Digital infrastructureSmart CitiesRethinking urban mobility

Rethinking urban mobility

MOIA, a Volkswagen Group company, has set about rethinking urban mobility and is working closely with city authorities to do this. Austin Clark caught up with Ole Harms, MOIA CEO, at the recent CEBIT exhbition in Hanover to find out more

There’s no escaping the fact that cities are facing severe mobility challenges. A growing population is putting pressures on infrastructure, while continuing congestion is slowing journeys, damaging productivity as a result. Recognising this, MOIA – the newest company in the Volkswagen Group – has set about ‘rethinking urban mobility’.

“Over half of the global population now lives in urban areas, so cities are the essence of human life,” says Ole Harms, MOIA CEO (pictured). “Streets used to be a city’s arteries, with cars helping people live urban life to the full. But nowadays cars no longer fulfil that promise. They cause congestion, pollution and noise. And they take up valuable space. You could almost say that cities are now owned by their cars.”

Harms adds that cities around the world all face the same challenges – congestion, pollution and noise – and points to some stats that highlight the issue:

  • 10km/h – average speed in Beijing and London during rush hour
  • 5 days per year – time a person spends searching for a parking space in London
  • 74 hours per year – time spent in congestion

“These stats highlight just how much of our life we’re wasting – and it’s in the interest of any urban area to give it back to their citizens,” Harms says.

Middle ground

According to Harms, the answer is sharing. “We’re seeing economic trends such as the sharing economy gaining traction and growing – so ride sharing seems to be the logical next step.”

Harms points to New York as an example. A recent study found that:

  • 150 million journeys in 13,000 taxis per year
  • 95% could have been shared with less than three minutes delay
  • 60 million vehicle journeys could have been cut (40%)

“There’s huge potential to solve all of those major problems mentioned earlier, but it’s just not happening. Public transport is one way, and there’s definitely potential for cities to improve this and get people out of their cars, but there will always be the constraints around timetables and specific routing.

“On the other hand, people turn to individual transport solutions for the convenience of going straight from A to B. This is expensive though and is only adding to the problems of congestion. That leaves a huge space in the middle that can be exploited to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

The solution

MOIA is described as a complementary solution to public transport that sits between is middle space. Essentially, it’s an app-based ridepooling/ridehailing service that carries up to six people in specially designed electric vehicles. Further information on the vehicles can be found here.

During the service’s test phase, currently underway in Hamburg and Hanover, users can book a ride using a smartphone app in which they enter their current location and desired destination. MOIA pools customer ride requests heading in roughly the same direction. The routes are dynamic, with driving and arrival times, as well as optimal starting and finishing stops determined on an individual basis.

When the service goes live, later this year, it will be priced somewhere between that of public transport and that of a taxi. The price will fluctuate depending on day and time, as well as supply and demand, and will always be displayed transparently to the user before booking. After booking, the price won’t change, even if traffic or unexpected detours arise.

“By closing the gap between public transportation and taxis, ride-pooling will offer an attractive new mobility alternative to owning a car,” explains Harms.

Convincing people

“We appreciate that we need to work hard to convince people that ride sharing is the right way to go,” admits Harms. “Achieving this is largely down to the vehicle. Our studies show that they must be spacious, easy to enter and exit without climbing over fellow passengers, and have wifi. The environment must be as close to private cars in terms of comfort and relaxation as possible. Routing also has to be as efficient as possible. If a passenger is nearing their destination and suddenly turn off, they won’t be very happy.

“That’s why the technology behind the service – the algorithms – need to be fully optimised. AI and algorithmic optimisation will also be used, as will real-time traffic information, as that’s the technology that can make a difference. If we can take it one step further and work our predictive traffic management, then we’ll have a truly smart system. Finally, of course, vehicles need to be optimised for total cost of operation. These fully electric vehicles need to be running all day long and, crucially for cities, they need access to fast charging infrastructure.”

Harms continues on to say that an important focus for MOIA is to “reimagine urban mobility along with stakeholders in the city”.

“We’re talking with the regulators and public transport administrators. We’re also talking to our customers who are testing our service in Hanover and Hamburg. It’s important we involve those people in testing in order to achieve the best possible solution.”

So far, MOIA’s ambitious plans are bearing fruit – the first two cities will be launched soon using the world’s first battery electric and purpose-built ridesharing vehicle.

Harms concludes by saying: “Everything we do is guided by one purpose: the drive to return cities to the people. MOIA is convinced that substituting private traffic with smart mobility solutions will return cities to those who are their legitimate owners: people. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re excited by the future we can create with urban stakeholders.”

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