We now have the tools for a new paradigm shift in mobility

By Ramón Piñeiro, mobility director, ACCIONA.

Ramón Piñeiro, mobility director, ACCIONA.
Ramón Piñeiro, mobility director, ACCIONA.

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Mobility has always been a source of development but also has brought some problems. At the beginning of the 20th century, the appearance of the internal combustion engine and the mass production processes managed to boost the penetration of the car, changing the landscape forever. The car was a symbol and evidence of prosperity, but also of great impacts on people: congestion, accident rate and pollution. The car has meant, since its invention in the early twentieth century, a success story that has changed the appearance of cities and customs of citizens, but everything indicates that a paradigm shift is coming.

Currently, transport is responsible for 40% of the urban emissions. More than half of the world’s urban population was exposed last year to pollution levels at least 2.5 times higher than healthy standards. Air pollution already causes the death of 7 million people a year according to the WHO, being the first cause of environmental death.

This problem is exacerbated by population growth, especially in large cities. The World’s cities occupy only 3% of the land, (but represent between 60% and 80% of energy consumption) and 75% of carbon emissions.
We have lived for decades in a growing trend towards urbanization around megacities; more than half of the World’s population lives in cities, today it is around 55% and by 2050 it will be in more than 70% of the population, which means more than 1.4 million people migrating to big cities per week.

The increasingly populous cities of the future will need to meet needs in transport and social infrastructure of high complexity in accordance with the 17 Objectives for Sustainable Development of the UN. For this, new investments are needed in order to build basic and complex infrastructures that ensure economic development and social welfare, with special emphasis on affordable and equitable access for all.

This implies numerous challenges but probably the main one, in some cities that are already collapsed, is the urban mobility due to the very large problems arising from traffic congestion and pollution.

In ACCIONA, we bet on offering solutions to these problems through the provision of innovative and sustainable mobility services. This is the main raison of all our businesses, which include decarbonization through the production of 100% renewable energy and the construction and management of infrastructure and services that mitigate the effects of climate urgency.

However, not all this is new. We have had, for decades, problems with congestion and pollution in big cities. Why now this frenetic movement in the urban mobility sector? Mainly because we now have the tools for a new paradigm shift in mobility, similar to what happened precisely at the beginning of the last century with the appearance of the automobile.

This “perfect storm” is produced by two main circumstances that have come together for what is happening: first, the confluence of new technologies that act as a catalyst for the emergence of new business models around mobility and, second, the cultural change that is happening that produces very quickly behavioral changes in citizens:

New technologies

Appearance of the electric vehicle, which is becoming cheaper with the lowering costs of batteries.

Big Data, data analytics tools, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc. are essential to achieve the efficiency that new urban transport models need and that make economic sense.

Autonomous vehicle technology: It still has many challenges ahead, not only of the vehicle technology itself, but also of the deployment of the necessary communication infrastructure in the cities and of the regulation itself; practically everyone thinks that it is something we will see very soon.

Cultural changes

The priorities have changed. We have a permanently connected population and with a higher use of applications for the growing needs of everyday life. The general population does not demand their own assets, but to enjoy them. We see business around the collaborative economy everywhere. 

All these new technologies with the changes in people’s behavior are those that, in my opinion, have produced the appearance of new business models, not only in urban passengers mobility like, for example, Uber, but also in food delivery or the entire spectrum of sharing in different modes of transport, where ACCIONA is already an actor with our Motosharing service.

Regulatory framework

All actors that make up the mobility sector are learning on the go. Solutions to citizen mobility concerns are generated at a faster rate than regulatory capacity, but there is no single formula for addressing this disruption.

Governments should encourage collaboration between cities that have the same problems and should rely on the knowledge and experience that the private sector can bring.

So as we have seen, urban mobility is, today, one of the main problems of large cities, and is a critical factor in combating climate urgency, allowing the decarbonization of the economy and improving the quality of life of its citizens.

We must join the challenge of urban mobility by creating sustainable solutions that respond to the needs of the citizen and that invest in the future of the planet.

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