This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Witkar” the first car-sharing program in the world. This plan was revolutionary and prophetic in many ways. His time far ahead, Witkar was finally stopped. Not just the idea of car sharing was inspiring, also the way Witkar is organised was visionary: Witkar was, and still is, a cooperative.
Introduction: MaaS vs MaaC
Mobility has become a basic need for people. The quality of life for people is closely related to access to mobility. The question arises whether mobility should not be treated as such, as a public good, as commons. Partly this is already the case, roads and public transport systems are financed largely with public money. However, the voice of citizens and hence users is rarely heard when it comes to the development of our mobility, we depend on the decisions made by politicians and executive boards. These choices are often poorly justified and some propositions made are demonstrably unwise and futile and solely proposed for political gain. Mobility is at present a political and public issue and we, the people, are not part of the decision making process.
I would like to propose to use a different strategy and manage our mobility and space requirements as commons. It concernes a radically new way of decision making on the vehicles and especially the necessary infrastructure to be created and how we maintain and operate these vehicles and infrastructure. Mobility as a Commons, instead of Mobility as a Service.
The transition takes places on the axes:
- the shift from ownership to access
Both developments are very promising and we already have most of the technical details figured out to start implementing new concepts. In this article I want to explain what that means in a utopian future vision and what initiatives we can take today to allow MaaC on a small scale and thus set this transition in motion.
The Natural City is a laboratory for utopian thinking. For the transport transition I’m working on a transition based on a utopia. A destination that we never reach because Utopia is by definition unattainable. Utopia’s unattainability is also its strength. Since the utopia is not the goal, we can not fail, and it can serve as inspiration. Since the utopia is based on concepts that are technically and socially possible, we can continue to adapt this vision of utopia with new insights and shape the transition. Utopia and the transition are therefore flexible designs that are infinitively in development.
The transition is the indefinite time span between today and utopia. This period will also need to be designed, especially when talking about complex issues such as urban mobility. Designing starts at the end, so from utopia back to today.
As stated above, developments in mobility are set on two axes, the shift from ownership to access and automation. On both issues a completely new paradigm will not be created overnight. The transition should be designed. Technological developments provide opportunities and social developments are slowly pushing for a change in behaviour. Both need to be developed with a utopian vision in mind.
If we do not collectively imagine what we want, others, mostly commercial parties, will shape the future of our mobility. A self-fulfilling prophecy, not based on vision, but based on predictions and commercial interests. Take a close look at Uber and you might get an idea of where we will be headed if we do not take control.
A city where no fossil fuels are required for the mobility needs of its residents and visitors. In this city, every place is connected through a network of high-quality vehicles. This network consists of vacuum tubes with a diameter of 1.5 meters. The capsules moving through these tubes are accelerated with the aid of magnetic levitation and superconductivity. The size of the vehicles is based on a large car and optimised to ensure that virtually all goods shipped around the globe fit therein. For people, the capsules have an optimised design for travel comfort.
The system is fully automated and the network is as dense as our current road network. Each part of the network has its own speed. 60km/h within cities, 300km/h on a regional scale, 1500km/h at a national scale and up to to 3000km/h for continental transport. With a maximum speed of 6500 km/h for intercontinental transport no place on earth is out of reach. The costs for the construction and maintenance of this system are so low that every inhabitant of the earth can have unlimited mobility for a low monthly fee. The entire system is controlled by a global cooperative with local departments. Decisions on the development of the system are made by means of a collaborative platform that connects all stakeholders. These networks ensure that the questions are answered by the appropriate members. The more a specific decision influences the life of a member, the more weight is applied to his opinion. Every inhabitant of the earth has access to unlimited mobility for a low monthly fee. Whether you go from Amsterdam to Haarlem, or from Paris to Beijing, the cost is almost equal thanks to the extremely low energy consumption. Only acceleration and braking require energy, the rest of the trip is nearly energy neutral.
ET3 is a type of Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) which is ready for production today and is the inspiration for this new network.
The same network can also serve as an energy storage. Because of the nearly energy-neutral character of the system, renewable energy can be stored as kinetic energy by speeding up the capsules.
ECN presented this principle of energy storage in 2015 in the form of an energy-train.
This network is the new main infrastructure. In addition, people will be free to move on bikes, e-bikes and electric vehicles using the open and above-ground infrastructure. The amount of roads will be drastically reduced given that fact that all transported goods and most of the necessary displacements of people will be handled in the new network. What remains is a city where there is no more need for parking and with very little infrastructure. A city where public space is used for high-quality life. A city where the predominant sounds and smells of traffic finally belong to the past. A city where children can play almost everywhere without danger.
This vision is based on a fully automated network of vehicles in a world where these vehicles are no longer personal possessions but belong to the global commons.
The rollout of the ETT system
Before city residents are willing to get into a vehicle, this system needs to be tested extensively. In addition, it is difficult to imagine that we can immediately start with construction in the city. The first step in the transition to a new transport system can consist of providing an alternative for the flow of goods and waste at a regional level. Before the network is rolled out, overburdened connections can be relieved at a regional scale. For instance, we can consider the port of Rotterdam and a connection between Schiphol and Aalsmeer. Given the dimensions of the system it is relatively simple to build an addition next to motorways.
When the technical and economic feasibility has been proven, work can start on the construction in urban areas to slowly connect each address.
As a precursor to a fully automated transport system in a closed and controlled environment, the transition to autonomous vehicles can take place on our existing infrastructure. Specific lanes on our highways can quite simply accommodate autonomous trucks and cars. The development of new, smaller autonomous vehicles can increase the capacity of our existing infrastructure tremendously. When we consider how much empty space is being transported in our current vehicles there is an enormous potential for improvement. We can also imagine small couplable vehicles that can take any size that is needed. Prototypes are currently being developed.
animation: NEXT Future Transportation
What is the result of the above developments? What can a city like Amsterdam look like when we use autonomous vehicles and e-bikes on a large scale? This is the question we asked with THNK School for Creative Leadership in 2016 for un Urban Mobility Lab commissioned by the municipality of Amsterdam based on the results of a workshop during which we have defined an ideal situation with the participants. The starting point was a new network of e-bike highways and specific corridors for autonomous vehicles.
These autonomous vehicles can also be manually controlled which could lead to new forms of public transport. For each trip from someones front door to the autonomous lanes drivers can be used. The driver can then get off at the autonomous hub and the trip is continued autonomously in the vehicle until it needs to be driven again by a human being. The next driver gets in and brings the passenger to where he or she needs to go. In short, a door-to-door solution of public transport for the city. Car ownership has become useless in cities hence rendering all parking spots unnecessary. Besides autonomous vehicles some intensively used and efficient metro and tram lines in the city will remain operational. Based on the above assumptions, we have redesigned three nodes in Amsterdam. The principles and designs have been created with the help of a traffic consultant.
On this site you can see “before” and “after” images of the nodes:
Ownership to access
Before the above features are fully available, we will have to rely on our current transport systems. Currently we have an enormous fleet for our car mobility. Most people have their own car, often even several cars. Studies show that to respond to our car mobility needs we can use far fewer cars. Cars sit idle most of the time. Even at the peak moments during the day we only use a small part of our fleet. As Jeremy Rifkin writes in “Zero Marginal Cost Society,” “Incredibly, Burns (the corporate vice president of research, development, and planning at General Motors until 2009 and Currently professor of engineering at the University of Michigan) Admits that” about 80% Fewer shared, coordinated vehicles would be needed than Personally owned vehicles providence to the same level of mobility, with less investment “. The first step on the road to utopia is therefore to implement on a much larger scale the concept of car sharing. This requires new forms of cooperation that we are currently developing in The Hague. To promote the use of “commoning” to manage our streets, we created an animation to show the potential of car sharing in a street in The Hague.
To show the effect of behavioural change in one or more blocks, a partnership is needed with the municipality and some other local commonors. We are working on a process in which people are encouraged to park their cars elsewhere (temporarily) and start sharing car. The group of shared cars is composed by the residents themselves. The amount and different type of cars dependent on the usage profiles of the participants. Initially, this takes the form of a pilot. During this pilot participants will save money (the car will be parked elsewhere allowing them to save money on insurance and taxes) and can experience what it is like to use a group of shared cars. In addition, the vacant parking spaces will be used for other functions. The design for the public space liberated with the disappearance of a large amount of cars will be made in a collaborative way by the residents and the city, based on some sort of menu provided by the urban designers of the city. This to ensure that the proposals made by the residents are realistic and thus realisable. If this experiment pleases the participants, they can choose to make this situation permanent.
The cars are owned by the Mobility Cooperative. The cooperative has local teams that manage their own fleet of cars. The cooperative platform ensures that you can use mobility solutions owned by the cooperative throughout the whole city. The mobility fleet can consist of e-bikes, transport bikes, cars, vans, and so on. You can also image a large amount of services that can be added to the platform like ride-sharing, pick-up and drop-off services, grocery pick-up and so on. All these services can be “payed” in mobility minutes meaning that every time you help someone out with his or her mobility needs, you get the opportunity to consume mobility when you need to.
This is the predecessor of the global cooperation we want to use to connect the entire world. Due to the cooperative nature of this solution it offers the highest quality for the lowest price.
The transition to MaaC requires vision and design skills. I have tried to put a project out there and hope other thinkers and designers get inspired to work further on this and, by all means, criticise the above proposition. In 2017 we will develop a cooperative platform that will be the start of the transition. This platform will start in The Hague but needs affiliates in other cities. To have the impact we need to have it is imperative that mobility experts unite and start collaborating with the inhabitants of the cities instead of with the politically motivated organisations they tend to work with today. Get on board and let’s start working on Mobility as a Commons.