Analysis of smart mobility trends 2017

Transportation is forming the economic basis of modern technological civilization, being a combination of personal and public passenger mobility with commercial freight systems. Though we may see notable transitions in terms of propulsion technology and to some degree in transport infrastructures in coming decades, the shift in operation mode may cause a more sudden and radical disruption. Vehicle operation mode shift is most of all referring to integration of smart mobility concepts, such as real-time navigation, ridesharing, carsharing and of course autonomous drive. Due to deficiency of direct data on integration of new technologies, the main tools for measuring smart mobility effect on transportation at this point of time are vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) and sales of new passenger cars per capita, which can be used to analyze the indirect effect of real-time navigation, ridesharing and carsharing.

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Modern society is defining the quality of life by availability of basic needs like food, water, housing and healthy environment. However, more and more technological services are thriving under the umbrella of quality of life and personal freedom, including the rights to medical service, communication and of course transportation. Moreover, transportation is forming the economic basis of modern technological civilization, being a combination of personal and public passenger mobility with commercial freight systems. Notably, personal mobility is responsible the lion share of energy consumption within the transportation sector. Though there are already existing alternatives for personal mobility such as mass transport systems and two-wheeled vehicles, it is not likely those could entirely replace personal mobility units such as cars. About 40-50% of all energy consumed by transport systems in developed countries is utilized by four-wheeled vehicles, which also happen to be mostly in private ownership.

The share of energy consumption by four-wheel passenger vehicles may however change, affected by several aspects of vehicle operation such as propulsion technology, availability of infrastructures and operation mode. Though we may see likely transitions in terms of propulsion technology and to some degree in infrastructures in coming decades, the shift in operation mode may cause a more sudden and radical disruption. Vehicle operation mode shift is most of all referring to integration of smart mobility concepts, such as real-time navigation, ridesharing, carsharing and of course autonomous drive. Those technologies obtain not only the potential to alter existing mobility concepts, but also to change the entire scheme of vehicle ownership. Evidently, this change has already begun and is due to bring a tremendous disruption sometime in the not so far away future.

As mentioned, real-time navigation is among the key areas of smart mobility and is already widely implemented. Navigation technologies have allowed route optimization for individual drives and to some degree even indirect optimization of traffic, by diverting many users to alternative routes upon high congestion. Measurement of real-time navigation effect on road traffic is somewhat tricky, though it can be generally analyzed by direct experimental observation of drivers. Another indirect way to assess the effect of real-time navigation is by looking at the vehicle-miles-travelled (VMT) figure on national level in correlation with utilization levels of real-time navigation tools.

Carsharing is another smart mobility concept, which has risen in popularity during the past decade with companies such as Zipcar and Car2Go. Carsharing is basically a flexible form of car-rental, allowing rental on hourly basis and more flexibility in location and time for vehicle pick up and drop. In such scheme, one shared vehicle can replace several privately owned cars in urban areas. Direct measurement of popularity of carsharing services is probably the best way to assess the progress of this technology, though it might be somewhat premature due to the still marginal popularity of this service. Reportedly in late 2012 nearly 0.8 million Americans were utilizing carsharing, but updated figures on actual utilization of carsharing services are required for such an assessment. Theoretically, it is possible to assess also the indirect impact of carsharing by looking at certain statistics - carsharing should not affect mileage per capita or VMT, but can reduce the number of vehicles per capita and especially negatively impact new vehicle sales. Since the inception of carsharing services of Zipcar in 2000 the market has experienced a downtrend in new vehicle sales per capita, but the spectrum of causes for that decline is including the saturation of the US private vehicle market, the economic crisis of 2008-09, availability of public transport and increasing road congestion.

Figure 1. Annual new car sales per capita in the US 1990-2015: the trend is continuously negative, though is affected by numerous factors.

The third notable concept is smart mobility to be discussed in this study is ridesharing, also known as carpooling. This concept strives to resolve the problem of "single passenger vehicle", which is essentially one of the main causes of private vehicle's inefficiency and road congestion. Currently, in developed countries the ratio of passengers per private vehicle on the road is between 1.1 to 1.3. In case technology and regulation allow to overcome the challenges of wide scale implementation of ridesharing, even a slight increase of passenger ratio to the level of 1.5 would result in more than 15-35% direct economy of energy in private transportation and as much as 20-50% energy economy if considering also the indirect effect on congestion (by simply reducing the number of vehicles on the road). Projects like Waze Carpool are trying to address this issue, while UberX may affect the measurement of passenger ratio per vehicle, but have little to none influence on reducing congestion. A direct way to measure the effect of carsharing is obtaining the data fromcarsharing companies, which is however rarely revealed. In theory, the effect of ridesharing can be indirectly measured by surveying the ratio of passengers per vehicle on the road, but such surveys are not performed on regular basis.

Finally, the fourth smart mobility concept to be discussed in this study is the autonomous vehicle technology, which can theoretically significantly enhance personal transportation by allowing mobility as a service. Many companies, including Google's Waymo and Intel's Mobileye are trying to push this technology towards implementation. Autonomous vehicle technology will not only relieve us from the tiring task of driving, but also reduce energy consumption and VMT by optimization of routes and vehicle's capacity. It may even have some interesting side effects, like increasing vehicle's passenger capacity due to the fact that a driver is not required. If autonomous drive is combined with carsharing technology and thus providing us mobility as a service, the effect is further enhanced. The measurement of autonomous vehicle effect on mobility is however not possible at this point due to the simple fact that there are no commercial autonomous vehicles to date on the roads.

In summary, due to deficiency of direct data on integration of new technologies, the main tools for measuring smart mobility effect on transportation at this point of time are figures of vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) and sales of new passenger cars per capita, which can be utilized to analyze the indirect effect of real-time navigation, ridesharing and carsharing. However, both VMT and sales of new passenger cars have a low resolution and can potentially be heavily affected also by other factors such as public transport availability, road congestion levels and even economic growth.