Smart mobility? For now, we’ll get faster horses…

As a strategic content studio with expertise in automotive, we’re keen to see how this industry is represented in the bigger universe. Last week our Chief Strategy Officer Dan Gregson spent some time at the Smart City Expo in Barcelona exploring smart mobility. Here’s what he has to say about his experience...

After a few hours, it struck me that there was a tension – with the car right in the middle of it…

1) many folk define ‘mobility’ as a proxy for ‘get-rid-of-the-car’ (frankly in the distant future in terms of capability or a viable alternative)

2) and at the same time, the same folk define ‘smart’ as a proxy for more efficient parking and car flow in cities (very near future in terms of capability) – with some additional data that provides insight as to what’s going on in terms of air quality etc

I think this tension is at the heart of the smart mobility project. We know there needs to be a better way (rapid global urbanization is the ‘why’ if you’re not aware); but right now a better way is caught between an inspirational fantasy (no cars) or an insignificant reality (cars on roads with a bit of flow management, if you’re lucky).

There’s loads of work being done to help us understand more (via vast amounts of data) about how people travel and to understand what is happening. And this will, of course, reveal stuff that allows us to make the cities and roads a better place. But it’s relatively insignificant. As right now it’s all based on the same mode of travel. Because as poor as road systems may be, the alternatives aren’t necessarily any better.

What I didn’t get any sense of, was where the leadership and vision is coming from to bring change and benefit with any true scale. One couldn’t move for smart mobility products and widgets, but I couldn’t see much joined-up purpose…

The real-life case studies of places that have made remarkable and purposeful transformation toward true smart mobility come from different ends of the local spectrum – and so the proof is local by definition at this stage. On one hand Antwerp – established that unless they radically changed and integrated their transport system the city would be seriously gridlocked and growth choked. And on the other, Moscow, whose motivations were less obvious to see (beyond them having a progressive and well-funded mayor); through whose results were impressive nevertheless.

Both provide valuable learning and insight for town and city mayors and policymakers who want to want to be progressive agents of change. My concern is where this is being thought of at any level above this on a systemic level.

Right now governments have bigger concerns that they’re incapable of dealing with, whilst the private sector tends to be good at supporting the vision of the future that’s best for them. That’s not their fault, nor their problem (yet). If you’re in the business of selling metal, then being an instrument of change to reduce metal demand is a pretty big call. Of course, progressive automotive companies have a perspective on this world, but right now – they’ve got tariffs and Brexit to deal with first.

So without top-down leadership in thinking, vision and debate on this massive area; we’ll be left to ‘faster horses’ progress by default. It’ll be interesting to see what or who drives a different agenda.

 

 

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