Sustainability and car-based multimodality: An oxymoron?

 In Blog

Blog post by Iomob’s CEO, Boyd Cohen.


Those of us in the mobility space have been analyzing the trends and evaluating what is the new normal post-Covid.  Thankfully, it seems, there is a growing interest in accelerating our path to zero carbon in the transportation ecosystem with cities and national governments creating funding programs to enable more active travel infrastructure cities.

There is no doubt that the best thing for our cities and planet is to reduce dependence on single-occupant private vehicles which contribute to congestion, air contamination and GHG emissions.  It is not a surprise then, that the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) sector has singled out the private car as the enemy of a sustainable, low carbon mobility ecosystem.

Yet at Iomob we feel there is a false dichotomy in our industry: we need to get people to switch from car use and instead to sign up for a monthly mobility service.  As a general rule, society and the planet will benefit from this transition.

By most estimates, we have more than 1 billion private passenger cars around the globe.  While we are seeing trends indicating the younger generation is switching from owning cars to access to mobility, there are still a lot of cars on the roads and they are not going to disappear in the coming decades.

So, if we in the mobility industry wish to accelerate the path to zero carbon, but don’t embrace the false dichotomy, what are the shades of grey that can allow cars to part of a sustainable multimodal mix?

Below I tackle this question from concrete use cases we are deploying or, at least, discussing with a range of clients who still value cars as part of the mobility mix.  Many of these options are not mutually exclusive but can be combined to create a better mobility experience.

1. Including private cars (and other personal vehicles) into our multimodal journey planner. This is perhaps the most obvious way multimodal companies can embrace the grey.  If modal shift by removing dependence on private vehicles is a collective goal, it seems logical the owners of the 1bn+ private vehicles on the roads would benefit by having more transparency on their journey choices and the role their car could play in a particular journey.  The binary car vs. MaaS choice omits the reality that many people who own cars don´t always wish to take that car from door to door. This could be because parking is too expensive or hard to find, congestion is too difficult as you get closer to your destination, road pricing is a deterrent, etc.

By enabling a user to include their own private vehicle into a multimodal journey planner a car owner can visibly see the time, cost and carbon footprint implications of their choices. Sometimes they will choose to leave their cars at home, sometimes they will still drive all the way to their destination (and book and pay their parking and tolls through the app), while other times the car owner will choose a hybrid model, like driving to a train station, paying for parking (or in some cases free park and ride services are available), booking and paying for the train and if necessary a last mile service like a scooter can also be booked and paid for in the multimodal app.

2. Multimodal EV journeys. Thankfully there is growing interest in electric vehicles (EVs). While it is still a niche industry representing only about 2% of all new vehicles sold, many car manufacturers (OEMs) are making tangible commitments to only produce EVs in the coming decade or so. One barrier to greater adoption relates to range anxiety and availability of EV charging networks. Again, there is great progress on both improving the range of EV batteries and rapid expansion of EV charging networks.

A growing number of our enterprise clients (OEMs, energy companies, and others keen to promote more sustainable mobility options) are increasing their interest in multimodal e-MaaS solutions which prioritize or in some cases maybe only focus on low and zero carbon multimodal solutions including rail, transit plus EV taxis, EV carsharing and micromobility. Iomob is increasingly focusing on bringing in more EV vehicle supply and EV charging networks to support this kind of EV-centric multimodal mobility where EV cars (private or shared) are a big part of the mix. We are also quite excited about the growing interest and deployment of e-mobility hubs whereby a range of EVs are co-located (and charged) adjacent to major transport hubs. Such hubs can be easily plugged into multimodal platforms like Iomob making it that much easier to plan, book and pay for such multimodal EV journeys.

3) Cars, multimodality and corporate mobility. Back to work post-Covid is causing corporations to rethink everything from how much office space they need for an increasingly remote or hybrid work force to how their employees move around. Companies who manage large fleets of private cars for employees are questioning the investment in such depreciating assets that seemingly distract from the corporate’s growing sustainability commitments. Yet, it is understood that cars may be a necessary part of the mobility mix for employees. There is growing interest in corporate carpooling, integrated carsharing services, plus on-demand shuttles (DRT) and, yes, even micromobility, to solve some of the journeys previously done in private fleets. Again, the story here is not abandoning the role of cars in multimodal journeys, but instead making them available to employees when needed instead of having them parked at home or the office 95% of the time.

It is true that we need to shift from single occupied private vehicles to low-carbon multimodal solutions. Yet is also true that the 1 billion plus cars are not disappearing from our roads and in fact, there is still a growing number of cars with some projecting a doubling of global passenger cars to double by 2040.

Cars will be a long-term part of the mobility ecosystem and they must be part of our current and future multimodal platform deployments so that we can support modal shift, vehicle optimization and to make cars and their owners part of the solution on our path to zero.

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