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Read the latest news from across the whole sector that highlights the development of affordable, accessible and low-carbon shared mobility

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articles - 9 Mar 2017

LTT Comment: Are changes in how we travel bound to reduce social mixing?

Mobility matters 3rd March 2017 Life used to be simple in the transport world. People generally owned cars, used public transport or walked and cycled. OK, I am guilty of opening with what is probably a false premise, but stick with me for now. As the boundaries between private and public transport blur through the emergence of shared models and new forms of ownership, maybe the discussion could shift to private and public spaces of travel. Put another way, if the future means that we summon pods to whisk us to our destination, what have we lost through not mingling with other people on the way?
  What makes a great place? The diagram above demonstrates that a significant part of “great places” involve social contact.   Given free choice, would more (most?) people choose to travel in their own private space than mix with strangers? For anyone who has been skiing, waiting in line for a 6-person gondola is an interesting social experiment: I’d suggest most people secretly hope that the “strangers” behind choose to take the next gondola; get on any busy-and-getting-busier bus or train, and people fill the empty seats first; Jonathan Dunne, the originator of the 2016 “Tube Chat” campaign that aims to get people talking to each other on the London Underground, suggests that about 80% of people think its “terrible, the worst idea ever”.   So are we really social animals? Or does it just need a rethink when we consider transport?   Looking back to the rise of the private car, two of the key drivers for its popularity (ignoring for now issues of affordability or social norms) were the promise of independence of journey making plus the privacy of the capsule.   Robin Chase’s brilliant video of the heaven or hell future scenarios for autonomous vehicles only touches on the idea of social mixing. In the changing world of mobility and the rise of new ways of travelling, should(n’t) we be focussing a bit more on this? The risk of not doing may inadvertently lead us into a form of hell where increasing numbers of people mix even less with others from outside their chosen social bubbles.   Social mixing has been considered in great detail in relation to things that don’t move, but seems to largely to have evaded moving spaces aka transport or mobility.   The approach to design of public realm usually considers social mixing explicitly; this often involves not just how people pass through, but about creating places and opportunities for pausing as well as managing mixing. The explicit development of mixing spaces is a core part of more radical interventions as outlined in Charles Montgomery’s Happy City (2015), as well as the UK’s Home zones and other traffic calmed and traffic free areas.   Perhaps the most obvious sector where social mixing is made explicit is in relation to housing. From the benefits of deliberately designing-in mixed tenures, scale and values of housing in development to the issues of gated communities and social exclusion, the mixing of types of people is a big issue in property development.  Danish Architect Jan Gehl’s recent observations on the social problems of skyscraper living is neatly summarised as “stacking people on shelves is a very efficient method of human isolation” and the observation that “we have seen in the past 20 years a withdrawal from society into the private sphere”. The architecture literature is crammed with classic (if somewhat impenetrable) tomes relating to the design of social interaction including Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space” (1958), Lefebvre’s “The Production of Space” (1991).  
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articles - 7 Feb 2017

LTT Comment: Could regulation deliver public good and trigger vitality in the new mobility sector?

  Mobility Matters February 2017 The relationship and role between the public and private sector keeps rearing its head as the mobility world develops. Court cases between public sector bodies and Uber, or the lack of meshing between fast-evolving carsharing operators and London Boroughs make the national press. The subtext is often “cash rich young guns outpace conservative old guard”. However, even though the vast majority of people and things that move do so in “traditional” ways, the new and disruptive operations are all predicted to become major players and are already having major influence on the new mobility landscape.
  If we scratch underneath the headlines, what do they say about the growth pains of “new mobility” and how might these get resolved? Is it possible for the private sector’s profit-led drivers (or at least race to viability) to mesh with the public sector’s responsibility to deliver public good for mutual benefit? What might this world look like?   This raises two relevant concepts – viewing transport as a utility (and hence whether the regulatory and governance models of other utilities might illuminate the future direction of “new mobility”) and the Porter hypothesis. Exploring these together might help us understand some of the questions around regulation and fast-moving disruptive mobility services.   Let’s start with the Porter hypothesis.   In its pure form, this says that strict environmental regulations can reduce inefficiency and encourage innovation which improves commercial competitiveness. When proposed (in 1995), it was seen in some quarters as turning prevailing economic theory on its head. The idea of constraining markets through regulation to trigger growth flew in the face of the predominant economic and political dogma of the time. However, its core idea seems to have survived subsequent critiques and reviews pretty much intact, and its application has been stretched to relative competitiveness of whole countries.   So let’s apply the idea to the relationship between the public sector – via regulation and policy – and the disruptive private sector mobility operators. This leads to a couple of useful questions. Firstly, could more – or better – policy and regulation lead to efficiency, innovation and competitiveness in the new mobility sector? The car sharing sector is pretty much unregulated. Quality assurance is provided by the Carplus accreditation scheme or BVRLA membership, and is used by the public sector to determine whether to enter into contractual arrangements with operators. But if we look at London, there are significant differences in how car sharing is implemented in different boroughs, and this is microcosm of the rest of the UK. This is currently limiting the sector’s ability to realise the scale of potential “public good” benefits that could be delivered.   Secondly – and more importantly for the purposes of this argument – would increased efficiency, innovation and competitiveness in this sector enhance public good?   Brought together, these two questions frame the sort of regulatory constraints that might lead to better outcomes.   Alongside the Porter hypothesis, let’s also look at what we can learn from how utilities are regulated. Might utility regulation contribute to a new framework?   Is it appropriate to consider mobility as a utility? A quick trawl provides fairly clear definitions of what constitutes a public utility as “…a business that furnishes an everyday necessity to the public at large. Public utilities provide water, electricity, natural gas, telephone service, and other essentials. Utilities may be publicly or privately owned, but most are operated as private businesses” .   The ongoing shift to people consuming mobility services – and the subsequent challenges being addressed here relating to regulation – suggest that there is at least some mandate to follow this argument. This is interesting when we consider how other utilities are regulated in relation to mobility.   The UK’s system of regulation means that each sector has its Regulatory Office – Ofgem, Ofcom etc. “Ofmob” might not win any points for graceful branding, but let’s consider it for the new mobility sector. If we look at Ofcom for guidance, its purposes are to “… make sure that people in the UK get the best from their communications services and are protected from scams and sharp practices, while ensuring that competition can thrive.” Furthermore, “Ofcom’s principal duty is to further the interests of citizens and of consumers”. These purposes and focus are shared by the other regulatory bodies, if the way in which they carry out their duties vary.  
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articles - 25 Jan 2017

LTT Comment: Where Uber leads, community transport should follow

Mobility Matters 6 January 2017

Community transport and car clubs have common ancestry in the UK, but have diverged significantly over the years. The emergence of new technology and more widespread disruption in the transport sector now opens all sorts of opportunities to look again at what the future might hold across and beyond these sectors. Here, Kate Gifford develops ideas from the recent Community Transport Association’s (CTA) conference.  
  The recent CTA conference exposed a fundamental conundrum for transport professionals. Those operating community transport on the very smallest scale see very few resonances with car clubs or novel transport providers like Uber, and even fewer with rail and bus operators. The vision of connected transport services and Mobility as a Service seems worlds away from meeting the needs of “those who are otherwise isolated or excluded, enabling them to live independently, participate in their communities and access education, employment, health and other services”.   However, the developments in real time data, booking and payment platforms, fleet management and telematics which contribute to putting public and shared transport services together in Mobility as a Service packages, could transform and energise community transport. It could represent a phase shift in enabling community transport to provide “flexible, accessible and responsive solutions to unmet local transport needs” .   In an environment where the budgets for local transport services are consistently being reduced, community transport has an increasingly important role to play in future provision of local transport services.   Within this same environment of budget cuts, public transport providers are grappling with how to provide smaller scale, lighter, more tailored transport services because it is a better use of their resources. We see that RATP is operating demand responsive shared commuter travel in Bristol. Its ‘Slide’ project using 7 seater vehicles driving between ‘virtual bus stops’ under taxi legislation requires less investment and quickly reconfigures flexible timetables to maximise vehicle use and capacities.   The incredible growth of Uber, whose business claim is merely to ‘offer a platform to allow passengers to connect with drivers’, demonstrates how technology can cut across legislation, reduce the need for investment in fleets and drivers and provide travel flexibility for individuals. Even though Uber is gradually being reined in and given more responsibilities for drivers and passengers, the technology it uses shows a direction of travel for transport that cannot be reversed.   Meanwhile, it may seem like a pipedream to shift the current provision of community transport to all singing, all dancing apps and platforms. However, if community led sectors want to maintain transport provision in these areas, it’s a shift we need to make.   We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of ‘disruptors’ on the future of community transport. In North America, Uber are starting to provide non-emergency patient transport and look at ways to boost demand for their wheelchair accessible vehicle fleet (which many cities require them to have). Uber’s move into providing dial-a-ride services has been somewhat more controversial – with Pinellas County in Florida being the first area in the USA to subsidise rides. With the spread of Uber across many major cities in the UK, it is only matter of time before we start to see similar developments here.   However, the shift the community led sector needs to make may not be as big as first anticipated. We have already seen how technology can be introduced to allow community resources to be utilised to their maximum potential. Even many of the smallest car clubs use telematics and online booking software.   Sharing this technology is already happening in places.   A good example of this is the provision of a wheelchair accessible vehicle as part of the car club offer in Bristol (operated by BCT in partnership with Co-wheels). The car can be booked online using booking software and telematics provided by Co-wheels. This has made the vehicle easier to access as it is available on-street and can be opened using a smartcard.  
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articles - 2 Nov 2016

‘Gaining access to what we need without travel is re-shaping services’ writes Alistair Kirkbride in Mobility Matters for Local Transport Today

“Mobility” is everywhere. “Mobility as a Service” (MaaS) is increasingly filling column inches and conference halls, and many car manufacturers and rail companies are re-branding as “mobility service providers”.
  But do we really have a clear understanding – or any agreement – of what mobility means? And shouldn’t we really be looking at “Accessibility as a Service” – the argument being that people’s primary need is to access things (jobs, shops, friends etc) rather than to travel?   We should start by looking backwards at people’s lifestyles now compared to, say, a generation ago through a transport lens. In addition to the well-rehearsed changes in public transport use, walking, cycling and car use, the big change is the ability to access stuff via smart phones and the internet without needing to travel. We can have contact with friends, family and colleagues without having to physically move. We increasingly access services and information without needing to travel, and goods come to us rather than us having to go to fetch them.   Stark examples of this are from a current smartphone marketing campaign[1] “…the young generation are pioneering new ways [with smartphones] to do business, create social movements and reach out to millions” and an app that gives me an online video appointment with a GP in a few hours rather than a few days (so long as I am prepared to pay).   Furthermore, someone delivering anything from my groceries, a book or packet of paper clips to my door in no time is now the norm rather than the exception for many.   Only a few years ago, we would have travelled to buy these. For the purposes of the train of argument, let’s not question the comparative impacts, ethics or politics of these developments, but focus on what they mean for modern lifestyles and the need for mobility.   It all suggests that somewhere between “mobility” and “accessibility” might sit “connectedness”. In this context, connectedness means the ability to access what we need – either by making journeys (mobility) or our smartphones, tablets or computers. It is not the same as “connectivity” – which implies lubricated travel.   “Connectedness as a service” (CaaS) then looks interesting in that not travelling (because we can access stuff via the web) effectively becomes a mode alongside the other components of mobility when we are planning compelling lifestyle packages.  
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