You may have heard of ‘Mobility as a Service’ and ‘micromobility’, but what exactly do these mean?
Let’s start with the familiar. Taxis are ‘mobility as a service’: you pay for just what you require (plus some allowance for ‘dead’ time). Bicycles, meanwhile, are a form of micromobility. They’re ‘micro’ by comparison with a car, bus or train. Combine the two and you have hire bikes – in three flavours: docked (e.g. Santander bikes in London), dockless (e.g. the silver and orange Mobikes around Cambridge) and shop-hired.
Less familiar are electric kick-scooters. These are a common sight and popular in many European cities, but rare in the UK because it’s currently illegal to ride one on the road, cycle paths or pavements. Once the law is changed, expect to see them cluttering city pavements. There are many other vehicles in this category, even powered shoes (imagine belt-sanders for soles). They’re giving us a growing selection of micromobility options for shortish trips and first/last mile connections to public transport.
Now, imagine you’re about to finish work for the day. You fire up a trip planner app. You’ve already told it your walking speed; that you’re happy to cycle up to 20 minutes or, if it’s raining, 5 minutes; and you’ve linked a credit card to your account. You tap “Take me home” and then “Go via”, identifying the pharmacy where your prescription is waiting and your daughter’s school, setting the time you want to be at the school gate. It plans the optimal route, tells you the trip price, and prompts you when you need to leave.
The app then directs you to the nearest available e-bike (which is reserved for you and unlocked by your phone’s Bluetooth signal), and then to the bus stop, where you catch a bus to the pharmacy (your phone signals you’ve agreed to pay the fare). You then walk to meet your daughter, unlock one of the school’s trailer bikes, and ride home with her. At 4am your credit card is billed for the previous day’s trips.
That’s the vision for Mobility as a Service.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 30 October 2019.