How mobile will the future be? Predictions for a second pandemic year
Updated: Jan 28
Mobility is still adapting to unique circumstances
If 2020 was a person, it would most likely be a candidate for the most hated people in the entire history of humankind. Last year took everybody for a ride to a completely different destination than expected, on a road full of potholes, with no traffic signs, cutting through thick fog and with little to no stops for a refreshment along the way.
It began like any other new year would and the mobility industry worldwide was planning accordingly. Experts were making predictions, referring to the new year as the mature next step after a period of exciting experiments and outcomes, blissfully unaware of what was about to come. Traffic jams were still a priority issue, since lockdowns and working from home were nothing but extreme scenarios. The world was still an active and dynamic bubble, planning for an active and dynamic future.
And while no one could have predicted the raw intense adventure that everyone will unwillingly embark on and the major global disruptions that came along with it, one must stop and appreciate the response. Resilience is one of the best words to describe the mobility industry and 2020 really put it to the test. And while some players in the market took massive hits, others like delivery companies experienced an unprecedented demand. Both circumstances required a set of changes and adapting to something the world didn’t seem to be prepared for.
Having said that, overall, the industry proved to be open to adapt and quick in doing so. And while many hope that 2021 came to bring a sigh of relief, the impacts of the pandemic are going to stay with us for a little while longer. Despite this reality, mobility remains generally strong, while searching for innovative solutions, elaborating surprising developments and looking out for new opportunities. Here are some predictions on how we see 2021, through the not-so-rose-tinted glasses of the pandemic.
Mobility will get electrified. The charging infrastructure availability will continue to improve more and more in 2021. Public authorities are introducing legislation to help individuals be better equipped. A European directive, further enforced by local laws, facilitates the procedures for the inhabitants of collective buildings to acquire recharging infrastructure, and makes this equipment mandatory in the construction of new buildings. In addition, car manufacturers and private operators are rolling out, via consortiums, easily accessible fast or semi-fast charging networks, with or without subscription. According to Groupe Renault, the number of public recharging points is approaching 200,000 in Europe and it will grow to reach 3 million by 2030. In France, for example, the goal is to reach 100,000 stations in 2022, and then continue to accelerate with a target of 1,5 million by 2035.
Government intervention will bring e-mobility to a new level. The pandemic has underlined the importance of the automotive industry to the wider economy. As a result, the trend of Governments ensuring that the industry had vital support to weather the storm was observed globally. And this is just the beginning of it. To date, 17 countries have announced 100% zero-emission vehicle targets or the phase-out of internal combustion engine vehicles through 2050. Among the top EV powered countries, incentives, policies, and regulations are being used to urge consumers, manufacturers, and other key players to increasingly go electric. The production of fully electric, conventional hybrid, plug-in hybrid – and to a lesser extent hydrogen-fuelled vehicles – will receive increased support from Governments, who display a tendency to accelerate the introduction and adoption of electric vehicles worldwide.
Cities will be rethinking the curb and generally re-evaluate their urban space. Commuting practices will continue to stay disrupted, and online shopping and working from home will be here for a while longer. These practices will continue to reshape the curb space in high-street retail while causing a major shift in retail floor spaces and local commerce. In the light of a pandemic, cities have begun to discover the underlying value in their street space. As a result, they are elaborating and implementing new processes in order to make use of any valuable space, and will continue to do so in the future. In the Netherlands, Rotterdam has implemented a permit-free process for businesses to operate in their street frontage. Many restaurants and bars will continue to shift to take-away options and window service to keep afloat. Therefore, more and more solutions like in Rotterdam will be provided by municipalities, so that businesses acquire the necessary infrastructure to become viable again.
Autonomous commercial vehicles and delivery technologies will continue to grow. The autonomous vehicle market will keep its hype level up in 2021, as we will witness more innovation and some significant legal and conceptual milestones will be achieved. One of the strongest pillars of this prediction is the EU legislation to mandate intelligent speed assistance (ISA) systems in vehicles that’s being finalised this year. Even though it won’t come into force until 2022 and it won’t be until 2024 that all vehicles must carry ISA systems as a standard, the wheels keep turning. In the light of current circumstances, further substantial investments will continue to be made in logistics automation and driverless technology. We will also see developments in the last-mile technology, which will increase both the speed and processing capacity for logistic providers.
Shared and public transportation will not be returning to pre-Covid levels quite yet. With the effects of the pandemic lingering, consumers will continue to look for safer commuting options, such as carshare. And this trend seems likely to carry on even in the post-pandemic times, according to consumer preferences. So, it is safe to assume that cities will continue to invest in bike lane infrastructure, electric vehicle infrastructure, and parking infrastructure to support shared mobility. Also, urban mobility providers will need to become more digital, more collaborative, as it will become the norm for mobility companies to focus on increased operational efficiency and clear safety regulations.
The environmental awareness will increase. Since mobility is one of the most significant sources of emissions, sustainability will be top of mind for consumers. As a result, regulators will continue to play an important role in helping the mobility sector recover from the pandemic while pushing for safer and environmentally friendly solutions. In 2020, the usage rate of private cars was as low as 1%, since traffic has declined by around 80% in most cities in Europe. This could entail that car ownership will continue to decline (even post-Covid), since the environmental benefits of shared transportation will increase its popularity. The best outcome is that with the drop in commuter congestion and the standardization of access to mobility, air pollution will likely improve.
In time, the pandemic will subside and economies will recover. The exact shape of this recovery is very difficult to predict, but the way we live and work will continue to be impacted, and this could have lasting implications for the mobility industry. One thing is certain: it is more than exciting to be a part of this industry during these unique times. With new consumer needs emerging, it’s thrilling to participate in transforming, adapting and finding new solutions in response. Overall, 2020 was a lesson of resilience, rethinking and reshaping and shared mobility paid good attention. We dare say that it came out a bit stronger, as an essential part that keeps the world prepared and well equipped for whatever the future might hold.
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