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Imagine this future: You hop out of bed and prepare for your commute. However, instead of climbing into a car that costs you a hefty monthly payment and upkeep costs to boot, your keycard lets you slide into the nifty new ride you picked up the night before. When you arrive home this evening, you’ll be in yet another well-maintained vehicle — perhaps an SUV this time instead of a sports car.
Such a future is possible with shared mobility. While the basic concept is far from new, evolving technology may allow humans to implement it in improved ways to make commuting and errand-running easier.
It could also make travel more sustainable. Can shared mobility lead to a greener future? Let’s take a closer look at the possibilities.
What Is Shared Mobility?
People have used shared mobility principles for years. Every time you board a bus or plane, you participate in it. At its core, shared mobility simply means using the same device to transport multiple people.
In the past, this approach often left folks feeling like they were jammed into cattle cars. As a result, cars rose to the forefront as the preferred transportation method. This individualized approach improved convenience but created tons of new emissions, contributing to climate change.
Issues With Existing Shared Mobility Solutions — and How to Improve Them
Why do we need new shared mobility solutions when we already have buses, trains and subways? Let’s examine the issues with the present system and how it could improve.
Public transportation solves many problems but creates others. For example, nearly half of women feel unsafe taking public transit, and their fears aren’t entirely unwarranted. While improved safety measures exist, people still fall prey to pickpockets and worse every day. Furthermore, carrying groceries in the door is hard enough — try lugging four or five bags on a bus ride involving multiple stops.
Finally, buses and trains don’t always run when you need them. What about people who work the second and third shifts? Public transportation also doesn’t come to every door, creating accessibility problems for people who live too far from the bus stop or face mobility challenges.
Now, picture a vehicle service that operated similarly to the bike share program already in existence in several cities. These currently use neon green or other distinguishing colors to identify these vehicles. Participants in the program use their debit or credit card to operate these bikes with built-in locking devices, paying either an hourly rate or a one-time monthly fee for repeated use.
Imagine if we did the same with cars. The technology already exists:
- Ignition locks: Most newer model vehicles already contain ignition locks that only permit vehicle access by drivers with a specialized computer chip key. Manufacturers could program such devices to allow shared mobility participants to access selected rides.
- GPS tracking technology: The same GPS technology that shows you the right route can track drivers, charging them accurately for miles driven. Officials can also use it to monitor where these assets are on the road.
- Vehicle recovery systems: These act like Lo-Jack to deter theft and advise of necessary maintenance.
Such programs could even help stem the rising obesity epidemic. For example, imagine if you could choose between an e-bike or a car as part of your membership fee. You might ride for short trips to the store, further reducing emissions while getting exercise, reserving the vehicle for long commutes or shopping excursions.
Shared Mobility for a More Sustainable Future
What are the advantages of a shared mobility system where drivers pay to lease a car not by the month but per use? The environment emerges as the biggest winner, but people get pretty impressive perks, too.
1. Fewer Cars on the Road
Shared mobility solutions would gradually reduce the number of cars on existing roadways, lowering emissions. It would also reduce wear and tear on the nation’s infrastructure and keep highways in better shape.
Fewer cars on the road would eventually drive down production demands as fewer consumers would be interested in personal vehicle ownership. That statement might make hardcore capitalists shudder, but there’s a bright side.
Even today’s “cleaner” electric vehicles demand a heavy environmental toll to create. The minerals needed to produce the batteries alone drive mining operations that increase devastation. Those looking to profit will need to shift their attention to designing more efficient mining and production processes instead of relying on the current model that demands high-volume sales to turn a buck.
2. Fewer Car Ownership Headaches
Who hasn’t needed a costly car repair when they were already past due on rent or swimming in debt? Such scenarios cost some folks their jobs, compounding the economic hardship.
Paying a single monthly fee to a vehicle rental service would be more affordable than a car payment, especially if drivers can purchase only the miles needed. Plus, it would free folks from the fear that a blown water pump means an uncomfortable conversation with the boss.
3. Encourage MIndful Driving
People today have become accustomed to the convenience of hopping in their car when they need to make short trips — it’s far easier than checking a bus schedule and waiting at a stop in the rain. Perhaps we’ve become too comfortable. Is it really necessary to drive to the corner store when it’s less than half a mile away?
In a shared mobility plan, drivers who pay by the mile are likelier to pause and think, “Hmm, maybe a walk would do me good.” They’d still have the convenience of hopping in their ride to dash out for cold medicine when their throat feels scratchy, but the small fee means they’d be more likely to use shank’s mare when they feel healthy.
4. Get the Vehicle You Need When You Need It
Maybe It’s not your co-parenting week, so you don’t need an SUV. With shared mobility, you could switch to a more compact ride when you need less space.
Are you planning a move? Use your shared mobility membership to rent a truck capable of pulling a U-Haul trailer.
What Are the Objections to Shared Mobility?
The biggest objection to shared mobility solutions may be the fear of change. People have become accustomed to car ownership, and some consider their ride a part of their identity.
However, when properly implemented, shared mobility wouldn’t outlaw or even deter individuals with enough money from buying a car. It simply offers another alternative for those who see their ride as a means to go from point A to point B without emotional attachments.
Theft is a possibility — clever criminals seem to have nothing better to do with their time than invent workarounds. However, it’s an even bigger headache when someone steals the car you own if you have no other means to get to work or the store.
The biggest practical hurdle would be program implementation. Doing so would require a coordinated effort between federal and local governments, manufacturers and other industry professionals. For example, current car rental locations such as Alamo and Enterprise could become the flagships for such programs, testing them in selected areas and expanding upon their success.
Shared Mobility Is One Route to a Greener Future
The world faces multiple challenges. Climate change is one of them. Getting to work with a blown head gasket is another. Could shared mobility offer a solution to both problems?
It may. A shared mobility solution that allows drivers to rent cars by the trip or hour would eliminate many of the current problems with public transit while making reliable transportation more accessible to everyone, regardless of disability or socioeconomic status. We have the technology already — the time has come for shared mobility.