There are too many moving parts to make a prediction
When forecasting humans are as influenced by what they want to happen as what they think will happen. There are a lot of partial (in both senses) forecasts. There inter-dependencies and branching decision points. If the moving parts were only technological, then maybe the looking glass would be clearer. But there is human nature to double-guess, politics with its tendency to go for what is popular and no doubt there will be behind the scenes dealing, pork barrel style. There will be luck and chance.
All said there is little point in making a prediction. Hey ho, let’s have a go anyway.
Predicting the Future
First – this is going to be big. So big that POTUS would say this is bigly territory. There are huge social, political, economic and commercial changes on their way. Think the coming of the railways, the roll-out of electricity, the Internet. “The next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” said Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO.
Second – it is starting soon. Ford and BMW have raised eyebrows with their separate 2021 target for Level 4. Reuters has reported that GM will use its partnership with Lyft to deploy thousands of Chevrolet Bolt AV vehicles in 2018.
Some think that is a stretch. However a lot of the basic inventing has been done. We are approaching the stage of refining, deploying, commercialising, mass producing. In 36 months time Ford and BMW will start to build fleets of autonomous vehicles for sale the following year. These vehicles will likely be electric and they will have no driver. No steering wheel, no gas pedal, no brake. My guess would be that BMW will target private buyers, Ford will target business sales.
If you want to roll-out a MaaS offering in an urban area in line with the availability of suitable vehicles, then 36 months is probably just enough time to get your act together. These service providers will not sit on their hands waiting for vehicles before beginning to wonder what to do with them. They will be planning now. That planning will include discussions with city authorities on licences and infrastructure. City planners will be told to work out where to put the charging stations, the waiting areas, the out-of-town interchange. There will be some long term activity they will already be cancelling / deferring / altering because this change is coming.
Third – the business ecosystem to support the change is developing. What is needed? Manufacturers of the specialist equipment to automate the cars, Velodyne for example. It will need software to allow vehicles to be booked, scheduled, routed, like Ridecell. It will need billing systems to charge MaaS users. An interesting area in itself, perhaps telecomms companies will take an interest in billing systems as well as in vehicle to vehicle communications. For example AT&T. It requires vehicle manufacture, think GM, Volvo, Ford, BMW. It needs vehicle automation software, think Waymo. It will need a lot of capital investment. If only money was cheap with a lot of investors looking for interesting opportunities. Oh, it is and they are.
Fourth – it is getting Government support at local and national level. Regulations are changing and developing. The US and UK Governments are working the issues. See US DoT and UK DfT papers and committees. Cities have already shown a desire to be involved, see Pittsburgh, Greenwich, Milton Keynes.
Fifth – there are probably several more bullet points that could be listed, but I will mention public acceptance of driver-less vehicles. Journalists and testers have found the experience of a vehicle driving itself spooky, strange, disconcerting. Those feelings fade quickly, morphing into exciting, interesting, stimulating. An hour later and it remains novel, but not challenging. On the whole it will be too useful, too compelling, too pervasive and too promoted to fail to gain broad public acceptance There will of course be resistance from vested interests and it will be significant.
What will mobility as a service (MaaS) look like to Jo Public?
Ms Joanna Public lives on the fringes of Birmingham in the UK, 3 miles from the city centre. She is divorced with two school age children. The school is 2 miles away. She subscribed to a MaaS service called Whoop when she sold her 10 year old city car. She doesn’t know nor care that Whoop is a sub-brand of a large US business. She pays a regular subscription and gets a monthly balance allowing her or anyone named on her account to travel. If she goes over her allowance she pays on a PAYG basis. Think mobile phone contract. The billing is handled by Vodafone but Joanna doesn’t know that.
Whoop bought their autonomous cars from Ford. There are two models. One seats two with a small space for bags. The other normally seats 4, but can be configured for 2 with luggage. The vehicles have a 100 mile range and are electric. They can induction charge and are comfortable but basic. They have chargers for customers mobile phones and an on-board wi-fi hotspot. There is a touch screen to instruct the car, but it can also be controlled by voice (Alexa, Siri, Cortana) or via a phone app.
Birmingham City Council has provided charging hubs for Whoop and their competitor MoveIt. The hub is located where there used to be an underground car park. The parking company went out of business when the number pf private cars dropped and the Council bought up the assets. The Council charges Whoop and MoveIt to use the charging hub and for a licence to run the service. Both Whoop and MoveIt have larger facilities on the outskirts of the city in what was a used car warehouse. The used car market declined and the warehouse closed.
The Council has also provided a large number of #PUBs, numbered pick up bays. They are common, just as bus stops once were. When booking a car Joanna can indicate which #PUB she wants to use. The booked vehicle will arrive and wait for 10 minutes, opening and greeting Joanna when she places her phone on the Touch’n’Go access pad. She can also key in her one-off booking number if her phone battery is dead. Whoop has a good reputation as they don’t charge a cancellation fee if you miss the 10 minute window, though you do have make a new booking if your car has moved on.
Once Whoop cars have covered 80 miles they return to the hub to re-charge, unless there is a demand surge, in which case they will go to 95 miles before re-charging. The maximum distance for a trip outside the city is 10 miles. As additional cars come online it is going to be increased to 20 miles. Some suburbs have provided extra charging and waiting points for AV taxis and have become more popular as a result. In those suburbs, if demand allows, Whoop cars wait for a return trip rather than returning to the city centre empty.
Ms Public has a standing request for a 2 seater to arrive every morning at 8:15am. It takes the children directly to the school, where a teacher meets the incoming vehicles. The trip always takes 7 minutes as the traffic is predictable now that the city-wide system can monitor most vehicles and infrastructure.
Human drivers have become something of a nuisance, though tolerated. They require parking places and fuel stations. They cause almost all of the accidents and are especially disliked by cyclists and pedestrians. Human drivers are declining in numbers as insurance costs have increased and pollution controls have been introduced. Vehicles above a strict emissions limit are banned from the city during peak hours and older diesels are banned completely. The Government did not introduce the expected scrappage scheme as the market did not need the incentive, people sold or scrapped their old cars anyway, driven by the obvious economic benefits of the shared Whoop and MoveIt services. Private cars often queue on the way into the city as some routes are dedicated to bicycles, buses and shared vehicles.