Urban mobility: innovation in short-distance travel
Important trends in short-distance mobility come with different time horizons and risks. The drivers are new technologies, changes in demographics and mobility needs, as well as sustainability and efficiency demands. Due to regulatory challenges, often some trends attract more hype than others: the relevance for insurance opportunities follow suit.
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As the world becomes more urban, facilitating the flow of commuters, travellers and goods will remain a focus for city planners, and for insurers. Urbanites demand convenience in transport options, and safety and comfort. New mobility service demands drive new developments, and technological progress allows for innovations in on- and underground travel, and in the air. All this adds up to a revolution in short-distance mobility, with an emphasis on sustainability.
The service revolution
The future of urban mobility is not shaped by public vs. private traffic, but by a shift to integrated multi-modal (different transport and vehicle types) service ecosystems. Enabled by digital interconnectivity and wearable devices, the vision is for urban mobility service users to, for example, be able to hop from one service (eg, a privately-owned car) to another (a public train), and then on to a shared rental e-scooter, seamlessly and efficiently. To make this reality, mobility providers and insurers will need to offer integrated solutions that allow for flexible and easily-bought modular covers (see also risk theme “Electric scooters and beyond – micromobility risks”)1.
For many years, driverless cars have been hailed as the next big thing. However, high development costs, a number of accidents involving autonomous vehicles and still open questions on regulation mean the autonomous car has yet to become king of the road. Some cars offer advanced self-driving features, but still with human driver oversight and responsibility. Public transport like driverless metro trains and buses have become more common place, and there is testing of autonomous delivery robots in some sectors such as postal services. Overall, however, transport is still far off an autonomous utopia.
Urban Air Mobility (UAM)
New technology allows individuals and small groups to travel through air, taking the concept of taxis to a whole new level, in the sense of leaving traffic congestion and red lights behind. Air taxis and electrojets can be piloted or autonomously operated. They are usually equipped with multiple rotors allowing for vertical take-off and landing, analogous to smaller drones. To support horizontal flight, some UAM aircrafts are also equipped with wings. Start-ups and airplane and car manufacturers have UAM vehicle prototypes and, for example, unmanned air taxi services are being explored in experimental aviation zones in China. However, it will be a while before commercial services become scalable, not least because regulation has a lot of catching up to do. Do not expect autonomous air taxis anytime soon.
Non-fossil powered transport
Transportation is responsible for around 24% of direct CO2 emissions from fuel combustion.2 The move to electromobility, hydrogen fuel cells and non-fossil-based fuel alternatives is central to reducing society’s carbon footprint. The transition is gaining traction and will progress over the coming years.
1. Mobility ecosystems see: E. Avramakis et al., Striving towards a seamless interface for customers, Swiss Re Institute, May 2019, https://www.swissre.com/institute/ research/topics-and-risk-dialogues/digital-business-model-and-cyber-risk/mobility-ecosystems.html
2. Tracking Transport 2020, International Energy Agency (IEA), May 2020, https://www.iea.org/reports/tracking-transport-2020