Over the past decade almost US$200 billion has been invested globally in mobility technology that promises to improve our ability to get around. More than US$33 billion was invested last year alone. Another measure of interest in this area is the number of unicorns, which has doubled in the past two years, but reality is setting in.
From an article in The Conversation by Neil G Sipe.
A unicorn is a privately held startup company valued at US$1 billion or more. In early 2018 there were 22 travel and mobility unicorns. By last month the number had grown to 44.
The top categories in the mobility area are: ride hailing, with 11 unicorns (25.0%); autonomous vehicles, with ten (22.7%); and micromobility, with three (6.8%). The remaining 20 unicorns are in the travel category (hotels, bookings and so on).
Mobility technology is more than just autonomous vehicles, ride hailing and e-scooters and e-bikes. It also includes: electrification (electric vehicles, charging/batteries); fleet management and connectivity (connectivity, data management, cybersecurity, parking, fleet management); auto commerce (car sharing); transportation logistics (freight, last-mile delivery); and urban air mobility.
Promised solutions, emerging problems
Much of the interest in mobility technology is coming from individuals outside the transport arena. Startups are attracting investors by claiming their technology will solve many of our transport problems.
Micromobility companies believe their e-scooters and e-bikes will solve the “first-mile last-mile” problem by enabling people to move quickly and easily between their homes or workplaces and a bus or rail station. While this might work in theory, it depends on having safe and segregated bicycle networks and frequent and widely accessible public transport services.
Ride-hailing services might relieve people of the need to own a car. But there is evidence to suggest these services are adding to traffic congestion. That’s because, unlike taxis, more of their time on the road involves travelling without any passengers.
Navigation tools (Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze) have been around longer than most other mobility technologies and are meant make it easier to find the least-congested route for any given trip. However, research suggests these tools might not be working as intended. The backlash against them is growing in some cities because traffic is being directed onto neighbourhood streets rather than arterial roads. Reality can be a cruel partner.
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