Opinion: New mobility - still a revolution or already at the end?

Stefan Schulz UX Director • Head of Site Munich

09/01/2023 • 5 minutes reading time

The promise of „New mobility“

I clearly remember trying out this new DriveNow service early in the last decade: it felt like science fiction suddenly became a reality. The smartphone opened the door to a new dynamic world of mobility – which before had only seen the long, unrelenting battle between cars and public transport (Source).

It all started a few years earlier with the sharing economy concept: sharing things and thereby creating new benefits - for users, service providers, and society. An early driver of this trend in the mobility sector were these new forms of car sharing, which made it possible to rent vehicles easily via smartphone.

With these first options, many people, like me, grew to think that mobility just had to be made smarter and that many real, long-standing traffic and mobility problems could be solved. It seemed clear that our experience with mobility would change completely. At the same time, social pressure grew: the usual way of dealing with cars and traffic chaos was simply no longer acceptable due to ever stricter climate protection regulations and after a loss of trust like "Dieselgate".

That was the big game changer that would change and revolutionize entire industries, and I was there live. My optimism was limitless, and the prospects for the future seemed clear. But towards the end of the decade, things changed.

Sand in the gears

So it became clear that sand ended up in the gear works and that the awaited future world might not become a reality (so soon). Self-driving cars were absent, although traditional manufacturers and new attackers like Tesla and others widely heralded them as "market-ready" soon. Although car sharing increased, it remained an overseeable niche in mobility. And when it came to networking the offers, there were indeed many "mobility apps" on offer. Still, really integrated solutions for an elegant journey from A to B from a single source remained a dream of the future.Had we been too naïve and hailed a (technology-centric) revolution that might never happen?

Cars are stuck in traffic on the highway.
Traffic congestions are still a regular occurrence, even in 2023.

Reality check

Not quite, because despite the disappointments, there were many lasting changes: Automation developed splendidly in niches (e.g., autonomous delivery robots), and the evolutionary development of driver assistance systems to increasingly autonomous vehicles in defined areas continued.

And at the same time, our mobility is much more networked than it was 10-15 years ago. Information about mobility options and offers is now available more and quicker than ten years ago. Sharing and merging information across platforms is now the rule rather than the exception. More and more products are also working together in ticketing. Real-time information is also becoming more and more a matter of course for mobility offers. Together with the tremendous pull effect of sustainable electrification, impressive innovations emerged at many interfaces.

That motivated us, that motivated me. But is this the significant change we've collectively envisioned over the past decade that should bring a better world (for our children and us)? Is the big vision still achievable, and how do we get there?

A man books mobility options with his smartphone.
Booking your mobility options easily with your smartphone.

The new way from A to B

So what really needs to be done to build a more sustainable, better mobility? In my opinion, it is not enough to focus on technologies and innovations or to think about the market maturity of services that may have been launched too early. Because, at its core, it is primarily about people and their most important basic needs. In mobility, I suggest focusing on 3 of these needs:

  • Safety in mobility has many facets, including your own safety, your passenger's safety, and other road users' safety. This also includes protection against discomfort or even an attack in public space, a key argument for using vehicles by minority groups.

  • Comfort describes how the time spent traveling is made as pleasant as possible because it often involves considerable effort, and any stress reduction improves the travel experience considerably. It's less about heated seats or exclusive extras like premium vehicles or (airport) lounges. Instead, it is about how easy it is to transport luggage, whether you can use the travel time for work, leisure, or sleep, or how complex the organization of a trip is.

  • Status is often closely related to comfort needs and corresponds to people's desire to express achieved status in life. However, limiting this need to exclusive offers on trains, flights, and more expensive cars does not hit the nail on the head. Rather, the status symbol car is deeply anchored worldwide as a marker for success in life. For example, the desire to "own a car" is often about proving that you've reached a significant milestone in life.

To enable new mobility on a broad basis, I think it is essential to focus on these three basic needs and to specify them for application-related use with the right groups of people. From my own experience, I see families and seniors as particularly critical for a mobility revolution's success because they are often involuntarily forced into an automotive reality without really feeling comfortable in it. And they often have the financial clout to pay for new products and services.

In addition, a discussion about how we can create an attractive, safe environment with more comfort, especially in shared mobility, is inevitable. In this context, we should seek more discussion about mobility as a third place; visionary projects such as the Deutsche Bahn Ideas Train (as shown in the picture, photo credits dpa) point in the right direction.

Train of ideas Deutsche Bahn
Train of ideas Deutsche Bahn

Public transport has a long history of making traveling in shared vehicles accessible and increasingly enjoyable. However, these findings must now be transferred to all modes of transport, our cities, and communities. From my point of view, the lack of success in sharing concepts can be explained by the focus on travel optimization and financial incentives instead of security, comfort, and status. However, the entire mobility change will not be successful without effective and flourishing sharing concepts.

We need consistent advances in improving our lives: what should our cities and settlements look like, how do we want to travel, and how do we want to live better?


About this article

Originally, this article was published in 4 parts on LinkedIn by Stefan Schulz.
As part of this article, the 4 parts have been summarized while emphasizing Stefan's opinion on mobilty predictions.
If you want to read the original articles, here are the links:

  1. The Promise of New Mobility

  2. Sand in the Gearbox

  3. Reality Check

  4. The New Way from A to B