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Spacemaker

Tetris

The congestion problem is a real-world Tetris puzzle.  Each car takes up approximately takes up around eight square meters when parked, and often more on the road or in a dedicated parking lot. This is why public transport is so attractive to city planners, as 60 people on a bus take up less road space than 60 people in cars.

 A car, whether private or a taxi, is more convenient than a bus, as in theory it can take you exactly where you want to go, rather than quite near to where you want to go. It is tailored to your route, and that’s why it costs more. And of course, this precision matters more the further you move away from urban centres towards the suburbs. But the big barriers to convenience are congestion and cost. Even putting aside the wider economic impacts of traffic congestion, the advantage of A to Z travel via a car is severely compromised when it is quicker to walk to a station, take a train, and then walk at the other end. Furthermore, drivers must find somewhere to park the car, and this may be an expensive option for daily use. Many transport analysts are suggesting that cars will have to be charged to use the streets on a pay as you go basis, as the only way to stimulate rational choice and efficiency gains (David Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek, The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport).

 Let’s go back to the Tetris puzzle. To increase passenger density with cars, ridesharing must become more prevalent. BlaBlaCar, the ride sharing app, continues to gather users. In March 2015, 2% of Android phones in Poland had the BlaBlaCar app installed by the user. By August 2015, this figure had risen to over 4%. In France over the same period, installations of the BlaBlaCar app had risen from just over 5.8% of all Android phones to over 7% (Source: SimilarWeb/Business Insider). BlaBlaCar themselves claim that BlaBlaCar occupancy is 2.8 per ride, compared with average car occupancy of 1.6 in the UK, 1.7 in Italy and Spain, and 1.8 in France (Source: BlaBlaCar). However, BlaBlaCar is aimed very much at long distance trips, and so despite continuing growth, has no obvious impact on the urban traffic problem.

 Taxi sharing seems to be the most dynamic trend for ridesharing in urban areas. Uber offers a smartphone platform for ridesharing from both private cars and taxis. And there are many taxi sharing apps out there, aimed at supporting licensed taxi drivers. For example, Maaxi aims to give power back to the licensed London taxi, having signed up 2000 London black cabs in the first month. Maaxi creates a ride booking service that allows Black cab users to link together their journeys, and bring black cabs closer to bus services, making them more affordable for the young and more flexible as an option. As Maaxi CEO Gabriel Campos said at the launch in April 2015, “The aim is to use the existing infrastructure of black cabs with their spacious vehicles to increase capacity in London’s public transport network.” (Source: DesiBlitz).

 How can carmakers make their cars an obvious choice for ridesharing in cities across the world? You can make the car, certainly. You can offer an app for your customers to access ridesharing via your channel; for example, the Moovel app from Daimler mobility services that hosts Car2Go also includes ridesharing functionality.  But differentiation is difficult when an established ridesharing platform already exists. On the other hand, a recognised platform can attract good partners, and some consumer brands are trying to link themselves to existing platforms. Ride sharing platform Lyft began a marketing partnership with Starbucks in July 2015, where ‘stars’ (or reward points), will be awarded to drivers and passengers. (Source: CNBC).  As a campaign aimed at a similar demographic, it clearly could make ridesharing hotspots out of Starbucks outlets.

 Connectivity services within the car itself may offer an advantage, so that the ride sharers interact with the manufacturer brand in new ways when they travelling in the car. Maybe points could be awarded from the car to riders, points that build to discounts on hourly, daily, or weekly car rental. And what of the taxi or private car driver? How can carmakers make their products and leasing services more attractive to those that actively offer ride sharing services? Perhaps some kind of referral service would allow drivers to be rewarded when ride customers later buy a service such as short term car rental, maybe via a discount on their vehicle lease.

Ultimately, carmakers want more of their customers in cities to stay with them, via service consumption as much as driving their product. To do that, carmakers need more pieces of the puzzle so they can approach the selling of services in congested cities in as many ways as possible. They must create commercial space in the market that isn’t there today. Daimler and BMW continue to lead the way, and whilst some critics argue that many of their mobility ventures are simply marketing exercises with no prospect of a strong commercial return, it is worth pointing out that as they experiment, they will learn what works and what doesn’t. You can’t get good at Tetris without playing.

Written by Ben Waller

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