Mobility in 21st century cities
Article

Mobility in 21st century cities

Erik Roscam Abbing
  • Erik Roscam Abbing
  • Director

Mobility is shifting rapidly, and a new, more versatile landscape is emerging, giving rise to some major service innovation challenges:

Electric mobility

By 2030, there will be 125 million electric vehicles on the world’s roads, but while in 2019 batteries and charging facilities are more reliable and available than ever, adoption still depends on tax breaks and infrastructure improvements. Electric cars still need to transition from high tech gadget to reliable transportation for the masses, and even in 2030, gas and diesel vehicles will still outnumber electrics. In China, heavy investment [1] in electric mobility has stimulated adoption, but 1.6 million Chinese citizens still die prematurely each year from air pollution [2]. In the big cities of other emerging markets, progress is even slower. It’s unlikely electric mobility will make a significant dent in the damage already done by decades of reliance on fossil fuels.

Autonomous driving

Level 1 and 2 autonomous driving now come as standard in most production vehicles, and levels 3+ are moving rapidly from experimental to pilot stage. Accidents involving autonomous vehicles have created major setbacks, but the road toward full autonomy seems inevitable. From a service designer’s perspective, the media focus on sensor technology and 5G infrastructure is interesting, but misses the human side of the equation: the challenges of technology adoption, required behaviour change, and the complexities of urban design that accommodates autonomous driving in shared spaces. In our experience, its success will ultimately hinge not on technology, but people’s willingness to embrace it and adjust to it.

Designing mobility that takes these human needs into account is one of the great challenges of the next century.

Shared mobility

New generations ascribe less status to automobile ownership than ever before, while being offered an increasing amount of alternative mobility options. For private cars, as with many other high-cost items, the burden of ownership (fuel, taxes, devaluation, parking, maintenance, insurance, etc.) is rapidly outgrowing the benefits. Our work in the car-sharing space has made it clear that there are several types of human needs that must be balanced: functional (a solid digital infrastructure), emotional (making people feel at home in a car that isn’t theirs) and social (designing for trust in P2P networks).

Mobility means more than just how people move around – it’s also how human flows are connected to their various needs throughout the day.

Last mile solutions

Mobility is more than just cars. Public or semipublic transport plays a dynamic and growing role in addressing urban mobility challenges, and its resolution is increasing, from high-volume long-distance offers to individual last mile solutions. Bike sharing schemes are certain to play a role, but free-floating experiments in cities around the world have shown how hard it is to combine their flexibility with fleet management and profitability.

Multi-modal transport hubs

Mobility means more than just how people move around – it’s also how human flows are connected to their various needs throughout the day. Integrated urban design can do a lot to reduce needs for transportation in the first place, including the use of ‘smart’ technologies, and the rise of urban areas where mobility, housing, working and recreation are combined into high-quality hubs.

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[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/china/ chinas-electric-vehicle-market-plugs-in
[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-pollution-health/china-cuts-smogbut-health-damage-already-done-study-idUSKBN1HO0C4