Amsterdam-No car, no license, no problem

I am finishing up a 3 month stint mostly living in Amsterdam as my mobility startup, Iomob completes our participation in the smart cities themed Techstars accelerator here. As a smart cities and mobility guy I have always paid attention to Amsterdam’s efforts to be a smarter more liveable city, led in part by their CTO Ger Baron seek to blend tech-driven and citizen led approaches to transform itself.

After arriving I heard about Swapfiets which offers a bike as a service on a monthly subscription plan (less than 20 euros per month). Swapfiets has a booming business with more than 100,000 current subscribers. I was surprised to learn that many locals have even switched to SwapFiets since they offer full service of the bike included in the plan. I have found cycling around this city and the outlying areas with a great network of dedicated cycling lanes and amazing parks to be an awesome experience.

Having just finished a 24km bike ride out to the Ajax stadium and back to my apartment I began to reflect more on my time in Amsterdam and what life has been like in this bike-centric city and what it means for Iomob too.

While my American friends are still in shock that I haven’t had a drivers license since I moved to Barcelona in 2015, I have not even noticed the lack of “independence”. On the contrary, living and working in Europe, I find owning and driving a car to be more of a burden than a benefit. Obviously I am not alone as the younger generation has been flocking to alternatives to car ownership in big ways, as this graphic from CBInsights demonstrates.

We have counted at least 22 different mobility services in Amsterdam across taxi and ridehailing, micromobility and public transit. This includes 13 micromobility services and scooter sharing services like Bird and Lime have not even arrived here yet as the city works to establish the regulatory environment for them.

Much has been made of Amsterdam’s incredibly bike-friendly culture and the fact there are more bikes in this city than people. However, as my urbanist colleague Brent Toderian has expressed, there is an under-appreciated part of the story here which is how the city has helped transform itself from a car-dependent culture to a haven for cyclists through a range of strategies including an amazing array of dedicated cycling lanes, growing bike parking services and gradually decreasing the opportunity for driving and parking cars in the city center (e.g. last night I met another founding team from Techstars at a hopping food court with underground, free parking for bikes, but no parking for cars). Recently the city announced plans to remove 1100 parking spaces from the city center per year until 15,000 are removed.

Amsterdam could do more to promote this switch of course. I believe they need to further expand the non-car paths to support dedicated paths for different modes of personal mobility. For example many bike paths allow for motorized mopeds to share the paths with cyclists. A city like Amsterdam should continue to lead by supporting dedicated bike paths, dedicated cycling paths and dedicated micromobility vehicles (electric bikes, scooters, etc.).

And the city needs to embrace Mobility as a Service (MaaS) by supporting seamless access to those 22 and counting mobility services through one app which allows residents and visitors to route, book and pay for any of the mobility services in a simple intuitive way. This will further support the city’s shift from personal car dependence to greener shared and electric mobility services.

Yet, coupled with its vibrant arts, creative and entrepreneurial scene, Amsterdam is poised to become a leading light in the European smart cities scene through its innovative approach to embracing more active, less contaminating forms of mobility. This will help attract more innovators and urban entrepreneurs in the coming decades. Of course to do that, they will have to figure out there serious housing shortage and embrace co-living as promoted by another Techstars startup in our program, Kndrd.

About us:
Iomob is working to decentralize and build the Internet of Mobility, by incentivizing and facilitating the use of alternative transport. By using the blockchain, iomob plans to minimize fees and allow mobility providers and end-users alike to connect on a peer-to-peer basis. In their own words: Iomob is “a system which produces a useful output at the lowest possible marginal cost.”

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