Do you realize that your car might be the last combustion engine car you have? Actually, it might be the last car you ever have. Since transportation is one of the largest sources of CO2 and greenhouse gases with a global share in emissions up to 30%, governments, city councils, companies and the automotive industry have started their zero-emission mobility transition. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) might be helpful in building sustainable cities, but does it have the potential to drive a carbon-negative future? Maybe carbon neutrality is all we can hope for.
Carbon-neutral vs. carbon-negative
What do these terms mean exactly? Carbon neutrality, also known as net-zero emissions, means that the production of CO2 is counterbalanced by an equivalent reduction.
A carbon-negative approach goes even further. The term refers to organizations, companies and activities, etc. that remove more carbon from the atmosphere than they produce.
Do you even think this is possible? Well, Microsoft announced it will be carbon-negative by 2030 and Bill Gates and his associates take their commitments seriously. Keep your fingers crossed, regardless of your operating system preferences.
Climate change mitigation strategies
Carbon reduction is one of the biggest challenges that mankind has ever faced. Firstly, it requires carbon emissions reduction to as close to zero as possible. Secondly, it calls for many natural and technology-enhanced solutions like afforestation, reforestation, modern soil processes, ocean fertilization and air carbon capture, etc.
But most of all, we need to change our mind-sets and revolutionize the way we live. We have to eat more plants and less meat. Switch to EVs. Share instead of own. Recycle, reuse and replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy.
Is CO2 reduction a necessity?
Emissions have a huge impact on air quality, public health, the economy, and energy security, but we need to be aware of the whole picture.
Earth is likely to pass a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade, according to UN experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Global temperatures are continuously rising. Scientists are already warning of ocean warming, coral reef die-off and massive heat waves. Heat also leads to a wetter atmosphere, which creates better conditions for extreme weather events.
We can expect more devastating storms and hurricanes. Excessive droughts will cause food crisis, hunger, and migration on a completely untold scale. Melting ice will noticeably raise ocean levels, which will flood cities. Many small islands will cease to exist.
And the worst thing is that these are just a few of the consequences our natural environment, economies, and societies will soon witness. Others are not so predictable, because there is no precedent for these developments in the history of Earth.
Are we on the right track to net-zero emissions?
A global effort is underway to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases. A coalition of countries signed a document called the Paris Agreement, which is a commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The European Union has passed a law which prohibits the sale of fossil fuel cars from 2035 on. Other minor laws have been enacted locally, but despite government declarations, there is not enough progress. Actions taken by individual countries are insufficient to meet this goal. Out of 194 parties who signed the Paris Agreement, by September 2022, only 24 had submitted a climate plan.
Scandinavians are the front-runners for positive change, but their efforts are more than offset by the world’s biggest emitters – China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, and Iran.
Eco-friendly company policies
Global giants seem to have really ambitious plans – at least on a declarative level. Walmart, Apple, Amazon and Sony have declared they will reach net-zero by 2025. GE, Dell, Airbus, Panasonic and Nestle – 5 years later. We have discussed Microsoft’s aspirations already.
Startups are in a privileged position. They were created when fighting pollution was already part of every major company’s manifesto and carbon neutrality declarations were common practice. Additionally, private or state financing of environmental projects has never been easier to find: from waste-to-energy solutions, submarine ocean cleaners and hydrogenic electric powertrains for aviation to zero-emission crypto mining. With the support of investors and public authorities, new ideas emerge every day and startups may have a crucial role to play in the climate neutral future.
Electrification of vehicles is accelerating, too. Enhanced public health, reduced respiratory illnesses, and improved air quality are among the benefits of this process. You can hardly find an automotive company that does not have an electric car model within its portfolio now. The same goes for motorcycles, trucks, and buses.
E-bikes, e-scooters, Segways, hoverboards, one-wheelers, drones, etc. contribute to urban landscapes no less than street lighting. The avalanche triggered by Tesla is unstoppable.
Zero-emission mobility also drives progress in the renewable energy industry. Solar and wind power can be used for vehicle charging and hydrogen production. Apparently, a synergistic relationship between the transportation and energy sectors is possible. Government financial incentives, tax credits and subsidies make electrification attractive not only for consumers, but also companies and local authorities.
A decrease in car ownership
The times when having a shiny Cadillac in one’s driveway was a symbol of status are long gone. Traffic, maintenance, insurance, fuel costs, price depreciation and lack of parking call into question the advantages of car ownership. Councils continue to set stricter rules and impede the use of combustion engine cars by creating urban low emission zones. All these factors make owning a car these days an increasing nuisance, and this insight paved the way for a business model called car-sharing.
Car-sharing on the emission chart
Private vehicles, on average, are used for only a fraction of the day and remain idle the rest of the time. By sharing, vehicles are utilized more efficiently, resulting in fewer cars on the road and higher overall utilization rates. As a result, fewer vehicles are manufactured and carbon emissions associated with vehicle disposal and production are reduced.
The environmental logic behind car-sharing, however, is not clear-cut. As a result of low prices and practicality, these services often replace public transportation, thus increasing emissions per trip. Luckily, companies such as Uber, Lyft, FreeNow and Gett are not lagging behind in terms of green transition. Some of them bet on a hybrid fleet from the very beginning. As carbon awareness increases, operators provide their customers with the comfort of requesting electric vehicles. They commit to offsetting the carbon of their rides and invest in micromobility.
In order to run, shared electric bicycles and scooters do not need fossil fuels, but the electricity used for vehicle charging must be offset to achieve carbon neutrality. Europe’s TIER and America’s BIRD have both made zero-emission pledges already.
In addition to accounting for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions, cities are home to most citizens (more than 70% in the EU), and are the main carbon-related industry hubs. In this sense, they are morally obliged to develop climate change mitigation strategies.
Numerous examples prove that what is difficult on a national level might be achieved on a local one. Sustainable cities are not just a thing of the future. Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Seattle, and Los Angeles are already textbook examples of how climate neutrality can improve comfort of living. Local governments are maintaining green spaces, minimizing energy consumption, promoting renewable sources and switching to sustainable transport. They also emphasize energy-efficient building: proper insulation, lighting, and smart systems for monitoring and optimizing energy usage. These measures reduce energy consumption and associated emissions.
Last but not least, environmentally conscious individuals are ready to follow the so-called 3R rule: reduce, reuse and recycle.
What is Mobility as a Service (MaaS)?
To lure inhabitants away from their own cars, cities offer the freedom to choose from dozens of transportation options: public buses, trams, subway, taxis, car rental, ridesharing, bike-sharing, electric scooters, etc. Needless to say, walking and cycling are possible, too.
On one hand, this extensive range of options provides citizens with convenience. On the other, each service has its own app, navigation and payment methods. It is problematic to decide how to get from point A to point B via the quickest or shortest route in the most affordable way. Which, in turn, leads to the rise of mobility super apps.
MaaS is a relatively new concept of mobility. It is a holistic user-focused approach to urban transportation: personalized access to multiple options of movement, convenient planning, booking, payment, vehicle location and availability, real-time traffic information, etc. It combines public and private transportation and delivers multimodal options to the customer through a single mobile application.
If you want to imagine how this works, look at third-party air travel aggregators. They offer different sorts of interconnected services: direct and cheap flights, taxis, shuttle trains and buses, accommodation, restaurants, local attractions, etc.
As Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Internet of Things develop rapidly, we might expect the exponential growth of Mobility as a Service, too. We’ve discussed the advantages, brief history and MaaS future predictions in one of our previous articles.
Will Mobility as a Service (MaaS) companies drive zero-emission cities?
Let’s try to disassemble Mobility as a Service into pieces and look at it from a carbon-related point of view. People will switch to public transport with fleets driven by electricity. Car-sharing and ride-sharing will reduce the number of cars on roads. Smart cities will design smooth transportation that requires less energy consumption, and route planning will include zero-emission walking and cycling.
Obviously, urban infrastructure needs to undergo a significant transformation to meet the requirements of zero-emission goals. Seamless roads and intersections, smart parking places, sharing points and charging stations must provide streamlined conditions for environment-friendly mobility.
It is believed that MaaS companies might be game changers in the reduction of urban CO2.
There is insufficient scientific data to support this thesis, as electrification of vehicles, shared mobility and autonomous cars have only been examined in isolation and not collectively.
Numerous studies, however, are being conducted on mobility patterns and the results are very promising. In Amsterdam, the Netherlands, optimistic scenarios predict a decrease of 43–54% in emissions. Such findings may encourage other cities to enact legislative changes that will encourage all parties involved in building the MaaS ecosystem.
Examples of MaaS platforms that work toward zero-emission cities
Even though the idea is relatively new, there are already a few pilots underway around the world.
Helsinki-based Whim provides access to different modes of transport, planning, booking, and payment in a subscription model. With intelligent suggestions, the app learns user preferences and syncs with their calendars.
Austria’s SMILE is now being tested with 1,000 Vienna residents. It offers a wide range of transportation options, ticketing, booking, information, etc.
Bridj is another demand responsive transport solution and has a similar functionality. By optimizing pick-ups, drop-offs, and routing based on demand, Bridj offers a 40–60 percent more efficient trip than traditional transit.
The answers to many questions are still unknown. Will the incentives be sufficient to give up cars? Individuals might want to try to incorporate private car use with on-demand MaaS and use both options complementarily, e.g., zero-emission public transport for day-to-day commuting and a private vehicle for weekend trips.
Will Mobility as a Service providers be able to cooperate seamlessly? Every partner needs to understand that it is part of a well-tailored system, not one of many individual solutions. Integration will be vital for future success. It’s possible that the common good, ecological benefits and public health will at some point align with the goals of commercial MaaS players.
Will entire societies adapt to the new transportation philosophy? Obviously, younger generations feel little attachment to the idea of ownership, especially car ownership. Moreover, they are growing up in an environment where ride-sharing is a common phenomenon. But how will the rest of us accommodate? How will seniors react?
And what about the financial aspect? The attractiveness of MaaS offer is not only a matter of eco-friendly trends, convenience, or effective time management but also pricing. Will commuters prefer to buy tickets for each trip, prepay, or accept monthly fees? Will citizens accept the idea of a provider’s fee?
Our gut tells us that Mobility as a Service might be one of the hottest topics in coming years in terms of emission neutrality. Although “hottest” might not be the best word to end the article.
If you’re thinking about building your own MaaS application and endure on a mission of saving our planet, we’ll be more than happy to assist you on your journey. Reach out to us via our contact form and MaaS app development experts will be at your service.