3 Proposals for Mobility as a Service in a Post Coronavirus World

Around the globe, governments, companies and citizens are embracing drastic changes to daily life in the hopes of stemming the tide of Covid-19 contagion. While virtually all aspects of our economy and daily life is being rethought during the pandemic, how we move around our cities may be one of the most challenged during this crisis.

As this graphic from Citymapper illustrates, we are seeing a massive decline in public transit usage in major cities around the globe that roughly mirrors rates of contagion (or denial). Public transit budgets are obviously getting brutalized by the extended impacts of the virus and the need for people to increase their social distance, and likely avoid going to work altogether. It seems the best way for us to reduce the impact and rate of contagion is to ban all non-essential services and implement strict self-quarantine measures.

So what happens to not just public transit but private services like ridehailing, micromobility and carsharing? In many countries these services are temporarily on hold and hopefully government bailouts and loans will keep the companies alive so they can return to our cities once the pandemic has subsided.

But what happens next to our global, regional and urban mobility ecosystems after this pandemic is over? I believe this crisis has woken up the world to the risks we will likely face on a continual basis given the freedom of movement our modern society expects. How can we adapt our mobility ecosystems to make them more resilient and to bake in personal safety into the design of our systems. Here are my three proposals to start the conversation:

  1. Perhaps number one on my list is facilitating a rapid transformation of the ticketing systems for public transit. It is shocking to me that in “smart cities” like Barcelona, we are still using paper tickets in the year 2020 for validating purchases.

Going paperless and smartcardless avoids transactions at machines and use of money and change as well which of course can affect virus transmission rates. Some innovative transit authorities in Europe have gone to free public transit during the pandemic to avoid points of contact between travellers and exposure factors like the machines or bus drivers. Obviously going to mobile-based and contactless EMV ticketing will result in long-term savings to the transit authority and support public transit’s inclusion into Mobility as a Service platforms which help people discover, book and pay for combined, intermodal journeys-like taking a micromobility service like an e-scooter to a metro station-inside a single user interface (e.g. app).

2. Similarly, I believe we will see a rapid adoption by users of services of taxis, ridehailing and other services that facilitate mobile-based reservations and payments to avoid handling currencies and exchanges of credit cards or money with drivers. This transition has been well underway due to the transformation to the industry caused by Uber, Lyft, Grab, Didi, Careem, FreeNow and others who have changed the way many people book and pay for such services. In our case at Iomob, we have already integrated Karhoo’s API which supports the booking and payment of 30,000 taxis in Spain and hundreds of thousands of taxis throughout Europe and soon we we anticipate doing the same with a global aggregator of private ridehailing services as well.

3. We will need much better data about contagion hotspots, services available and real-time information (in our H2020 proposal this is achieved via crowdsourcing) about occupancy levels to support new intermodal routing options for users to navigate the growing fragmentation in the mobility ecosystem to support Mobility as a Service (MaaS) to help flatten the curve of the current and next contagion. But as Iomob mentioned in our recently submitted Horizon 2020 funding application to the European Union, we believe social distancing features can be useful in many other contexts beyond pandemics like Covid-19. Some examples we have thought about include:

  • For people with weak immune systems or even germaphobes
  • For people with chronic diseases or illnesses who need to move but want to reduce the risk to others
  • For claustrophobic people seeking to avoid crowded spaces
  • For at risk populations to avoid crowds

The historian and futurist, Yuval Harari recently wrote an excellent piece in the Financial Times on how we are collectively in a position to change the course of history. History is full of examples of crises turning into points of inflection and rapid responses that become institutionalized. I believe the mobility system globally can leverage insights from this crisis to implement systemic changes that will enable more resilience in our transport infracture and mobility services.

As evidenced by the rapid response Iomob received from the global mobility and sustainability community to our EU proposal to incorporate new social distancing features into our MaaS platform, I am convinced collectively we can be part of the solution towards a post Coronavirus world that is better than the one we had before.

ABOUT IOMOB

Iomob, which stands for the Internet of Mobility, headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, has built a white label Mobility as a Service solution which combines proprietary algorithms enabling multimodal combinations of public and private services and an SDK that allows end users to discover mobility services, receive multimodal combinations for their journeys, book and pay for a range of mobility services via our client’s own apps. Iomob has won numerous open innovation challenge awards from organisations like Ford Motors, Renfe and Sweden’s Sustainable Mobility Challenge. Iomob has also participated in prestigious startup accelerators such as Techstars and Wayra and in 2020 won the TravelTech Europe startup first prize (London), 2019 Best Mobility Startup of 2019 at the South Summit, The Public Choice Award from ERTICO in 2019, Top Mobility Startup in the Federation of International Automobiles (FiA) Startup Challenge and selected Top 100 Smart Cities Partners by Newsweek.

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Boyd Cohen, Ph.D. CEO IoMob

Boyd is a researcher and entrepreneur in smart, sustainable & entrepreneurial cities, He´s authored 3 books & is CEO of IoMob. boydcohen.impress.ly