Complex mobility, smart solutions

Apps that keep us rolling

The mobility revolution is underway. Electric and hybrid drives are slowly but steadily gaining in popularity. This trend coincides with an ever-growing supply of digital transport services.

Nowadays, in large cities all over the world, using your own car to handle all your needs is becoming a thing of the past. Parking space shortages, congested streets, and smog all place a brake on individual car ownership. Indeed, many urbanites already forego having their own car altogether. This is evident in the different level of private vehicle ownership in urban and rural areas: Berlin has around 350 autos per 1,000 inhabitants. By contrast, in rural Hohenlohe County in Baden-Württemberg, the number soars to almost 700.

The trend of urban mobility is moving toward a mixed solution. Increasingly, we are using various means of transportation within a route. This can involve motor vehicles, public transportation or even an e-bike. 

The crucial element here is to interlink various means of transportation to let people get from A to B as efficiently as possible. Carsharing is only the best-known of the new services we now use in order to reach our destinations.

Full cities

Yet this doesn’t even begin to exhaust the myriad possibilities offered by digital services. Solutions for many of today’s mobility challenges are found on smartphones and other mobile devices. One example is parking space, which has meanwhile become scarce not only in metropoles but also even in the downtown areas of smaller towns. This is unsurprising given that, on the one hand, the number of motor vehicles in Germany continues to grow and, on the other hand, developers prefer to use valuable land parcels for new residential and commercial buildings rather than parking places, especially in areas close to the city center. As a result, motorists on average spend more than 20 minutes searching for parking spaces for their vehicles in downtown areas.

This is where portals like Mobypark offer a remedy. The app allows parking space owners – e.g. hotels, companies, universities and private individuals – to make their parking spaces available whenever they are not using them themselves. Motorists can reserve these parking spaces – which are normally inaccessible to the public – in advance via Mobypark. Using the app is extremely simple: just enter the date and desired time slot, look for the parking space on a map and book directly. These parking spaces often cost even less than comparable public parking garages. Mobypark is especially popular in the Netherlands and France. For example, the app offers over 1,000 parking spaces in Paris, depending on availability.

Less populated countryside

Yet the mobility situation has undergone profound changes not only in cities but also in rural areas. Parking spaces are normally plentiful in village and town centers here, but ever more specialty shops are closing; the nearest store is often only reachable by car. Even simple errands can become a logistical challenge, especially for older people who no longer feel safe driving. Public transit is not always an alternative where bus and rail options are often severely limited, especially in sparsely populated areas due to low cost-effectiveness.

Controversial win-win situation

Here is where so-called ride-selling can offer a solution. The basic underlying idea: In theory, transportation capacities present no problem whatsoever, despite the lack of public transit coverage. Even in the country, cars are constantly traveling between every conceivable starting point and destination – and in most cases the driver sits alone at the wheel. Three spaces therefore normally remain unoccupied. The challenge is then to bring supply and demand together at mutually convenient times and places. This is exactly where ride-selling apps like Uber or BlaBlaCar focus to connect drivers and passengers. The advantages are obvious: Drivers recoup at least part of the costs for their trip, while the transported passengers reach their destinations relatively cheaply and comfortably. A classic win-win, one would think. But these services are not without controversy, especially in Germany. Uber especially competes with established taxi businesses, which require a license to operate in this country. In many cases, German courts have already restricted Uber's activities. Whether ride-selling will gain acceptance in Germany very much remains an open question.

“Baby, you can drive my car”

Platforms like CarUnity, Drivy and SnappCar offer not only trips but also the entire owned vehicle. Private individuals can make their cars available to other drivers here for a limited time. These services represent an alternative both to conventional auto rental agencies and commercial car sharing providers. The advantage especially lies in the large geographic spread, given that one can find someone willing to lend his vehicle for a relatively low fee almost anywhere. However, the legal situation is tricky. The vehicle owner’s third-party vehicle insurance or collision damage insurance normally does not cover lending the vehicle to a driver not -designated in the insurance policy. So-called supplemental insurance policies are therefore a mandatory part of the contract between the individual platform and vehicle owner. These offer full insurance coverage even when subleasing.The trend is plain to see in the meantime, since ingenuity in developing new mobility services is virtually boundless. Some of the problems arising with modern changes in transportation appear solvable with apps. The technical innovations setting the pace here relate both to mobility itself and to communication. In order to successfully meet the mobility needs of the future, we have to take a holistic view of digital services and their underlying technologies.   

Share of traffic routes in traffic volume