In the first of a two-part series, Siegfried Mortkowitz reports on the future of multimodal mobility and how it can help solve the daunting problems that will arise when nearly two thirds of the world’s population will be living in megacities.
The future has come to the Swedish city of Gothenburg thanks to an audacious project in flexible mobility called UbiGo.
Since September 2013, some of those old enough to have a driver’s permit have been able to join a subscription service that allows them to select from a broad menu of mobility options – a rental car from Hertz, electric vehicles from Volvo, Sweden’s largest carpool provider Sunfleet, a bicycle pool offered by JCDecaux, public transportation or even a taxi – and to have the charge for all trips covered by a single monthly fee.
Currently, the project is in a trial phase, with funding by the Swedish governmental innovation agency Vinnova, among other investors. But there are concrete plans to expand it.
“You can go anywhere you want, the way you want,” says Magnus Kuschel, managing director of Commute Greener! and one of the initiators of UbiGo. “We’re the first such service in the world to provide this service through a monthly subscription.”
Commute Greener! is a platform for mobility management, and UbiGo is a “mobility as a service” project that uses the platform. Both UbiGo and Commute Greener! are examples of innovative initiatives organized by the telematics service provider WirelessCar, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Volvo Group.
Kuschel compares the service to the bundle of TV, Internet and telephone services offered for a single monthly fee by telecoms operators. “We have done the same for mobility,” he says, noting that the monthly subscription, tailored to specific customer needs, makes UbiGo much more convenient and about 20% cheaper for most households than owning a car.
Currently, there are households that pay a monthly subscription fee of €80 while others pay up to €300.
An additional benefit of UbiGo is it reduces traffic congestion and pollution in the city by urging subscribers to use the existing transport infrastructure. To that end, UbiGo offers incentives for the use of public transport as well as non-polluting vehicles, such as bicycles and electric vehicles.
“When we can achieve behavioral changes for one day per week, we can help to reduce pollution [by] as much as 20%,” Kuschel says.
UbiGo subscribers are awarded points based on the “public transportation miles” or “zero emission miles” they log. These points can then be exchanged for savings on products and services offered by sponsoring companies, such as an organic foods restaurant.
“It’s difficult to change behavior,” Kuschel says. “A lot of authorities are using sticks – such as congestion fees or parking fees – more than carrots. We see that people prefer to change with carrots.”
The service is delivered as an app that connects the different participants, such as Hertz and Taxi Göteborg. A user of the app can also connect to a number of existing ecosystems, such as Google or Facebook, for things like traffic information, public transportation schedules and where to find electric charging stations.
”We are taking telematics to the next frontier,” Kuschel says. “By connecting to a number of transport solutions, this platform combines sustainability with customer satisfaction. It’s a win-win-win solution.”
Preparing future mobility
UbiGo is perhaps the most realized experiment in future mobility undertaken to date, but far from the only one.
From Masdar City in Abu Dhabi to Milton Keynes in Britain, ambitious mobility projects are using both public and private funds to develop workable blueprints for efficient, environmentally friendly solutions to the daunting problems that will arise when, as has been widely predicted, nearly two thirds of the world’s population will be living in great urban sprawls, known as megacities, comprising populations of more than 10 million people.
The challenges arising from this demographic shift are already being felt: existing megacities and even smaller urban areas are today suffering from traffic congestion and harmful levels of air pollution. And unless effective mobility solutions are found and implemented, these problems will simply get worse.
(For more on fighting traffic congestion and air pollution with telematics, see Telematics and air pollution in China .)
Commute Greener! has already undertaken projects similar to UbiGO, if less comprehensive, in other cities, particularly the megacities of Bangalore, India, and Mexico City.
“In Bangalore, Commute Greener! reduced car trips by more than 16,000 just during the first 10 weeks,” Kuschel says. This was accomplished through the use of car-sharing and an emphasis on public transport, abetted by real-time traffic information provided to the public.
In Mexico City, Commute Greener! estimates that carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by more than 75,000 tons annually through a combination of real-time traffic information and incentives for the use of car-sharing and public transportation.
“I don’t see why the UbiGo subscription model wouldn’t work in these places as well,” Kuschel says.
Multimodal routing and future mobility
UbiGo is one version of the strategy that will almost certainly be the centerpiece of future mobility strategies: multimodal routing. Both governments and car OEMs have already begun heavily investing in multimodal technology – the former as a means to decrease inner-city traffic congestion and pollution, the latter to increase revenues by anticipating mobility solutions and evolving market demands.
In Austria, a government body is preparing a nationwide multimodal system, and offering a blueprint for how public authorities may influence mobility choices.
At the recent Telematics Munich 2013 conference, Bernd Datler, technical director at Austria’s motorway operator ASFiNAG, said the Traffic Information Austria platform “offers door-to-door routing services throughout all of Austria, which also takes into account real-time traffic information for individual transport.”
Public transportation content is to be integrated in the platform at the end of the project’s second phase, in 2015.
When complete, the service will provide live web streams on the Internet, on a smartphone app and on PCs, and offer real-time information about road traffic, public transportation schedules and parking availability and location. Currently, the service is available only online.
Datler said the platform uses data from the provinces, broadcast companies, automobile clubs, public transport and infrastructure entities such as Park&Drive facilities and service stations, and integrates them in one service cloud. He estimated the final cost of the project at about €13.5 million.
According to Datler, the platform could be a model for megacities in the future. “It offers the most efficient use of all modes of transport,” he said. “And we can add additional useful information, such as CO2 consumption and how expensive various transport strategies are.”
He added: “The key to its success is the commitment to provide the data and to combine the data in a meaningful way for the users.”
What ASFiNAG is building in Austria, German carmaker BMW has introduced in its new i3 electric vehicle: an embedded multimodal routing platform.
As Ulrich Fastenrath, head of traffic and touting at BMW, told participants at Telematics Munich 2013, “We want to sell cars; we don’t want to cram cities with cars that cannot move anymore. We need a new solution.”
He believes the i3 and the soon-to-be-introduced i8 offer that solution. “Our i-series is a new electric vehicle, which comes with multimodal routing line-fitted,” he said. “That’s the way to go.”
This multimodal function will enable drivers entering a city to receive real-time information that tells them how they can most quickly reach their destination via car and/or public transportation.
Powered by INRIX, the car’s multimodal navigation alerts drivers to major delays and provides alternative routes as well as alternative transport means of traveling to their destination. It also maps out the most efficient route to the nearest public transport station.
(Return next week for the second part of the series.)
Siegfried Mortkowitz is a regular contributor to TU.
For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2014  on March 12-13 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Content and Apps for Automotive Europe 2014  on April 8-9 in Munich, Germany, Insurance Telematics Europe 2014  on May 6-7 in London, Telematics India and South Asia 2014  on May 28-29 in Bangalore, India, Insurance Telematics Canada 2014  on May 28-29 in Toronto, Telematics Detroit 2014  on June 4-5 in Novi, Michigan, and Advanced Automotive Safety USA 2014  on July 8-9 in Novi, Michigan.
For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013 , The Automotive HMI Report 2013 , Insurance Telematics Report 2013  and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012 .