Death to private transport! Long live private transport!


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Kai Gondlach

The recently ignited mobility debate about “free public transport” or “free public transport” makes trend researchers take turns smiling and shaking their heads. Starting from different political camps, the topic pops up in a regular ity and then disappears very quickly into the abysses of the supposed specialist blogs and in the association meetings of interest groups, which reduce the traffic mix to 100 % rail, 100% wheel, but definitely 0% cars want to discuss. In this article, I would like to outline how the idea will probably become a reality, look completely different and leave all established players perplexed.

As is often the case, politically motivated trench warfare rarely goes around people’s real needs. Each stakeholder pursues his own, profit-maximizing agenda without subjecting his own positions and the discussion process to a reality check after the first half kick-off. Of course, the always identical discourse spolicies first of all attract the doubters from the reserve, who then nip a constructive solution in the bud. At this point, I do not want to point the finger at certain players, everyone is in turn. And this is not only my humble opinion, but has justified Not least Niklas Luhmann in his system theory by the fact that the systemic constraints of individual subsystems undermine individual motives (greatly shortened – dear sociologists, please do not take it badly).

Mobility in Germany

In the German transport sector in particular, we are also faced with an excessively complex web of effective laws at all levels, interdependence between administrative bodies and private companies, which is excessively complex for international comparisons. And, thanks to pluralistic society, the interest groups are of course also talking a word. In the end, however, the party wins anyway with the thicker seat meat, the largest proximity of the lobby office to the Reichstag building and, of course, the one that can mobilize most of the no-sayers.

What a pity! In fact, all the parties involved know that the current system is not particularly modern, but far from agile or agile. adaptable for what awaits us in the coming years. The incremental logic of gradually correcting shortcomings without the courage to even loudly express far-reaching progress denies an entire nation access to contemporary mobility. Since I do not want to write a book at this point, the controversy on politics and society ends right now and I focus on the topic of the introduction: free public transport.

In 2013, I was in the process of writing my master’s thesis in futures research with a focus on transport. My supervisors were a specialist in research and teaching as well as a maker in the bus division of one of the largest German mobility companies. The theme in the text: “Disruptive development of ‘free public transport’: utopia or plausible future?”. As a result, I was concerned with comparing the real existing concepts, the analysis of expert discussions on feasibility and the essence of the conditions of success. Spoiler: With a well-thought-out financing model based on a citizen’s fee and user monetization, the system would work profitably in the shortest possible time. Not all the experts have said that, but here I am writing down my assessment. Unfortunately, I do not have a current modelling, which would be a nice task for our colleagues from KPMG. Of course, the idea is quickly dismissed as a utopia, because of course the transport associations, all (federal) traffic laws and all operators could have something against it. Zack, Welcome to the Land of the Visionless!

Mobility is not the same as transport

As is so often the case, the crucial people remain in the sluggish option tunnel and cling to what they know rather than look for opportunities. A first contribution to the solution would therefore be to acknowledge that the current transport system no longer meets the current needs of mobility customers. Fewer and fewer young people are driving a driving licence, buying cars is increasingly de-emotionalised, the transport of people is no longer what it once was. People want to go from A to B, so far, really. The fact that the individual transport mix is becoming more and more intermodal – commuters travel by car to the train station, by train to the city and by bicycle to the office – is also not new. Mobility is therefore the need to live and work in different places or to reach friends and family as efficiently as possible. Aha: efficient! Is it efficient to have both a vehicle worth tens of thousands of euros, to finance insurance and taxes and wear and tear, and to spend extra money on public transport up to the two-wheeler? And, in addition, taking the risk of getting into an accident on individual traffic every time you drive? That must be better. And it does.

Future researchers expect the first fully autonomous vehicles on German roads in the early 2020s. This may sound utopian to some readers or evoke the reflex “perhaps in Silicon Valley, but not here.” Caught? I like to explain why. For starters, all automakers are now working with the world’s largest and most innovative technology companies to replace the driver at the wheel. The driver is now translated as “safety risk”. The autonomous prototypes of Waymo (spin-off of Alphabet, Google’s parent company), Uber, Baidu, Tesla and Co. are already running today. safer than human drivers and cause far fewer accidents than careless people. Technologically, therefore, the task will be solved very soon. It will not be long before the statistics of the pioneering regions on security and resource efficiency have convinced every doubter. Numerous providers of (today) car sharing offers and car rental companies are waiting for this moment. They are currently preparing everything necessary to disrupt public transport with completely new business models. I have already written about the use cases in another article. I would now like to explain here that this is the anniversary of the death of public transport.

Individual mobility is geared to the basic needs of users

As soon as the relevant companies offer autonomous vehicles – self-driving taxis, hotel rooms, restaurants, offices… – the price of mobility in itself drops to close to zero euros. why? It will no longer be a question of ordering a ride, but of how the vehicle, the moving pod, is designed from the inside. Nobody is interested in PS, consumption or rear spoilers any more. It’s all about entertainment systems, on-board comfort or the menu. The monetization of performance no longer follows the old logic of buying a car or ticket, but is based on subscription models analogous to Spotify and Netflix with any time bookable extras, upselling on board and, of course, advertising. Ad blockers cost extra, of course.

As soon as a critical mass of vehicles is available in a metropolitan area, the last stall of rigid station-based offers of today’s public transport providers has struck. After all, who likes to run or drive the last mile when an autonomous vehicle does this service? Yes, there will be more individual vehicles on the roads first. No, this will not lead to a traffic attack. Even today’s models of limited autonomous vehicles show the effect that although the maximum speed in traffic systems will decrease, the average speed will increase massively. This is partly because the autonomous pods are able to keep a smaller distance and interact intelligently with the infrastructure.

The application of D-Wave’s first commercially usable quantum computer in cooperation with Volkswagen has already shown in Beijing and Barcelona that congestion can be avoided by connecting vehicles and traffic lights. The computer was able to predict traffic for twenty minutes and with this ability will not only soon replace my job, but will organize transport systems worldwide. And this was the very first of its type with just a few qubits … and we know from the past the amazing effect of exponential advances in computer technology. Moore’s Law on Steroids!

What public transport actors need to do now

Back to public transport. The real task of the hour for providers of transport services in the system around operation, management and financing of mobility is: radical rethinking. One automaker once called this requirement “re-parking in my head,” although I’m not sure we mean the same thing. When a passenger in Potsdam gets on the S-Bahn, takes a regional train to Eberswalde in Berlin, in order to cover the rest with a (soon autonomous) rental car, he does not want to have to take different fare zones and providers into account. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos commented on business models of the digital era in such a way that no good product is sold, but a customer problem has to be solved … with which he is in line with Henry Ford, who did not “produce” any faster horses.

Even today, the wish of many people is: book once, a package price, no matter which provider is involved in the billing in which way. The new, data-driven companies such as Uber, Waymo and Tesla think that what is an almost insoluble challenge for established players due to the growing internal processes, corporate hierarchies and cultures, as well as legislative hurdles, is what the new, data-driven companies such as Uber, Waymo or Tesla think of Start with. Open interfaces, digitally seamless regional changes across city, land and state borders, usage-based billing and, of course, the monetization of all data packages. Users may see an app, contact “Siri” or “Okay Google” or automatically find the autonomous taxi when they leave the workplace; pattern recognition has long known that every Thursday evening the sports course always takes place and is covered directly after work.

Is the situation basically hopeless for today’s players?

Yes, if you continue to wait and manage stubbornly. No, when the most important decision-makers finally come up with a concrete vision and an ambitious roadmap.

The future is not yet written, but is shaped by us; so let’s enter into the exchange and make the most of it!

Photo by Alasdair Elmes on Unsplash

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