move via some means of transport, increasing the risk of an accident due to drivers not paying attention when behind the wheel. Modern vehicles incorporate several features to guarantee connectivity, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi communication. This enables passengers to be permanently connected, being constantly geo-located and even tracked if requested.

The COVID pandemic we are living through has separated many of us from friends and family, reducing the number of journeys we make to meet up. This means the time we spend traveling is extremely valuable, as it gives us chance to keep in touch with people we can’t see in real life. When it comes to driving, this factor has been combined with fewer vehicles on the roads in recent months, ultimately increasing the chance of accidents due to individuals being distracted while driving.

Many dreamed of soon being free from having to pay attention while at the wheel with the potential arrival of “self-driving vehicles.” However, recent surveys have shown that, to this day, a significant number of people don’t trust that machines and their famous algorithms will be reliable when controlling vehicles in real-life traffic scenarios. It seems that now we know more about the real progress made by technology, we will settle for technology playing a supporting role rather than allowing a machine to take humans’ place in the driver’s seat.

However, one thing that has changed due to the pandemic is the idea of “shared” mobility. With social distancing measures to slow the spread of the pandemic front and center of our minds, it seems unlikely that people would happily consider taking shared means of transport. This has led to fewer people using public transport in 2020 and increased use of private vehicles and personal mobility vehicles in cities.

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently released an interesting reflection1 on this topic, in which the concepts of connected and shared mobility were combined. This led to the suggestion that, in the post-COVID era, the S in CASE mobility would evolve from “Shared” to “Smart.” This development refers to the enormous range of possibilities offered by vehicle connectivity that would mean the vehicle itself is shared rather than the particular journey, taking into account each person’s needs at any given time, their journeys and destinations, etc. It’s about taking a smart approach to mobility.

  1. Digital Auto Report 2020. Navigating through a post-pandemic world. PricewaterhouseCoopers. 2020. https://www.strategyand.pwc.com/gx/en/insights/2020/digital-auto-report.html

Connectivity paves the way for personalized “public” transport — vehicles for individual hire by the minute, hour, day, week and so on. Users are registered and removed as they activate each means of transport by using it, and then deactivate and leave it for another person to use. Artificial intelligence can be used to get advance information about who is going to use a certain car/motorbike/scooter at the start of the day, where they are going to end their journey—leaving the vehicle for the next user—and so on, throughout the day. This generates an economy of scale, as each vehicle is used by a greater number of people per day. In this way, the mode of transport is shared, rather than the journey.

Finally, the improved air quality seen in urban areas during periods of lockdown throughout the pandemic has made us more aware of the positive impact of reducing the number of cars with combustion engines on our roads. Our collective view on the possibility of electric mobility improving our quality of life has changed, because now we truly believe it can do so.

At research centers, such as CESVIMAP, we are trying to make people aware that electric vehicles are not yet the cure-all that meets all our mobility needs, but are a means of reducing the emissions produced from a large number of the journeys we make every day.

In addition, the particular features of electric vehicles mean they are generally have connectivity and are easily semi-automated. This makes them ideal for shared use in a way that is augmented by collective intelligence capabilities.

As a result, we believe that one of the things that has changed most and will continue to change as a result of the pandemic is the gradual introduction of small electric vehicles in cities for our daily mobility needs.

At the time of writing, I have dinner plans tonight with another couple in the center of Madrid, on the heated terrace of a restaurant with limited capacity. We plan to travel there in a small shared car. At the end of the night, we have also planned to leave at a certain time, due to the curfew, when a vehicle for hire will pick us up and take us back home.

The pandemic will change the way we do a lot of things, but it will never overcome our need to socialize. While we will adapt to new healthcare needs, we also need our transport technology to adapt to suit our new needs in the area of mobility. Whenever there has been a business opportunity, the market has adapted to new realities. Whenever industry has adapted to new demands, profits have been generated. Whenever profits have been generated, society has kept moving forward. Our duty is to make that change “Smart,” or advantageous for society as a whole, and “Shared,” or in other words valid, accessible and beneficial to the majority of individuals.