How the Internet of Mobility can make Urban Mobility More Resilient
Having spent a decade working in the smart cities space, the topic of resilience has been a common topic of discussion. In fact, some of my first research and writing in the smart cities related to smart grids as a way to make cities more resilient to climate change impacts and the challenges smart grids face in getting traction in cities.
Blockchain is now being embraced in a whole host of aspects related to the smart cities space, most notably in the Internet of Things (IoT) arena. Yet we at IoMob are focusing on a new arena we refer to as the Internet of Mobility (IoM). In previous posts I have explored how IoM , how IoM can allow for Mobility as a Service (MaaS) but also more open IoM models which among other things, can decentralize and democratize access to mobility users for shared mobility startups and how IoM could allow for personalized MaaS customized to an individuals own travel patterns.
A currently underexplored value of IoM relates to the resilience of the urban mobility system. Going back to my early work in smart cities and climate change, imagine if a hurricane, which are increasing in both frequency and intensity, whipes out the power grid for an entire city. While the electrification of transportation systems can help mitigate our impacts on climate, ironically electrified mobility is amongst the most vulnerable to climate impacts. What happens if say an entire metro system runs on electricity and the power grid gets wiped out in a storm? According to the UN, cities like Cairo and Tokyo have more than 30,000 daily riders of the metro per KM of metro line. Again, shifting away from single occupancy vehicles and towards walking, cycling and public transit are generally considered smart choices for cities and their citizens. But as we all know, metros can not solve all our mobility problems, and even when they are ideal for particular routes, what happens if they go out of service?
I have not experienced this personally as a result of severe weather events but I have experienced strikes which have led to work stoppages of the metro system in Barcelona. Mobility is a critical service for residents and visitors and having a sudden stoppage of a primary modality in a city can be nearly catastrophic for people and the economy. Barcelona, and many other cities of course, has also experiences taxi strikes, frequently in responses to Uber, which by the way just re-entered the city after a few years of being outlawed. What happens when there is a major event in a city, like a concert, a major conention, sporting event, the Olympics or World Cup? Most of us have lived in cities who have witnessed public transit or taxis being over-riden by visitors for such events, causing significant impacts on quality of life for local residents.
My point with these examples is that an over-reliance on one or a few major forms of public and private transit options in a city is problematic and leaves a city and its residents and visitors in bad, or even dangerous situations. Internet of Mobility can help make urban mobility systems more resilient to shocks or peaks in demand. IoM enables resilience by allowing any validated mobility service provider, small or large, access to any mobility user of any app connected to an open protocol.
Below you will see a graphic illustration of the open architecture we are building at IoMob. The mobility hub (any city could have many) ensures a mobilty service is validated and then allows any user the ability to discover it.
As I have mentioned in prior posts, in Barcelona alone there are more than 50 shared mobility providers. But the closed walls around apps and mobility systems today require each of these proviers to educate you about their solution, convince you to download their app, sign up for service, input your credit card and remember you have it in a crowded landscape of mobility apps on your phone. Temporary outages, strikes, peak demand on mainstream mobility services from major events, etc. could be smoothed out by efficiently allowing all validated mobility services to be easily accessed via an open hub model with an easy user interface that simplifies the choices for mobility passengers. Perhaps, a rideshare app has a car passing by your location where the metro normally does, or perhaps you head to the bike rack for your muncipal bikeshare service and realize there are no bikes available. You pull out the app and discover there is a private bikeshare system like Donkey Republic nearby that you can also use for a small fee (even though you may have never heard of the system before or downloaded their app).
In the event of a catastrophic event, it is possible a city could even over ride the requirement for a mobility service to have been previously validated and allow even average residents with a vehicle to make their extra capacity available. Think about after a bomb or major shooting and a mass exodus ensues. I recall an event which made Uber infamous in Australia. A man in Sydney took hostages and left parts of the city under siege. Uber’s algorithms detected a spike in demand and implemented surge pricing. A similar event occured in NYC after a bomb went off. I am not implying Uber intentially and diabolically wanted to make their services available to the most desperate and the rich but their algorithms were not designed for human empathy. What if Sydney or NYC had an open IoM back end that allowed for average citizens to provide reasonably priced, or free, mobility services in times of risis or catastrophe, and immediately enabled each of them and their vehicles to be visible on the open hub?
As cities grow in population our collective demands on urban infrastructure also grow. Luckily for us, as I have studied at length and wrote about in my book about Urban Entrepreneurs, innovators in our cities and around the globe are recognizing the challenges cities are facing and are looking to find entrepreneurial solutions to them. This is certainly the case with urban mobility challenges.
What the Internet of Mobility can offer us is a way for cities, and their residents and visitors, to have easy access to a much wider array of mobility services to meet their needs. This will be valuable to the users, and the providers on a daily basis and can become even more powerful in times of extreme stress on any major modality.