The Road to Decarbonizing Mobility
The Contribution of Transport to Global Emissions
Transportation and mobility are critical to ensure the eight billion people on Planet Earth have access to food, education, cultural activities and, well, basically everything.
Despite accelerated efforts to decarbonize transport and mobility through investments in mass transit infrastructure, high-speed rail, and the electrification of passenger and transit vehicles, obtaining meaningful emissions reductions in the sector has been difficult. Some estimates put total global emissions from the sector at 7.64 billion tons (representing around 17% of total emissions) while passenger cars account for 40% of total transport emissions.
We are in a climate emergency and need to accelerate a path to low-carbon transport. While much of the technologies required to achieve a net-zero transport future exist, they are either not funded at scale in every city of the world, and, when they are, there are misaligned incentives that result in too many people choosing private cars over more shared and sustainable mobility in their community.
Digital Technology to Solve Fragmentation and Coordination in Mobility
By our assessment, there are tens of thousands of privately owned shared mobility operators around the globe (e.g. scooters, bikes, carsharing and carpooling, plus taxis and ridehailing, and much more) each with their own walled garden app. And there are at least as many public agencies and rail operators with their own services that are also disconnected from the rest of the mobility ecosystem.
If we want to accelerate the shift away from private car dependence we need to find ways to break down the walls of this fragmentation and make it easier for users, anywhere in the world, to discover, combine, book, and pay for shared and sustainable mobility. This obvious need gave rise to a new industry normally referred to as Mobility as a Service (MaaS). The ambition of MaaS, in all its different forms, is to offer seamless multimodal mobility where users connected to an app can interact painlessly with the entire range of modes of mobility and service providers in a city or region through one interface.
The MaaS Alliance has become the global association for the industry which has formed to leverage digital tools to achieve the utopia of moving freely across a city, country, or maybe the world, with just one app. The MaaS Alliance embraced a framework for MaaS first presented at a conference in Finland in 2017 (below).
Source: MaaS Alliance, 2018
Progress has been made towards this vision through companies and governments around the world via pilots and commercial versions of MaaS.
Yet, we have not seen MaaS deployments scale large enough (yet anyway) to really help us solve transportation’s contribution to the climate emergency. I would argue part of the reason has been a failure for MaaS projects to properly address Level 4 “integration of societal goals”. This is in my opinion a holy grail for accelerating the adoption of green mobility and it has been evasive.
Decarbonizing Mobility through Tokenized Incentives
We need to continue to invest in sustainable transport infrastructure and continue to support responsible private sector innovation with shared and sustainable mobility (e.g. EV carsharing, scooter and bikesharing-micromobility) and continue to work to solve fragmentation via MaaS deployments. But what has been missing is a new way to shift, or nudge as we say in the transport community, more residents, visitors, and employees around the world to make greener choices.
Increasingly, employee and consumer attention is honing in on the sustainability commitments from the companies they work for or buy from. Meanwhile, cities and other agencies are seeking ways to nudge residents and visitors to embrace more sustainable lifestyles.
In the past year, we have seen an explosion in Move2Earn games based on blockchain technologies which leverage tokenization and gamification to encourage users to be more physically active. Projects such as STEPN and SweatCoin both leverage such mechanics to reward users with tokens based on the amount of walking or running the user does. I believe there is great potential to leverage these types of mechanics but to detect user’s mobility choices. The greener the journey, the more tokens the user earns. To make these systems sustainable, the project needs to bring real-life discounts to users who make choices to move greener. Gamification tools such as leaderboards can help nudge users more.
Meanwhile, companies (and cities) can use such a solution to obtain anonymized employee or user data to bring their Scope 3 mobility and travel emissions tracking into the 21st century. Instead of relying on annual surveys of employees or the population to understand how people are moving, a Move2Earn app that rewards users for making greener mobility choices can generate very rich and highly accurate data for companies and cities seeking to reduce their emissions from the mobility sector.
Transportation is critical to human thriving but is a persistent contributor to our climate emergency. Digital tools like MaaS and, perhaps more importantly, nudging tools can help accelerate the adoption of green mobility by making it fun and rewarding for users, while also improving data to make better decisions and to create more transparency in reporting Scope 3 emissions.
About the Author
Boyd Cohen is CEO and co-founder of Iomob, which is building the Internet of Mobility network and WheelCoin Move2Earn to gamify green mobility and is a contributor on ReFi to CoinDesk. Since obtaining his Ph.D. in strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado in 2001, he has spent the past two decades focused on accelerating the path to a low-carbon sustainable economy. He has published three books, multiple peer-reviewed articles and started a handful of ventures in the smart cities and sustainability arena.
Boyd Cohen – CEO and Co-Founder – Iomob