The future of urban mobility

Alexander De Croo, Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the Digital Agenda and the Belgian Federal Government, announced a new budget line of €4 million for new mobility pilot projects for Belgium.

He was speaking at the Urban Mobility Conference last week organised by FEBIAC, the Belgian Automotive Federation, and ACEA, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association at the European Automotive Forum in the Brussels Expo, which focused on the rapidly changing environment of delivering cleaner, smarter and safer ways of getting around in cities.

This new business sector is being called “Mobility”, and it combines software development, changes in environmental regulation, and greater digitalisation in our cities to offer solutions that challenge existing business models. It is significant that all of the largest social media platforms in the world are taking an active development interest in the sector, including Facebook, What’s App and Instagram.

“Mobility” was enthusiastically described by all of the industry speakers at the conference as the most innovative and exciting business sector right now. According to Christoph Stadeler, the Head of Automotive Strategy for Facebook, “We will see more change in the next five years than we have seen in the last 50 years.

Starting this month, Brussels has introduced a Low Emission Zone for the city, a new policy initiative to progressively ban from the capital the most polluting vehicles. The scheme is intended to reduce the most harmful pollutants, especially particulate matter and nitrogen oxide in order to improve air quality and people’s health. Initially, there will be a transitional period to raise awareness with residents and visitors to enable them to adapt to the new system. After this, all vehicles entering the Low Emission Zone in the 19 municipalities of Brussels-Capital (whether registered in Belgium or abroad) will be subject to checks for compliance with the new system.

Speaking at the conference, Grégoire Dallemagne the Chief Executive Officer of EDF Luminus said, “Clean mobility is not the future. It is the present. It’s all the rest that is the past.”

You only need to cycle or walk along the pavement in the city centre of Brussels during the morning rush hour to appreciate what he means. Air pollution is a challenge that we must all take on board in the coming years by taking steps to improve our energy efficiency, to reduce our energy consumption and to improve the security of our supply.

There were several models of electric car on display at this year’s Brussels Auto Salon, but there are still comparatively few 100% electric vehicles registered in Belgium. Some new models such as the Nissan Leaf will only start selling in February of this year. But prices for these cars are still relatively high, and the range that can be managed by 100% electric vehicles with current battery technology is still limited. Their range is also quite significantly reduced if you turn up the air-conditioning, and use all of the electronic gadgets, like phone, radio and GPS while you are driving.

Recently released Nissa  Leaf. ©electrek

As the automotive industry responds to the changing business environment and evolving consumer behaviour, it is likely that manufacturing technology will improve the cost and capability of such vehicles, nonetheless, buying a car still represents one of the most expensive purchasing decisions facing consumers after buying a house or an apartment. So caught between new environmental controls and high car prices, a smart consumer option is to consider moving away from asset ownership of high priced vehicles to intelligent purchases of “Mobility” services when you need them. For this to work, it is essential for consumers to have reliable, reasonably priced quality services that will encourage their loyalty.

One of the many new “Mobility” solutions pioneered in Belgium is the service “Drive Now”. Currently available in Brussels, it enables customers to hire environmentally friendly cars from a smart ‘phone application priced by the minute. This service is also available in London and several cities in Germany. If the cities of tomorrow are to be green, pleasant, healthy and affordable, this is just the sort of “Mobility” option that deserves to succeed in today’s world. It is accessible to the public and flexible (you can find a car available near you using the GPS on your ‘phone, park the car roadside near your destination), and it has the comfort of a self-drive taxi.

Congratulations to FEBIAC for organising a truly excellent and informative conference, which gives a practical vision of the transport challenges facing citizens and businesses today. I look forward to the changes that will take place in the two years before their next European Automotive Forum due to take place in January 2020.