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Paula Rios Executive Director MDS Portugal

Integrated Mobility

Science Fiction or Science Reality?

Picturing the future is fascinating, but rife with inaccuracy. When I first watched Blade Runner, set in 2019 — which seemed like the far future at the time — I was vividly impressed with the replicants (synthetic humans) and the flying vehicles going to and fro.

Having rewatched it recently, it almost shocked me that the writer hadn't imagined paper photos would have all but vanished in 2019 and we would all carry them around on our phones...

A New Mobility

Although we don't have flying cars yet, the truth is mobility is undergoing a profound change. This paradigm shift is caused by a number of factors: traffic jams cause high pollution and dramatic economic losses; the emergence of a sharing economy that permits the rationalization of resources; and technological evolution. 

Not only do we have platforms that permit and facilitate sharing but we also have access to vehicles running on alternative energy sources. If cities continue to grow — and the OECD estimates that 70% of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2050 — something will evidently need to change, lest cities collapse.

At the 2018 Web Summit, on a panel about smart cities and the future, a panellist said that city-dwelling folk will not pick the kind of vehicle they want to travel on, but their destination first. Only then will they choose the best-suited means of transportation. 

It also became clear that cities are getting citizen-friendly, as opposed to car-friendly redesigns. This means we need to get together a number of stakeholders, such as auto makers, insurers, universities and, obviously, citizens, and the greatest challenge here is to work together to build the cities we want.

We see a set of trends deeply impacting city mobility systems across the world and contribute to more and more integration. Shared mobility, self-driving vehicles, growing use of electric vehicles, connectivity and the Internet of Things, changes in the public traffic network and infrastructure, decentralized power grids and regulation are but a few examples. 

But we also need to take into account innovative parking systems and intelligent traffic systems, or integrated payment and support infrastructure for electric vehicles. 

Obviously, all these new forms of mobility must be adapted to each city, as cities are all different. Bikes, for instance, are great for relatively flat cities. They're not likely to become as popular in cities with lots of dips and rises.

Advantages and Challenges

Generally, transitioning to integrated mobility systems should improve city-dwellers’ lives in a number of ways. Improvements to the environment would be among the most relevant changes. Reduced carbon dioxide emissions will positively affect respiratory diseases or heart conditions, which air pollution tends to worsen. 

Additionally, reducing human-caused accidents will increase pedestrian safety, not to mention the benefits to the stress caused by traffic jams. 

However, there will be downsides. Drivers and mechanics will find themselves less employable. All these pros and cons need to be weighed by the powers that be.

We now have an emerging consensus on integrated transport as it pertains to the future of mobility in cities. 

For the consensus to materialize, the public and private sectors need to interact. We need, for example, travel cards or tokens that allow us to get on "traditional” conveyances like buses or the underground and from there to a mobility scooter, or any other shared vehicle, including self-driving vehicles.  

Above all, we need to define our endpoints, because there could be a number of ways to get there.

What about insurance?

Finally, what is the role of insurance in this new world of integrated mobility? Changes to mobility will certainly impact insurance in a meaningful way.

Technological developments, like advancements in telematics, are changing risk underwriting. When you can rely on detailed information on driver behaviour, insurance premiums are adapted to real risk which permits deep product customization. 

And then, the growing popularity of ride-sharing is creating new coverage models, like pay as you drive, which opens the way for insurers to partner with mobility operators. Why not imagine a world where insurance is included in the cost of your travel card, closing the gap for a number of transportation services...

Another reality is that risk itself will suffer a profound transformation. Self-driving vehicles are expected to bring accidents down by about 90%, but they pose new challenges: who's liable for an accident involving a self-driving vehicle? The owner? The manufacturer? The company that made the parts? The company that developed vehicle AI? Who else? 

The number of accidents will go down, but when accidents do happen, they will be more serious, and assigning liability will be very complex, according to sector specialists. Once again, full-spectrum stakeholder cooperation will be essential in this new world of mobility.

To complicate things a little bit further, it won't be long until flying vehicles become a routine sight in the urban landscape. Tesla and others like it are already working on prototypes. And then other factors will come into play, like the need for laws and regulations. 

Can someone come up with "rules of the air lanes”? Science fiction, some might claim. I dare disagree. Reality often exceeds our wildest dreams. Look at Blade Runner now...

Published in Vida Económica

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