Mobility-as-a-service: we need new thinking

Mobility-as-a-service: we need new thinking

Protecting the environment is great, and we would all love to do without driving, cycle to work in the sunshine and take the train on holiday – all eco-friendly. But unfortunately, today’s reality is very different: cycle lanes end in Nirvana or are plastered with parked cars, while trains don’t really stop where we want to spend our holidays. And those living in the country rarely have a chance to use public transport.

So, despite the traffic turnaround it will be difficult to reach the German government’s emissions targets, stating that by 2035, greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 55% compared with 1990. And by 2045 Germany wants to be carbon neutral.

And while many parts of the economy are on the right track, not much has changed in the transport sector, according to the German environmental agency. Much to the contrast: according to the agency, from 1990 to 2021, transport’s share of overall emissions has risen from 13 to 19.4%. The transport sector is also to blame for half the particulate emissions in Germany – so it doesn’t look any better than it did in 1995.

What can we do to advance the traffic turnaround? We could pay more attention to our own mobility, for one. Do I really need to take my car to the bakery, or is this somewhere I could walk to? Keep the car parked up, use alternative transportation, try car sharing or use a rental bike, all of that makes a difference.

However, today the traffic turnaround is seen as a more user-oriented thing, a concept called “mobility-as-a-service” (maas). Using digital technologies and platforms, it primarily happens in cities and metropolitan areas. In Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg, rental bikes, e-scooters and rental scooters can be found on every street corner. Ridesharing services help you cruise through the city, and apps help find riders with the same destination. Many people are using the 49 Euro ticket not just for commuting but also for leisure activities.

On the other hand, in the countryside maas is a rather sad affair. In small towns and rural areas, about 66% of people actively use their car, according to a study commissioned by Germany’s ministry of transport in 2017. An up-to-date study is in the works, but it’s unlikely to yield much different results. Mobility opportunities are often not more than a “ride sharing bench” by the side of the road. Buses? Maybe one in the morning and one in the evening at most. Car sharing? The exception.

Now the German Ministry of Housing has taken up the issue. “Not only does an initiative in rural areas appear to be called for, but significantly greater effects could be achieved for the benefit of the climate than in the city”, a recent study explains the opportunities for new mobility hubs in rural areas. In northern Hesse, it examines the potential of maas concepts for public transport and, above all, how stops or multimodal stops can be made attractive.

The result: local authorities need to move away from rigid timetable models and emphasise on-demand services to a greater extent. Combine all this with individual sharing opportunities, and with stops or hubs and make them more attractive, so people enjoy using them more. Maybe even add a package and mail station which would help reduce another element of logistics traffic. And preferably, all of those services would need to be available to book in just one app.

Somehow, we’ve heard all of that before. New mobility concepts aren’t always that attractive, as you can see with ev drivers queueing at motorway services for a spot at a charger. Even in ten years into electric mobility, drivers often find themselves relegated to the dark corners or in the rain behind the truck parking areas.

If we want to achieve more to protect the environment, much has to change with regards to mobility. Not just with the users but also the providers of new mobility. One way to do it can be witnessed in the small German city of Borgholzhofen in North Rhine-Westphalia, where people can use their public transport tickets also for car sharing services.