Future of Mobility: The Long and Bumpy Road Ahead
Since the invention of the automobile in the 19th century, the car has played a major role in helping individuals get around. But such convenience has come at a cost, with roads becoming increasingly choked with cars that also emit greenhouse gases while they are at it, contributing to climate change.
Fortunately, countries all around the world have acknowledged that such heavy reliance on cars cannot continue: smarter, more efficient, and greener mobility options are needed.
Armed with a vision of going "car-lite", Singapore is one country that is taking action. As defined in the 2015 Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, a car-lite city is one with “efficient and accessible rail and bus networks, streets and paths that are conducive for walking and cycling, and smart, on-demand point-to-point transport options”.
Enter Mobility as a Service. With its push to encourage community sharing over private ownership of mobility options, Mobility as a Service shows great potential in filling the gaps for such on-demand, point-to-point transport options.
Shared Rides, Personal Mobility Devices, and Bikes
Mobility as a Service is not exactly a new idea. The conventional taxi service, where commuters flag a ride instead of owning their own vehicle, has been in Singapore since the 1920s, for example. However, it is arguably not the most efficient way of matching drivers and passengers, as taxis burn precious fuel while trawling the streets for passengers.
This has changed in recent times with the evolution of taxi services into private-hire services, or “ride-hailing”. Under this model, users request a ride via a mobile app before a driver goes to their location to pick them up. Due to the convenience and lower fares, ride-hailing has proven to be extremely popular, to the alarm of some taxi drivers in the region who feel that their rice bowls are under threat.
From sharing cars, entrepreneurs have also hit on the idea of sharing bikes to smoothen out last-mile connectivity for individuals. With a few taps of an app, commuters can unlock a shared bike to zip over to their destination without needing to lug their own such device around.
Autonomous vehicles are the newest kids on the Mobility as a Service block. Also known as driverless cars, they have the potential to take ride-hailing services to another level by eliminating the driver from the equation. In July 2019, a self-driving shuttle bus started accepting passengers in a year-long trial at the National University of Singapore campus, while German aviation start-up Volocopter started private test flights for their air taxis – which can be operated autonomously in the long run, according to CEO Florian Reuter – in Singapore earlier this year.
Roadblocks in the Path
Despite the potential for Mobility as a Service to reduce car reliance, roadblocks still stand in the way.
For one, many Mobility as a Service options utilise technology to drive their services. However, no technology is perfect, and these flaws can pose risks that affect user trust and confidence.
In October 2016 for example, autonomous vehicle start-up nuTonomy was trialling its self-driving cars in Nanyang Technological University when one of them collided into a lorry. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
Even if users trust the technology enough to use it, hazard issues may arise due to the shared nature of the services.
Users don’t own the devices they ride, which may affect how carefully they treat them. When shared bikes were first introduced in Singapore, it was not uncommon to encounter bikes with damaged parts or parked haphazardly on grass patches instead of at parking bays. Some users even outrightly abused the bikes, locking them with personal locks or throwing them into drains.
After the authorities stepped in to curb such abuse, operators struggled to bear the high costs of licensing and maintaining their fleet. Major shared bike operators, oBike, ofo, and Mobike, have since shuttered their Singapore operations.
Improving Mobility as a Service with Technology, Regulation, and Infrastructure
In recognition of such challenges, various stakeholders are taking steps to instil a greater sense of trust and ownership in Mobility as a Service options.
The Mobility as a Service service providers themselves are also doing their part. In July 2019, ride-hailing company Gojek began installing inward-facing cameras in its cars to ensure “better safety and security for all users on the Gojek platform” in Singapore. Shared bike operator SG Bike also began leveraging on telecommunications company M1’s Narrowband Internet-of-Things network to track and retrieve improperly-parked bikes.
Singapore’s ride-hailing industry will also be regulated more tightly. Legislation is being introduced to require both taxi and ride-hailing operators to obtain licences to operate in Singapore. These licences will come with passenger safety and minimum service level obligations, amongst others.
Finally, autonomous vehicle rides may get safer and smoother with the Singapore government’s islandwide rollout of 5G networks next year. Delivering lower network latencies and surfing speeds up to 20 times faster than current 4G networks, 5G networks look set to shorten autonomous vehicles’ reaction times and facilitate their communication with surrounding “smart” devices.
Individuals Also Have to Do Their Part
Whether it is the taxi, private-hire car, or even the autonomous vehicle, it is clear that Mobility as a Service is here to stay. It has and looks set to continue to play a large role in building smart cities of the future, where individuals can conveniently get around without overstressing transport infrastructure—or the environment.
While issues relating to trust and ownership of Mobility as a Service technologies still remain, the industry players and authorities are hard at work to iron these out. At the same time, however, as the beneficiaries of Mobility as a Service options, individuals must also do their part to ensure these options’ viability.
This will entail exercising more graciousness and civic mindedness to not abuse shared devices and having the courtesy to share the road.
With a growing population comes complex needs and demands to be met, especially in urban mobility. Join us at our Future of Mobility panel at the Deep Tech Summit to discuss how we can increase trust in new technologies, to create inclusive smart cities of the future.
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