Originally written for Professional Manager
Are you agnostic? I ask because most experts believe that in the future we will all be agnostic – we won’t invest our undivided loyalty or faith in one single place. We will choose whatever service suits us best at the time and, needless to say, I’m not talking about a Sunday service.
I am increasingly software and hardware agnostic – I will use whatever I think works best at a particular time, whether that’s a video editor, page layout programme or platform for sharing information. I’m also mobility agnostic. I own a vehicle but I also test drive cars. Occasionally I rent, sometimes I use public transport and I’ve even used car-sharing apps. Purely out of curiosity my Honda Accord is listed on a website that allows complete strangers to hire it for the day. I use taxi app Uber occasionally, I have two or three private hires in my phone and I hail black cabs.
Simply put, I will use whatever combination of services that best fit my disparate needs. We don’t spend tens of thousands of pounds upfront on a physical product that gives us access to the internet, or water or energy – and it’s only through habit that we’ve come to see cars as an asset rather than mobility as a service.
To extend the metaphor we’d think it crazy if a new business installed a bunch of generators on their premises and eschewed the national grid and resultant monthly bill. Think of all the capital outlay, the dedicated team required to look after them, the space they would take up, the need to insure against damage or injury – we would view this as absurd, yet that’s what we do when buying fleets of cars.
Why sink hundreds of thousands into costly, bulky cars when you can use a free app on your phone to look after your company’s mobility requirements and settle the balance at the end of the month? No insurance, no maintenance, no fuel cards or fleet renewal – and no squabbling over parking spaces. This is not about the end of the company car, but an integrated solution of which the motor is only a part. Even the US Government is alert to the fluid transport scenario – and its potential, asking its agencies to car-share in order to cut its estimated 630,000 fleet by a tenth.
The current jargon is ‘asset light, technology heavy’: you may be a fleet manager now – in the future you’re likely to be described as a mobility manager, responsible for some of the duties that may now belong to purchasing, finance and HR. Or if you’re a user-chooser you may be given a mobility allowance to use on whatever transport best suits you, rather than a company car.
The amounts of data we can store, access and transmit is the key to future mobility – and part of the reasons such solutions have never really caught on in the past. Where Uber offers private cars and MPVs via the flick of a thumb its Chinese rival Didi Kuaidi has recently added the ability to book a bus using its app, to add to its one-stop taxi-hailing, online car-booking, chauffeur and ride-sharing service. How long before trains, trams and even flights are added to such mobility offerings – all routed through your smartphone?
Car-sharing is one area where the shift to mobility is already happening, due to upwards pressure from tech-savvy millennials keen to save money and comfortable with using smartphone apps to access services. With the annual cost of car ownership in the UK estimated at anywhere between £3,500 – £7,000 it’s no surprise that membership of leading carpooling company BlaBlaCar doubled during 2014. These platforms may not be quite mature, but the potential is a significant cost saving and a much easier life in relation to transport. And while this is a rare case of private owners driving the business sector, these are solutions that large companies are offering to their employees right now.
Who would ever have thought, ten years ago, that we’d buy a watch from Apple? A Tesco tablet. Our television from BT? We do it all the time. We have become device agnostic and service agnostic – it’s time we became mobility agnostic. Autonomous cars, electric cars and even flying cars are on our current horizons. But mobility is the next big paradigm in how we view transport – whether you believe in it or not.
Services we use every day that will drive mobility
You may not realise it but the chances are you’re already using services that are the building blocks to an integrated, mobility-agnostic transport service. Not only that, there’s a good chance you have them in your pocket right now.
Let me start with a question – when is the last time you paid for a tube ticket with cash? Chances are the day you swiped your Oyster Card, you never looked back. And why would you? It’s easier, it’s faster, it’s much cheaper. And when consumers find something that saves the money, time and faff, whatever it replaced is driven quickly into obsolescence.
Of course, Transport For London also offer the so-called Boris Bikes – cycles available for short-term rental from hundreds of points around the capital. Widely adopted by all major cities, these bike services are best accessed through an app, which delivers live updates on availability and allows you to plan journeys and see charges. Whether you pay-as-you-pedal or opt for an annual charge, it’s a quick and easy way to access transport, use it and leave it.
Among carpooling services that allow people to grab a seat on a car journey – or offer a lift – BlaBlaCar is one of one of Europe’s quickest-growing. Using the app users can scan a number of journeys being offered by members – and make journeys of around 50 miles for less than a fiver. Alternatively users can offer a lift and split the cost of petrol – conceivably they can journey for free with a full car. From an environmental perspective it’s win-win, but there are also considerations over costs, efficiency and convenience.
For those requiring a car for a short-term rental there’s ZipCar – with the app it’s easy to find its fleet on the streets of UK cities and with a code access is straightforward. Short of the paperwork, frequently remote premises and inevitable delays of visiting a rental depot, it has considerable benefits. You can use the app to book and locate cars – and even to unlock them, while payment is taken care off online. For a one-off journey within the city, Uber and Lyft offer similar functionality.
What mobility is currently lacking is a one-stop application that knits all these modes of transport together. That would allow users and managers to simply request a journey and know that a combination of the cheapest and quickest service will be despatched, completed and billed automatically.
Again the building blocks are in place. Telematics apps such as TeleMatics and Spedion can locate a driver and relay information on where they are, how fast they’re travelling and even crunch the data to judge how well they’re driving. Marry up the various datasets provided by these apps and services – as someone surely will very soon – and you have a platform that can deliver an integrated mobility app.