Freed No. 1: Who am I up against?
I don’t ever hear any stories that tell the tale of the happy-go-lucky hermit, the high-spirited loan wolf or the jumping-for-joy solo musician. There are, however, if we are to believe Frodo Baggins or the Famous Five, quite a lot of good stories about the shared adventures and mutual support of teams.
And yet, in these stirring times we live in, every individual mobility provider in the sharing economy is looking to outdo the competition. One seemingly popular way of going about this is the sometimes astonishingly low prices per minute that sharing services offer. Another strategy is to become multimodal within themselves, or, in other words, to offer different types of vehicles on their own platform. The one who can report the highest number of booked journeys wins – and it’s a matter of getting ahead in two senses, because every kilometre counts. How wonderful: a monotheistic, multimodal mobility turnaround at the expense of avoiding traffic!
Transport associations like HVV, on the other hand, have been aware of the value to be gained from partnerships for over half a century. It is possible to travel on regional trains, buses, suburban trains and ferries with just one neat ticket for all modes of transport. And just as this set-up has really settled down and got into its groove, these new sharing providers pop up on the market and put their cars, mopeds, shuttles, bicycles and e-scooters out there on the road. They are intent on walking the tightrope of attracting customers without cannibalising public transport. Everyone has understood that by now, or at least they claim to have done.
Practically every single one of the guests on my podcast talks about how tricky it is working together on the road to the Holy Grail of Mobility-as-a-Service. The dilemma, which is becoming increasingly obvious, is that the principle of general service provision is colliding here with the growth paradigm of our modern age. Bringing about socially-minded added value for Hamburg’s population is not always a good match with the interests of venture capital investors.
For those who have grasped this concept, there is no getting round a mobility network. It is simply the logical next step: finally pulling together as one and taking advantage of partners’ individual specialisations and strengths when and where they are needed. I feel relieved to know that associations like HVV are already familiar with this pain of negotiation and growth from the dim and distant past. We do still need to work on how we can speed up the process though, and make this new world of services attractive enough to become competitive at the same time.
We want some local colour rather than (American) mobility monopolies in the form of rolling egoism. It is easy to forget that delivering reliable mobility at all times – even in the middle of a pandemic – is no small feat. We saw this when MOIA and even the majority of e-scooter sharing providers temporarily ceased their operations. But when it came to the question of almost empty buses and trains running or not, there they were turning up on time as usual.
Hand on heart, these additional services are essential if we finally want to bring about one of these many possible mobility turnarounds. Dr. Antjes Tjarks, Hamburg’s Senator for Transport and Future Mobility, summed this up by declaring: “The mobility turnaround is a project aimed at expanding freedom.” No one is interested in giving anything up or listening to anyone taking the moral high ground. But almost everyone is interested in being picked up at their door and chauffeured around without a care in the world. Sometimes I want to feel the harsh Hamburg wind in my face while riding my bike. Sometimes I want that convertible feeling. And sometimes I just want to watch people or read the newspaper in peace.
With all that in mind, here’s to new habits!