One main urban mobility problem – car-centricity

One key mobility problem – car-centricity

Imagine that instead of owning the key that unlocks your own personal vehicle, you are handed a personal key to any given vehicle. This is exactly where the promise of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) lies — a seamless access point to the complete mobility spectrum. The whole idea can be seen not only as a promising concept for the end-user but also as an alternative to the private car that cities want to push out. As attractive as it may seem, the concept of MaaS also carries a lot of misconceptions. In a series of articles, we aim to dispel this fog with what we call the ‘MaaS Fundamentals’ that are the key to actually unjamming urban mobility.

Setting the Stage

A couple of years ago, a joint research group of ten civil engineering, economics, and environmental experts, stretching from the University of East Anglia to the University of Sydney, published a sweeping paper analyzing the carbon footprint of the United Kingdom cities.* Their analysis, regardless of its short length, is impactful enough to startle even the most inattentive readers: one of the report’s main findings was that London City alone accounted for 15.5 tons of CO2 emissions every year. Another startling observation showed that Londoners from the adjacent borough of Newham produced on average 34% less CO2 emissions in the same exact period. It is true that Newham is primarily a residential borough while London City is predominantly a commercial one, but this disparity in emission levels suggests that the bigger the salary, the likelier a Londoner is to travel by car.

Now, what would happen if people decided to give up their cars and rely exclusively on on-demand services? The answer can be found in a fascinating report made in Chicago. Last October, Mayor Lori Lightfoot published a long-awaited and publicly available analysis regarding ride-hailing companies operating in Chicago’s downtown area. It starts with a seemingly benign insight: in the four-year window between 2015 and 2018, Chicagoans increased their reliance on ride-hailing companies almost three-fold, which is music to the ears of those fighting for lower car ownership numbers. However, this outcome has come at a high cost:

  • Trips made with ride-hailing companies contributed to a significant decrease in public transport ridership — around 48 million rides annually,
  • Half of the rides performed with ride-hailing companies started or ended in the downtown area, and thus affected average public transport vehicle speeds,
  • Moreover, rides to and from downtown area were predominantly single-occupancy rides, and
  • Actual ride-sharing was observed only in neighborhoods with a lower than median income.

In short, people with lower income tend to move in much more sustainable ways. On the other hand, affluent people tend to ride alone and significantly decrease connectivity for everyone else. This fits perfectly with multi-billionaire Elon Musk’s vision: in the near future, affluent people will rely on individualized transport (hyperloops, Tesla cars, or even rockets) rather than on anything public and shared.

Finally, all the aforementioned issues have led to a situation where even taking a stroll and simultaneously breathing has somehow become a lethal activity. Researchers at King’s College London are suggesting that particles coming from car brakes are just as harmful as fumes coming from exhaust pipes, affecting our immune system. One could argue that regenerative braking, a default feature in electric cars now, should help tackle both dust and CO2 emissions. But should we expect every single car owner in the world to line up and lease a new electric car this year?

Every single reader of this article, no matter their socioeconomic status, should easily name the last time they were lectured that car is not the problem and that the problem is rather how we utilize the car or its design. On top of that, we seem to lack imagination when it comes to envisioning a future without cars:

  • People: trending topics on autonomous vehicles suggest that an average urban dweller still longs for a sleek and intelligent car,
  • Media: media outlets have for a long time been primarily writing on super-exciting developments in car manufacturing and are only now slowly starting to cover topics such as cycling infrastructures or rapid transit systems,
  • Policy: the necessary changes in urban development are still being evaluated through a car-centric lens.

Who wouldn’t want to live in the heart of London or Chicago, and not be forced to share their rides? Either by taking a personal car or, better yet, by hailing an affordable personal driver. What everyone should agree on is that having easily accessible transport is necessary, but that owning your own car is not. So, let’s finally say it together out loud: car-centricity is the problem.

Read more about Mobility as a Service fundamentals

  1. Five mobility challenges for Mobility as a Service
  2. Fundamentals of Mobility as a Service
  3. Three main enablers of Mobility as a Service
  4. Future of Mobility as a Service: a roadmap

References

  • Minx, J. et al (2013). Carbon footprints of cities and other human settlements in the UK, in Environmental Research Letters, vol. 8.

About Trafi

Founded in 2013, Trafi is a Lithuanian tech start-up. Trafi is working shoulder-to-shoulder with cities, countries, and companies worldwide to create the best in class Mobility-as-a-Service alternative for congested cities. Trafi offers cities the possibility to connect all mobility services into one single platform where users can check itineraries and also book their tickets and trips. 

Trafi’s mission is to empower cities’ urban transportation with technology and know-how and encourage citizens to use more sustainable modes of transportation by accessing all services into one single platform. Trafi is currently live in 4 continents around the world and 7 cities.

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