Friday, April 29, 2011

From carsharing to mobility brokers?

From carsharing to mobility brokers?
I am excited by the prospect of urban 'mobility retailers' or 'mobility brokers'.  'Huh'? What is that, you ask?

A mobility broker is a business that handles the retailing, marketing and information end of your mobility needs. It may not even own any vehicles or employ any drivers (and you won't have to either). You could think of it as an urban transport travel agent. Such services would probably be most attractive for people who choose not have a car of their own. Because urban mobility is much more spontaneous and immediate than long-distance travel, mobility brokers will need to handle requests extremely nimbly in real time.

Most cities don't yet have such beasts in their urban transport landscape. Not yet.

But I think they will emerge out the innovative and vibrant ecosystem of handheld devices, real-time information apps, social media and networking, car-sharing companies, new payment systems, telematics, location-based services, etc. 

I thought mobility brokers were something for the future. But maybe at least one exists already!

Before I get to that, let me give a little background on why I think car-sharing seems central here, as the title of this post suggests.  I have long been intrigued by the promise of car-sharing. It may still be a niche service but it liberates our thinking. For example, the rise of car-sharing helps challenge lazy assumptions that aspirations for excellent mobility must mean mass car ownership.

Car-sharing is a service that makes it conceivable to have first class mobility without a car of your own. But it can't deliver on that promise alone. The next generation of car-sharing innovation is extremely promising but, as various people have noticed, to become a complete replacement for car ownership car-sharing needs to join forces with all of its natural allies, public transport, taxis, bicycle sharing, etc etc. And, of all of these allies, car-sharing companies seem to have an especially strong incentive to forge cooperation with the others.


And this takes us back towards the idea of mobility retailers or mobility brokers. One of my ongoing (but slow-motion!) research agendas involves looking into how we might accelerate the integration of all of these services.  In particular, what institutional changes in metropolitan mobility systems could best help this along? 

A slide from a presentation I gave last year in Kaohsiung*.

One key possibility involves that idea of 'mobility brokers'. It is not a totally new idea (more on the history some other time). But such data-intensive mobility-retailing enterprises have only recently become a much more realistic possibility for reasons that include advances in telematics and real-time urban mobility data sharing, the rise of smart phones, and the emergence of new social network-based spatial/mobility services such as ride-sharing and 'peer-to-peer car-sharing', etc.

As I said, I had been thinking about this as a future possibility. So I was very excited to see Michael Glotz-Richter write:
In the Netherlands, company carsharing provider Mobility Mixx (NL) saw the importance of the integration of carsharing and public transport. It expanded its offer to become a full-range mobility service provider, including carsharing, hire cars, public transport reservations, park and ride, trip advice and mobility budget management.
This sounds very much like the kind of ‘retailer’ or ‘mobility broker’ I have been thinking about. The Mobility Mixx site is in Dutch but a good idea of their offerings can be gleaned with the help of Google Translate.
Mobility Mixx has a unique combination of opportunities for business travel in the package. Besides the pool car and train at the location offers access to Mobility Mixx OV-bicycle (train) taxi, P + R parking, rental cars, the electronic processing of mileage claims and the management of personal mobility budgets. Travel advice from door to door - via Internet and call center - allows employees to choose and combine.  

Mobility Mixx seems to aim mainly at business clients for now:
Mobility Mixx offers unique in the Netherlands a total package for business mobility, which consists of a combination of pool car, train, taxi, public transport bike, regular taxi, and P & R car. The electronic processing of mileage claims and the management of personal mobility budgets is also possible. Mobility Mixx is day and night over the Internet and call center.

There is a lot more information on their website.

Does anyone have any direct experience with Mobility Mixx? Is my excitement warranted?  Do you know of any other nascent mobility brokers somewhere in the world? I would love to hear more.

*  CHARM in the slide is an acronym coined by Eric Britton in 1978 and developed further in 1989 (I said this line of thinking was not new!). It stands for Computer-Helped Area-Wide Regional Mobility System. Initially this referred mainly to dial-a-ride vehicle sharing for low-density areas. But something akin to the idea of mobility brokers is lurking there somewhere. 
No comments