bike sharing

Throwback: Mobility in 2018

Jan 10, 2019

How we get from A-to-B has expanded vastly beyond taking the bus or owning a personal car.

Public transport delays

City dwellers are exasperated by having to deal with constant public transport delays, missed connections, or transport that simply does not show up. So what are the mobility trends of 2019? How are people in cities and in the countryside moving around? And what influence does the staggering amount of packages that we order on a daily basis have on the nightmare that is modern logistics?

Before we get into predictions for 2019, here is a look back at the topics and news stories that rippled throughout 2018:

1. Elon Musk Everything

Throughout 2018, the production of Tesla’s Model 3 remained uncertain, with constant delays and new problems. In February Tesla reported $3.3 billion in revenue, but also posted a record $771 million quarterly loss. At SXSW in March we saw Elon Musk crash the Westworld panel to speak about humanity possibly heading to Mars as early as next year, although he humourously admitted to having some difficulties with timelines.

May saw a low point when Musk insulted analysts when he said boring questions were “not cool”, but recovered in July when Tesla finally hit their Model 3 production target of 5000 vehicles. However, July was also the unfortunate month were Musk offered to help in the Thai cave rescue, but ended up insulting one of the chief rescuers. Then came Musk’s infamous “funding secured” tweet, in which he announced that he was considering taking Tesla private.

As a result, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued Musk for securities fraud. In the complaint, the SEC was seeking to ban Musk from being able to hold officer or director positions at publicly-traded companies. In October a judge approved the settlement that Musk reached with the SEC, where he had to pay a $20 million fine and step down as Tesla chairman within 45 days for a period of at least three years. Tesla had to pay a separate $20 million fine, and appoint two independent directors to the board.

The Techcrunch graphic below shows the effect that this tumultuous year has had on Tesla stock:

via Techcrunch

2. The Uber Accident

In March of 2018, an Uber self-driving car hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The vehicle was part of Uber’s self-driving testing programme in the state, and during the accident it was in self-driving mode, with a safety driver behind the wheel. In the wake of the accident, the race to perfect autonomous technology was paused and automakers, including General Motors, Ford, Lyft, Aptiv, Tesla, China’s Baidu, Toyota, Nissan, Volvo and Uber, with some of them initially reacting by suspending their AV testing programmes.

The first reports from the Uber accident stated that the woman abruptly walked from a center median into a lane of traffic and was struck by a self-driving Uber operating in autonomous mode, with Sylvia Moir, police chief in Tempe, Ariz., saying that the video evidence from the car make it “very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway”.

However, the accident caused quite a stir as it was one of the first times that the public was directly confronted with how new technologies are tested, and the dangers during development, before all the kinks are worked out. This was a litmus test of public opinion of AVs and involved the reactions of the government and competitors to the accident. Waymo CEO John Krafcik even went so far as to state that their own vehicle could have handled the situation.

By December of 2018, however, Uber’s self-driving cars were back on the road after having conducted an extensive audit of their safety policies. The company resumed road tests in Pittsburgh, and manual testing, with a human driver directing the vehicle, in San Francisco and Toronto.

3. Free Public Transport

Public transport is a friend and a fiend: There are weeks where everything runs smoothly, and then there are weeks where trains and busses appear at seemingly random intervals, where the compartments are so full that you experience the full crush (and musk) of humanity, and where you wish you had chosen your bike or car instead of this.

Many of the world’s largest cities are dealing with an influx of people that their outdated, mismanaged and stagnating public transport systems can’t handle. According to a new report, the MTA subway system in New York needs $60 billion in upgrades and repairs. Governor Andrew Cuomo even contacted Tesla in hopes to garner some advice and ideas on how to best to improve the New York City subway’s signal system. Another example is Rome, where 10 busses exploded within one year and dozens of Russian football fans were injured when an escalator collapsed at the Repubblica metro station. And the prices for the collapsing metro system are audacious: According to The Guardian, Rome spends €7.4 per kilometre of transit travel – compared to the €2.8 that is considered European best practice.

Free public transport might be an answer to some of these problems: small test phases have been conducted in various cities and towns, with success. In 2018, the city of Fürth in Germany offered free rides on their buses and trains every Saturday in December, which significantly increased the amount of passengers making use of the service. In Vienna, a yearly ticket costs €365, a Euro a day. This system was introduced in May 2012 and has been a resounding success: Due to the affordable price, the subway saw an increase of 140.000 new annual cardholders in its first year, with the numbers rising 373,000 to 780,000 between 2012 and today.

And now, as the first country in the world, Luxemburg has announced that by 2020, all public transport will be free of charge. Free public transport is part of the political effort to ease the congestion problems in the country, which has a population of 600.000. Every day around 200.000 people from Germany, France, and Belgium commute to work in Luxembourg. Additionally, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo announced a new proposal where children aged 4-11 will be able to use public transport for free in Paris. Currently, only children aged 0-4 travel for free.

For more information, the NMW team has already summarised the pros and cons of free public transport here and looked at the future of free public transport in and between cities.

4. The winner: The Bicycle

In March we hit peak saturation when it came to bikesharing services. Photos emerged of discarded bikes cluttering up the sidewalks, and mass graveyards for bike services that had been eliminated by competitors with deeper pockets that drove out smaller enterprises.

Bike sharing per se was and is not the problem. The problem was the aggressive growth of many service providers, which resulted in too many bikes (additionally of subpar quality) competing for a demand that did not yet exist. The cities were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of rentable bikes, blocking pathways in already crowded cities.

At the same time 2018 saw a boom in e-scooter services. Bird had a valuation of $2 billion, while Lime raised an additional $250 million. In Southeast Asia the Uber-imitation Grab and the Chinese Didi also launched their own respective bike-share services in 2018. Both Didi and Grab have also invested directly in bike-sharing startups Ofo and OBike, respectively.

Bird also headed to Paris, and Wind Mobility from Berlin has raised $22 million in seed funding, throwing its hat into the ring as European competitor to Bird and Lime.

Photo by Glen Millen on Unsplash