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Innovation Focus – New mobilities and the mobility industry in Europe

Cristian is an urban innovation expert and entrepreneur with a focus on urban mobility. He manages Via ID and the CNPA’s mobility acceleration program, the Moove Lab, hosted in Station F, the world’s largest startup campus. He has also cristianspent some time with us and advises the OECD on smart city topics. He has consulted for clients such as the Japanese and Chilean governments, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, and SNCF. He co-founded Autonomy, Europe’s first Urban Mobility Summit, and lectures at Sciences Po Paris on urban entrepreneurship. He shares his thoughts about the mobility industry in Europe.

What would you say are the components that make Europe stand out in the mobility industry?

First, we have a long standing tradition of public transportation. This means that we have built remarkable intelligence in managing high volumes of traffic and mobility options for all. Mobility is a universal need: private markets can offer options, but they cannot satisfy the entire demand for mobility. No universally profitable transportation business model has been cracked so far. As a result, public intervention is still required for all to have viable options to move around. Ignoring the role of public decision-making in mobility systems is foolish.

Second, three of the top 10 car makers in the world are European. Volkswagen, Daimler, and Renault are all diversifying and investing in companies such as Car2Go, Here Maps, Gett, and Karhoo. All of them are collaborating with public innovation clusters like Mov’eo to prepare the future of mobility and pave the road for autonomous driving, new high-speed solutions, multi and inter-modality, road safety, and so on. This public-private collaboration space is backed by both the EU and national governments, creating a unique R&D nexus distributed across the entire continent.

The consequences of this public-private collaboration tradition in the innovation space are simple: Europe has birthed the most promising business models. We have both the right talents and the right ecosystem to imagine profitable mobility solutions for all. Sharing solutions became famous around the world thanks to Vélib, in Paris. Citymapper was born in London. Navya, Easymile, Bestmile were born in Europe. Initiatives like the European Startup Prize for Mobility are now addressing the biggest drawbacks of the European innovation space, a.k.a funding and market size. Thanks to their success, the future looks more and more promising.

Any thoughts on the future of mobility particularly in the light of new technologies such as Hyperloop and accelerators like Via ID?

Humans are an urban species. By 2050, the global urban population is expected to double, and there are already more than 200 000+ people moving to cities on a daily basis. Mobility is deeply intertwined with the way we build and connect in our cities. It is such an essential component of human experience that it can only reflect essential parts of who we are. If we see human experience as an individualistic one, then we are creating the basic blocks for individual autonomous cars to dominate urban growth, leading to urban expansion, which would require a lot more concrete for roads and large houses, cables for electricity, water, and internet, and so on. Generally speaking, the catastrophe would come from the inefficiency of managing urban common-pool resources.

We are in the middle of reinventing unimodal, oil-centric, and human-designed mobility systems in favour of multi-modal, electric, ICT-designed systems. This is the shift that experts refer to when talking about “mobility as a service”. Symbolically, 2009 and the arrival of Google Maps is a good year to mark the beginning of the current phase.

New technologies like the Hyperloop and accelerators like Via ID both point towards the same horizon: one where mobility systems are designed for the user to move from A to B as efficiently as possible, without destroying the planet.

How do you think we’ll be moving from point A to point B in 2040 in cities?

I don’t know what the future will look like. At best, I can emit guesses based on simple truths. In 2040, people born in the year 2000 will be 40 and should have a strong say in social and political decision-making. If you look at the projected population pyramid, third and fourth-age elders will also constitute a remarkable chunk of the population.

Hence, I think it is reasonable to assume that we will be moving in ways that reduce the amount of movements that we make overall, with connected devices integrated in our daily lives. There might be autonomous cars around too, but it is still to early to say whether they will be on-demand, shared, individual, and so on. I don’t think that we will use drone-based solutions, as I still don’t see how to possibly convince parents that flying machines won’t fall on their children’s head.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.