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Today is Earth Overshoot Day – an event that should make the call for a transport turnaround even louder

The fact that we, the human race, live beyond our means and are almost unrestrained exploiters of our home planet shouldn’t be news. Almost all of our everyday habits, especially travelling and being mobile, contribute significantly to the consumption of finite resources. 

This Thursday (29 July 2021) highlights this fact even more, as today marks what is known as Earth Overshoot Day. The day on which humans will have used more resources than the Earth can produce within a year.

In order to calculate this date, UN statistics on the ecological footprint of humanity and biocapacity are taken from a specific year, divided and multiplied by 365. The result is the Earth Overshoot Day of a given year. 

By the way, the same can also be calculated for each individual country:

 

Since 1970, we can see that the Earth Overshoot Day is moving further and further back – this year already to the end of July. A crucial sign and an important signal that not enough is being done to reduce the negative impact of human life on the environment. 

Earth Overshoot Day – an important message for a rapid change in transport policy

Private motorised transport contributes significantly to the deterioration of air and climate. This is mainly due to our increased level of mobility, which in Germany alone has almost doubled in the past forty years, with the main means of transport still being the individual car – with an upward trend.

Whereas in 2000 there were still 532 cars per 1000 inhabitants, this number has risen to 580 cars per 1000 inhabitants by 2020. This development is burdening the environment in many ways: air pollution is increasing due to the growing emission of pollutants, in addition, more and more cars require more and more space, which leads to a large-scale sealing of the natural soil.

In Germany, almost half of the ground surface is sealed, among other things to create more space for roads and parking spaces – with disastrous effects. In recent weeks, we have witnessed at first hand the consequences of human intervention in natural habitats: Rain can no longer be absorbed as easily by the ground, existing sewage systems can no longer cope with the masses of water, flooding may result.

All these scenarios, which already have a massive impact on our lives, should wake us up: the transformation of transport is an important part of reducing harmful human-made environmental impacts and must therefore be implemented as soon as possible.

Earth Overshoot Day – How can the change in transport look like?

It has long been obvious that a shift in mindset is necessary when it comes to transport. The task now is to create incentives that make it easier for people to switch to shared modes of public mobility.

Only then will it be possible to reduce the approximately 17% of global CO2 emissions caused by our mobility behaviour and to conserve the earth’s resources.

Our existing habits play a decisive role in this. Car drivers are used to getting around easily: Roads are everywhere, detours or subsequent longer walks to the destination are almost non-existent, huge areas are covered with concrete so that cars, which spend a large part of the day just standing around, can be parked almost anywhere. These and other amenities have educated us to use the car. But this behaviour can also be changed.

To do so, it requires two things: 1) making the use of public, shared transport more attractive and 2) making the use of one’s own car less attractive.

Of course, these demands are not fully applicable to all people and life situations. People who live in rural areas are usually dependent on using their own car, while public transport hardly operates or does not do so on a regular basis.

A fair balance must therefore be created that benefits everyone and does not penalise those who are particularly reliant on a car. For example, people who move out of the cities because they cannot afford an expensive city residence, but still have to commute far to their workplace every day.

An attractive shared mobility offer can be created when mobility options are developed that actually correspond to the reality of people’s lives. These can be employee shuttles (for big companies) or on-demand feeder services that take people to main transport hubs that they cannot easily reach on foot or by bike.

A wonderful example of how such Demand-Responsive Transport services are catching on is, for example, the Clam’Express in the greater Paris region. With a fleet of three vehicles, people are comfortably transported the first and last kilometres from their home to their destination. The service stops at hubs where passengers can easily transfer to the regular transport network. The Clam’Express is inclusive, allowing people with reduced mobility to effortlessly book and use it.  Furthermore, the minibuses are electrically powered, which makes an additional positive contribution to energy efficiency.

Further solutions for rural mobility, especially a Mobility as a Service (Maas) approach can be reviewed in our current White Paper. A link to download it is available at the bottom of this article.

Financial incentives, such as discounted tickets for employees or free tickets for senior citizens (at certain times), as is the case in the UK through the “Older People Freedom Pass“, should also be considered by governments to make public transport more attractive options for more people.

On the other hand, persons who drive every kilometre with their own car and occupy large parts of the public space should be charged significantly higher parking fees, for example.

Earth Overshoot Day – What does the future hold? 

Under the hashtag #MoveTheDate, solutions are being collected online to help push back the Earth Overshoot Day.

The solutions listed above, along with other incentives to make public shared transport a ‘normal’ means of transport for the general public, can enable us to move Earth Overshoot Day back by 13 days (compared to today). Saving 50% of current mobility-related emissions is already enough. In other words, about one-third of all journeys usually made by car should be replaced by public transport.

A demand that certainly is not utopian. Decision-makers are now obliged to pave the way for an effective change in transport. Innovative ideas and products for this already exist and only need to be used effectively and distributed fairly.

 

This interview about “Empirical Evidence on Demand-Responsive Transport Services” might interest you as well.

Get to know more about Padam Mobility  

 

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Crossed views on MaaS with Hacon

maas

There is no better than our trusted sister company, Hacon, to talk about the topic of Mobility-as-a-Service. The company specialises in developing software solutions that connect different modes of transport into an intermodal travel chain. We interviewed Svenja Katharina Weiß, Marketing Manager and Thomas Wolf, COO of Hacon on their experiences and future visions of MaaS.   

As a leading provider of mobility apps, what experiences have you gained with Hacon so far in the development and implementation of MaaS apps?

Thomas Wolf (TW) : We have noticed that the app is the part of the solution that everyone sees and gets in touch with so it’s of course an important aspect of the overall solution. But actually, we talk a lot more about MaaS platforms than MaaS apps. Why? The app is of course the customer-facing part, and again it’s very important to make sure that there’s great usability, but the intelligence is more in the back office. Implementing a mass project is all about the back office: it’s about gathering the right data connecting with a huge number of mobility service providers  and of course to have a back-office system that helps people to make smart decisions. I would also emphasise that the key aspect of Mobility-as-a-Service is using the system to get access to smarter and faster options. A trip not found will not be booked: MaaS offers a whole new range of opportunities for the passengers and makes people explore their options quicker.

Svenja Katharina Weiß (SKW) : I’d like to add that not only different modes [of transport] but also different actions or processes have to be integrated. We like to call it “Plan, book, pay and travel with one app and one account”. MaaS has to accompany the user through the whole trip and everything that is associated with it. I believe that is the great potential of MaaS regarding intermodal travel that it fits the individual demands even better than single modes of transportation.

What is your motivation to advocate for a stronger MaaS approach and to further develop shared intermodal mobility?

TW: MaaS has become more popular over the past years. One reason for this is that the public and politicians aim to reduce carbon footprint. If you want to achieve this goal, there are all kinds of things you can do and need to do, but one thing people want you to do is to eventually abandon your own car. On the other hand, if you want to abandon your car, then the problem is you need mobility services for every aspect of your life. In that perspective, a car is quite hard to beat because it has been developed to fulfil all these different needs or pretty much all of them.

This is where MaaS comes in because instead of just either riding the train or the bus or bike or renting a car it should give you access to all of these mobility modes. For example, if you would need a car because you want to pick up building material which is going to be difficult by using a bus then you’re just going to use a car for this particular trip thanks to MaaS recommendations. In a nutshell, MaaS  must give people a true alternative to car ownership and that’s why I think it is an important topic these days.

It sounds like MaaS is also about creating a highly individualised travel experience. Is it already possible, for example when creating a user account, to set specific preferences on how somebody would like to travel? 

TW: Yes, we do offer personalisation. There exists already a variety of options a user can choose from, of course, they can also choose if they do or do not want to use bikes depending on their personal situation.  But I think when we talk about preferences in MaaS, an important aspect is people with reduced mobility. In this specific regard, we have lots of options we can offer as well as tools to manage the data. For example, when a wheelchair user arrives on a platform and wants to continue the trip, he or she needs to know if there is a functioning elevator and of course what to do if not. So we can actually route people around a problem. And even though that sounds like we are now talking about the details but in reality, if you are depending on a wheelchair – or have any other kind of disability – then you need to rely on the system, that is something that goes beyond a fancy app and nice-looking interfaces. We need to be able to provide a professional system that takes care of all those details. Especially when it comes to public transport, we have a high responsibility towards disabled people. And that is why I am bringing up that specific example because it goes above and beyond the luxury of preferences.   

SKW: I would like to emphasise the importance of data in order to enhance the overall MaaS experience. On the one hand, MaaS platforms are heavily dependent on high-quality data. This applies, for example, to timetable information or real-time data on the location of vehicles and their availability. This data must be reliable and managed efficiently and securely between the stakeholders. The same applies to the handling of account and payment data e. g. On the other hand, MaaS platforms are generating data and offer great potential for using mobility data analytics to create ever better, tailored mobility offers and to enhance service strategies. 

What happens to the data that the MaaS platform collects? Among the great diversity of MaaS stakeholders, who should “own” this data? Who can in theory use it for data analysis purposes? And how do you or other hosts of MaaS platforms make sure that the data stored is compliant with the EU data protection regulation (GDPR)?

TW: We firmly believe that the data which is generated by such a system belongs into the hands of our customers. Meaning in most cases public transit agencies, public transit operators or in short the public. Because we pay taxes so that there’s public infrastructure, we build public infrastructure and we provide public infrastructure, this is why we believe that the data being generated from such a system belongs to the public – it’s that simple!

Our key philosophy is we provide technology and our clients own the data. They need to be in touch with their users to know if they are happy with the service and to be able to reach out to them in case of an issue. If you don’t own the data you’re not in touch with your users anymore. And we believe that it is mind-blowing if you depend on a third-party provider to learn about what is going on in your own infrastructure.

And to the aspect of storing data in a GDPR-compliant way, this is not only a crucial aspect for our customers but also for the end-users, the passengers. Of course, we are making sure that this data is handled appropriately, we will make sure that nothing wrong happens with this data and that users won’t, all of a sudden, just because they used a MaaS-System or rode a bus, receive advertisements that they never wanted. This is not going to happen with our systems. We believe it is absolutely fundamental that the data stays with our clients and that we store and handle this data safely.

MaaS can have the power to bring together and connect different territories, including the most fragile. To do this, we need to develop digital services that provide quality intermodal information. But what are the other major challenges facing MaaS in low-density, rural areas?

TW: First and foremost, mobility in rural areas is a much bigger challenge than it is in Metropolitan areas. Ironically, even though there are traffic jams in the Metropolitan areas, there are also the most travel options, especially for sustainable travel. It seems absurd but the new modes of transportation show up in areas where you don’t desperately need them because in most cities the public transportation is very good. In contrast, rural areas are clearly not as attractive for anybody who offers mobility services, so I think it takes extra effort to have attractive transportation in rural areas. In my opinion in less densely populated areas, we just have to use resources in a smarter way:  for example, integrate the taxi services that are available already and make them more accessible.

What could be the role of DRT-Services in a MaaS-System, less densely populated areas?

TW: We have noticed that cities or public transit agencies when they think of Mobility-as-a-Service want to offer mobility alternatives to car ownership for a certain region. That means they want to offer a mobility solution for every aspect of people’s life. But if they look at their current infrastructures they eventually find certain gaps and issues – for example at night times or in rural areas.

This is where DRT comes in, it helps to fill those network holes. Whether network holes in a geographical meaning where there is only a poor existing transit service or network holes in a temporal meaning, for example, during night hours, where it simply does not pay off to have a fixed bus line service.

I think that’s the exciting part, MaaS can help to orchestrate this very well and make sure that we deploy DRT exactly where it complements existing infrastructure and public transportation.

As of today, there are not a lot of DRT services that are integrated into MaaS systems. How do you explain that? Is it because DRT is a rather young technology?

TW : Yes, I think that is simply because the technology is still emerging, it’s still an area that hasn’t been around for too long, and also, I believe people sometimes make the mistake to think that if you set up a DRT system you need to set up additional vehicles and drivers, which of course you could, but again I need to emphasise that in many cases drivers are already around. Often there are already existing operators, for example, taxi organisations, that have existing vehicles and drivers. So, I think if cities or public transit agencies realise that they can tap into this potential by just linking it smarter with a DRT-software, like Padam Mobility’s system. I think we need to educate them better and show them that they don’t always need a complete fleet and drivers but in most cases just the software.

SKW: I think it’s important to acknowledge that DRT should complement the existing public transport services and that there doesn’t need to be the fear that it will cannibalise the existing services. It’s an addition, it’s a very smart complement. Of course, it has to be orchestrated but I think there can be a synergetic relationship between public transport and DRT. But yes, there still is a need for education.

 

This article might interest you: Crossed views on MaaS with Kisio Digital

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