MAC

17 December 2018 Kate Palmer

It’s clear from the way users have embraced initiatives such as bike and e-scooter sharing schemes that there is a considerable appetite for a future that is built on shared and active mobility.

During the development of its Technology Roadmap, which is due for release in 2019, the NZ Transport Agency spoke to 1,000 people to determine how they would like the transport system to look in the future. The findings revealed that while customers want a shared mobility future, they have very real concerns about how this will happen.

That’s because, at present, the future that we can see involves swapping our privately-owned transport assets to one where we pay by the kilometre to use assets that are owned and controlled by large, multinational corporates, often based offshore.

When it comes to cars - which are a depreciating asset - we want the savings we can gain from achieving more efficient use and we can see the benefits that sharing can bring in helping us move towards electrification. However, we don’t want to lose the personal freedom that we presently feel we have and we need to gain trust in each other to share things that we own. 

Mobility for profit

It’s often not new technology that disrupts markets so much as new finance systems and business models. So in today’s gig economy, is there a way that we can clean up the national fleet in the medium term, but share what we have in the interim? And if so, how might we make this happen?

Thoughtful design is needed to ensure accessibility and affordability for all ages, genders, incomes, and abilities.Yet the real potential for shared transport is in reducing household travel costs, lowering emissions and easing congestion across the network.

And this is the rub: the companies that currently operate in the shared mobility space are working for their investors and for profit. Yes, many have plans for people on low incomes but, realistically, providing equity and fair access isn’t as profitable as serving richer communities that use their services more.
It’s a viable economic model but the point needs to be made - you don’t see many Lime scooters in south and west Auckland.

A fairer solution

Transport experts and commentators – myself included – have been focused on what business does vs. what governments do, but are we overlooking the role that community plays in the transition to a new mobility future?

As government looks to enable more partnering with private enterprise to deliver transport services, should it also be enabling community groups to co-operate and share their own assets? 

I was heartened by the example of the Hobsonville community that has been asked to help fund the trial of a weekend ferry service.
Here we’re seeing a powerful disruptor emerge, one that puts the customer at the very centre of mobility decisions.

We have the first examples of apartment buildings with no provision for car parks, which heralds a new approach for New Zealand. In some cases, the developer has purchased a pool car to be shared by the residents, arguing that this should reduce the number of car parks required.

This is fine in theory, but often falls over in practice – especially if you’re the resident that is stranded at the weekend in your car-free development. A better model would see a body corporate purchase personal transport options based on the needs of their residents. This could be a mix of pool cars, electric bikes, road bikes and scooters, with a guaranteed ride or insurance system to get people to places if they do get stranded.

By working together as a community to design the co-operative, and being able to decide who can join, a level of trust can be gained that may encourage people to sell or transfer their existing transport assets for shared use, or club together to buy new ones.

There are challenges with this that would need to be overcome – particularly around getting the units back to base. That said, is there a reason local shops couldn’t also act as a base? Or is there a side hustle opportunity for an individual to do this, paid for by a transport fee charged by the body corporate?

Similarly, we can look to workplaces to lead. For example, Fonterra is currently at the helm of the Wynyard Quarter Transport Management Association (TMA). As the nation’s largest co-operative, could we tap into Fonterra’s capability to develop a mobility co-op for the businesses in the Quarter?

Transport Management Associations overseas perform this role already by running vanpooling services and, in some cases, enabling the transition away from fleets of company cars dedicated to each business, towards a pool of fleet vehicles shared between member businesses. 

How we get there

We already have assets: cars, bicycles, scooters -  so it’s a matter of seeing whether we can we transition these into a shared pool in a way that helps their owners and takes us into a shared future more quickly.

While bringing in a load of new vehicles provides the opportunity to clean up and reduce the average age of New Zealand’s fleet, it will take some time to achieve something like this at scale across the country. If we want change to happen more quickly, we could turn some of our attention to considering how we can use our existing assets more efficiently. In the short term this could prove more efficient than bringing in a load of new vehicles and disposing of the under used ones.

Some may argue that it wouldn’t work and use carpooling as an example. I remain of the opinion that the growth of carpooling is limited by the lack of dynamic options and that drivers can’t profit from carrying passengers. 

Technologies that make it possible

I think there are three models or technologies that we can draw on to enable ‘mobility as a co-op’:
1. Peer-to-peer sharing services such as Spinlister, Your Drive, My Car Your Rental: the enabling apps that allow us to share what we have
2. Data specifications- We already have technologies at our disposal that would enable mobility as a co-op, for example, there are data standards like Google Bikeshare Feed Specification that could theoretically enable local bikeshare to be established by groups of businesses offering local bicycle for hire
3. Car clubs or street fleets- the forerunners of the larger carshare systems could be revisited as a model for communities.

If we bring these things together and involve the right people at a ‘hyper local’ level to develop mobility as a co-operative, we stand to set ourselves up to create a mobility system that is based on pooling our own assets, works to serve its users as opposed to one that is driven to maximise profits and benefit overseas shareholders.

Just as we don’t want a future where the ability to purchase our own home is out of reach for the majority – leading to a nation of renters - we should also exercise caution about the amount of control we give new providers; a co-op model may only be part of the answer, regulation and guidelines will also help to focus for-profit operators on delivering value. At the very least we should be less laissez fair about whether for-profit operators will really deliver mobility for all.

Inspiration for this article includes:
The value of co-operatives
Community Bicycle Organizations  

Louise Baker is Sector Leader Smart Mobility & Advisory at WSP Opus.

Want more? Listen to Louise discuss the role of smart mobility in our future cities here