Mobility concepts are all in the news from electric powered bikes, to scooters, to self-driving vehicles. By the way if you don’t know what MaaS stands for, it is “Mobility as a Service”. The central idea behind the concept is vehicular mobility (of all sorts) but without individual private ownership.
Well, haven’t we had carriages, trains, buses, taxis, etc. since the days when horsepower actually meant horses? None of these conveyances, historically, were owned by the individuals making use of them. So, what is different today? Here are some of differences (and anomalies):
- While we still have most of the public transportation services mentioned above, the majority of our transportation needs are met through use of our privately-owned vehicles—particularly one of more on-road vehicles and in the community, personal transportation vehicles, or PTVs. (Note: Some of the uninformed still refer to our PTV beauties as “golf carts”—PUHleez!) MaaS is a challenge to the ownership concept, aspiring to be the new, dominant transportation mode.
- Secondly, the context is different. In the past, cities and suburbs expanded outward, covering vast new areas of geography, all made possible by use of the privately-owned automobile. Now the twin beasts of congestion and pollution have made driving a nightmare in many metropolitan areas, along with questionable air quality.
- Finally, we, as consumers, do not want to give up the freedom of getting from one location to another specific location, when we want to; that is, we don’t want to be tied to a schedule and then dropped off somewhere in the vicinity of our desired destination.
Is there an answer to these new complexities in the mobility environment and, at the same time, meet our demands for personalized service? Quite possibly and we are beginning to see a number of new options.
Emerging options in MaaS
A number of MaaS options have emerged and are very active in both consumer and commercial markets. Two-wheeled options are proliferating. Bicycles in New York City, sponsored by CitiBank may picked up at stations located throughout the city. Presently, the system has an inventory of 13,000 bicycles and over 800 bike locking stations. Recently, Citi Bike announced plans to triple the size of the fleet to about 40,000 bikes, and assuming the same bike to station ratio, bike locking stations would increase to 2,400 locations. In another announcement, Citi Bike will begin offering pedal-assist electric bikes—some 4,000 of these units envisioned. All this in climate zone that makes comfortable bike riding possible in only 5 months out of the year.
Not to be outdone, Citi Bike has begun operations in Miami, under the management of DECOBIKE, LLC. Currently, the fleet numbers approximately 1,000 units and 100 locking stations. Plans for expansion are well underway.
On the commercial side of things, electric delivery bikes are proliferating as well in New York City. In this case, the bikes are individually purchased by companies.
A bicycle does not look like a conventional taxi, yet both modes of transport are vying for at least one common segment of the market, essentially a younger, city-dweller and the occasional tourist. Bikes are offering a clear alternative mode of transport, especially convenient on crowded city streets.
Rise of the self-driving shuttle
As opposed to bikes that accommodate one rider, newly emerging smallish shuttles will accommodate between sic to 12 passengers. Here are some examples in the U.S. and abroad:
Optimus Ride, a spinoff of MITs mobility lab, describes itself as self-driving technology company. It is making significant strides in implementing its system in what are called “geo-fenced” areas of operation. This essentially means operating within a property that has clearly-defined boundaries. The company recently announced implementation of its system in New York’s Brooklyn Navy Yard. This facility covers 300 acres, houses 400 manufacturing businesses, and employs 9,000 workers. At about the same time the company also announced a driverless shuttle program for the residential development, Paradise Valley Estates, located in Fairfield, California. According to the company, “Optimus Ride will provide residents and workers at both sites with access to efficient and convenient self-driving mobility within defined, geofenced areas.”
In perhaps its biggest project, Optimus announced a partnership with Brookfield Properties to deploy self-driving vehicles at Brookfield’s Halley Rise development, located just outside of Washington, D.C. Halley Rise is a $1.4 billion mixed-use development that will transform a 36-acre office park in Reston, Virginia into 3.5 million square feet of new housing, local retail, modern offices, public green spaces, and year-round cultural activations. The strategic partnership with one of the major real estate developers in the country bodes well for on-going expansion of the company. (IPO anyone?)
Self-driving shuttles hit Europe and Asia
Telecommunications company Ericsson has partnered with local Swedish public transportation and technology providers to conduct a six-month trial of two electric self-driving shuttle buses on public Stockholm roads. The goal is to test how the autonomous vehicles perform under real-word conditions for an extended period alongside cars, cyclists and pedestrians.
In Finland, the company, Sensible 4, after testing its technology in arctic Lapland conditions, has partnered with a design team from Japanese retail giant Muji to produce an autonomous shuttle bus. Called Gacha, the self-driving electric vehicles will undergo trials in three cities in Finland across 2019, with a goal of deploying a commercial fleet sometime in 2020.
And in Singapore, A driverless bus developed by French firm EasyMile is to go into operation at a business park in California and a park in Singapore. The shuttle bus has been in trial and in operation in Singapore since 2017. The EZ10 is designed for last mile travel, such as between travel hubs and final destinations, or for looped routes within confined areas, like airports, city centers and business parks.
The EZ10 is fully electric and is powered by a lithium-ion battery, which can be fully charged in eight hours, resulting in up to 12 hours of operation.
What’s in store for the gated community?
Two things are quite clear from this overview individualized bike ride-sharing systems and of driverless technology applied to mid-sized shuttles: First, with regard to the bikes. They are very convenient, much cheaper than alternative transportation modes, and have found a ready market, even in colder, seasonal climates. Moreover, such systems are rapidly spreading in the U.S., and I have been told by component suppliers in Canada that bikes, especially electric-powered bikes are very hot throughout Europe.
Secondly, self-driving technology is definitely here—not for all transport environments, but definitely a fit in restricted areas, such as parks, campuses, and, yes, in gated communities. In fact, gated communities would, in all likelihood, be an ideal target market for self-driving shuttles. Also note, however, that self-driving technology can be packaged in a wide range of vehicles. My vision for the gated community is, in fact, a small, two-person fleet of vehicles with space for groceries, tools, or golf bags, that can be fully-enclosed. The vehicle would be on-call via an app, and once used could return, like a homing pigeon to its cozy nest for recharging.
What do you think? Ready to give up your PTV beauty? Probably not, but you might see your way clear to the additional convenience of MaaS. And, of course, for some, handicapped, or having reached that age, where driverless technology would a welcome necessity.