Defining sustainable mobility with connected cars

Winona Rajamohan

Content Marketing Manager

In 2021, ‘sustainability’ reached a record high in search interest worldwide on Google, alongside terms like ‘how to conserve’ and ‘impact of climate.’

“We’re now at a point where the momentum [of sustainable mobility] has tipped, nobody can stop it at this point,” says Alex Mitchell, creator of the $ustainable Mobility newsletter. “Even if Elon Musk somehow said, ‘I’m shutting down Tesla. I’m not building EVs anymore,’ the EV revolution will continue.”

But as many reports have shown, this momentum is great, but not enough.

Electric vehicle sales in the US jumped up 38% in the first quarter of 2022, while sales in the EU saw a 53% increase. Yet a study by ICF found that existing state-level EV policies in the US would only lead to a 27% decline in emissions by 2050. Similar circumstances are seen in Europe as well, with studies expecting to only meet 2030 goals in 2051.

Mitchell adds that achieving the optimum levels of sustainable mobility today still depends on two overarching goals — decarbonizing quickly and getting as much mode shift as possible.

In this blog, we explore how collaboration between new and existing players in the mobility software ecosystem is helping us get there.

What is sustainable mobility in the 2020s and beyond

Our existing transportation systems have been influenced by early technology evolution and a long-standing culture surrounding the prestige of private car ownership. What followed was the development of infrastructure, regulations, and economic incentives that solidified fossil fuel-powered transportation as a necessity for convenience, access, and speed.

Sustainable mobility is a push for low-emission transportation systems and societal behavior. Shifting toward this form of travel requires us to reevaluate how existing technology, policy, economics, and culture interact with sustainable transport modes and the development that supports them.

If you're a sustainable mobility business, the impact of your app or service goes even further when you're able to communicate with other players in the mobility ecosystem.

How sustainable mobility businesses can participate in the Mobility-as-a-Service ecosystem

The Energy Research and Social Science journal identified three narratives that can inform effective policy and action for sustainable mobility:

  1. Electromobility
  2. Collective transport
  3. Low-mobility societies.

Mobility ecosystems of the 2020s should encourage the development of solutions targeting specific gaps in these narratives. This openness to collaboration creates an environment where public institutions, private entities, and local communities have more visibility into new projects and a seat at the table for better planning of mass implementation.  

Here are a few examples of what that can look like in the context of each sustainable mobility narrative:


Narrative

What this means

What software can do

Electromobility
  • Replacing fossil fuel-powered vehicles with zero-emission vehicles.
  • Increasing capacity for clean electricity-production systems.
  • Simplify EV ownership with intuitive interfaces for managing EV charging, battery health, and driver preferences.
  • Enable vehicle-to-grid communication to manage peak load and increase the use of renewable energy.
Collective transport
  • Increasing the number of trips by public transport.
  • Shifting from ‘ownership’ to ‘usership’ through shared mobility.
  • Improve first and last-mile mobility to public transportation with consumer-facing apps for planning trips and accessing micromobility options.
  • Connect vehicle providers to drivers for shared mobility, with capabilities for contactless services, vehicle tracking, and, predictive maintenance.
Low-mobility societies
  • Reducing the number and length of trips made using cars.
  • Urban planning that prioritizes ease of travel using alternatives to cars, like walking, or using public transportation and micromobility options.
  • Integrate comprehensive data from public transit and micromobility options into route planning apps.
  • Use data intelligence to inform geofencing, spatial planning, and behavioral analysis of local communities.

Advancing sustainable mobility ecosystems

Although integrations have become more commonplace in the mobility space since the rise of companies like Uber, the idea of a “winner take all” approach with partnerships has become unrealistic. “Maybe internet search might be a winner take most or all, but not mobility, partly because of the variety of our needs each day,” Mitchell says.

Partnership-driven software strategies within the sector widen the reach of environmental problem-solving. They lead to equal distribution and standardization of resources in areas beyond manufacturing — more specifically, how sustainable mobility is still driven largely by cultural and behavioral drivers like accessibility, convenience, and trust.

We take a look at three areas where mobile apps are using integrations to rise to the occasion.

User experience

A report by J.D. Power found that more than 50% of EV owners use connected services apps regularly, but 32% of those who don’t aren’t even aware of how to use them. J.D. Power’s Jason Norton says in a press release that “owners are still very dissatisfied with the functionality and speed of EV apps in the market.”

Third-party EV apps have emerged to fill this user experience gap by using vehicle telematics to help drivers manage and analyze specific functionalities critical to the EV ownership experience — like optimizing EV charging and generating battery reports.  

Casey Donahue, founder of the smart charging app, Optiwatt, joined Smartcar for a webinar on smart charging where he explained how user experience impacts customer involvement in sustainability efforts. As automakers focus on manufacturing vehicles, Donahue says that innovation from consumer apps and developer platforms creates solutions that focus on user preferences, convenience, and confidence in the EV industry as a whole.

Hyperlocalization

Reaping the benefits of a mobility ecosystem calls for greater support at a local level to implement sustainable mobility options that fit the unique needs of distinct communities. Integrations that take into account city-specific limitations and travel behavior can help mobility businesses offer more flexibility to meet local conditions.

Carge is a mobile app that uses vehicle telematics to help drivers find and book available charging stations across Europe. The app uses software to communicate with charging stations and over 40 EV models, using horizontal integrations to give drivers information about nearby charging stations.

Local communities are also taking advantage of software partnerships to develop community-driven programs that offer low-income residents access to sustainable transportation. In 2020, the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator partnered with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles and EV car sharing software, Envoy, to launch the Rancho San Pedro Electric Car Share.

The program allows residents in a community of 450 subsidized apartments to rent EVs for $3 an hour. The LA Times also reports that local representatives are working on legislation to launch similar programs in low-income communities across the country.

Mode shift

Mitchell is car-free by choice and notes the difficulty of patching together mobility options with different reliability levels, payment methods, and data systems.

He says there’s an opportunity for connected ecosystems that give individuals similar travel flexibility and accessibility even without private car ownership. He describes this as a possible “bundle of services that cover car sharing, ride-hail, scooters and bikes that cost $3,000 or $4,000 in instead of $10,000 a year [for private car ownership].”

Software and cloud platforms allow mode shift to happen across cities with more convenience and local context. One example is how Superpedestrian’s vehicle intelligence helps them customize vehicle behavior to meet city requirements for geofenced zones and parking across the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

Turo uses cloud software to simplify how vehicle owners become hosts across multiple cities. The company highlighted how one college student managed listings in cities with high demand for vehicle travel like San Francisco and Portland. With Turo Go, hosts can use digital car keys to operate multiple listings without the logistical challenges.

The future of sustainable mobility is connected

From EV charging to car sharing and urban planning, mobility applications and services are challenging the way we think about sustainable travel.

There’s a lot to do before newer modes of mobility become affordable and equally advocated for across different demographics. But a well-rounded and collaborative approach to technology development leads to opportunities and incentives to help us get there.

As ICF’s Stacy Noblet tells us in a previous article about the state of EV charging and mobility ecosystems, “there is a sense that the rising tide raises all ships, and if you can get it right, it’s going to benefit the industry as a whole.”

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