Can we make a smart system out of stupid components?

5 October 2018
How do we change people’s transport habits, to make a transition into a sustainable and smart system? This was debated by global innovation leaders at a recent Ramboll-organised event.

By Karoline Riberholt Andersen

In an ideal world, it would be easy to cut down on the use of cars - or even remove them entirely – and replace them with other and more climate-friendly solutions. But factors such as user habits and the psychological dimensions of the way we transport mean that we are probably stuck with cars for a while – and cars are not so smart from a scientific and climate-oriented point of view. 

So where do we go from here? Or, as Henrik Gudmundsen from CONCITO, Denmark´s Green Think Tank puts it: “How do we make a smart system out of stupid components?” 

That was one of the key points of discussion at a recent Smart Mobility Event hosted by Ramboll. In other words: How can digitalisation herald a new era of sustainable mobility, and how can we integrate new technologies, services, and business models proactively to produce the greatest benefit to society? The main conclusion was that we must incorporate present ways of transportation into our new smart mobility system.

The human being is a creature of habits and well … lazy, or at least prone to convenience, which is why a lot of commuters prefer the fast car to the slower public transport system. 

This means that we probably have to accept that cars are part of the equation for now. Therefore, we have to consider how we can minimise the need for privately owned petrol- and diesel cars by optimising public transport, electric cars, share-rides, and other solutions. We must incorporate these underlying factors into our vision when creating the framework for a more sustainable, smart mobility transition, the participants at the event agreed.

The ultimate freedom? 

But what does it take to get individuals to give up their cars? Jonna Pöllänen, Head of Early Markets at MaaS Global, states: “Car ownership in general is related to convenience. With MaaS, we are giving our users the ultimate freedom”. 

MaaS is an extended travel plan app with a fixed membership price that combines existing service providers, bookings and payments to create the easiest travel route - all with a click on your smartphone. But making this 'ultimate freedom' a feasible reality, and an attractive alternative to privately owned cars, comes down to willingness to corporate on the new system. And is the vision of a world where nobody wants to own their own car a utopia? If not, how will we be able to successfully make this transition, the participants asked. 

Finding the perfect in-between 

The solution is finding the perfect in-between. As Henrik Gudmundsen states: “We have to be able to provide people with exciting, innovative, and more attractive and sustainable solutions than car-ownership”. Such solutions could be share-rides, electric cars, and a smart mobility system available by a click on your smartphone.

But it is also about incorporating and improving the infrastructure we already have. Maybe we need to create bigger parking-hubs outside the inner cities in order to get more car-free zones in the center? Or reserve the best parking-spots for share-rides and services like Uber? Or maybe create fast-lanes on the highway for cars with more than one passenger? We should respect people’s current routines and habits as we work towards creating new and more sustainable ones. 

So, what is it that makes the car so important to us and therefore so difficult to rule out? “The car is important because we cannot do everything by public transport, bike and walking. Furthermore, cars are a part of our habits and routines. We don’t want to give them up. They are a part of our personal space and we feel attached to them. We don’t want to share that special time of the day when we are driving by ourselves to and from work with strangers”, so says Theo Thuis, Managing Director Innovation at Q-Park. The car should be viewed upon as not just the problem, but also as a part of the solution – a stepping stone towards successfully making the sustainable transition.

The concept of smart mobility is a central focus of Ramboll’s approach to making cities more liveable and sustainable. Smart mobility takes a holistic view of transport, from maximising the use of public space to more sustainable infrastructure such as bike paths, smart parking, car sharing and better traffic information.

Read more about our smart mobility approach here.

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