Crowded public transport, congested roads and concerns about the environmental impact of fossil fuels are all contributing to a seismic change in how people think about mobility. Time was that car ownership was the holy grail of adult independence. Today, twenty- and thirtysomethings are much less interested in this traditional rite of passage, and many have no interest in ever owning a car. For them, car clubs, ride hailing, short-term rental and shared ownership can provide the on-demand motorised transport they need, leaving them free to walk, cycle, scooter or commute by public transport to work and socialise.
But while this shift in mobility mindset might be good for workers’ environmental footprints, it has implications for employers whose employees need to leave the office on company business during the working day.
At one time, employers could more or less rely on an employee driving to work and using their own car if they needed to go out. But now that people are leaving their cars at home or don’t have one in the first place, this no longer applies, and the problem is only going to get worse as local authorities inevitably tighten up on vehicular access to cities to cut emissions and tackle congestion.
Recognising this was an issue within its own organisation as well as for its catchment area as a whole, Dublin City Council joined forces with Enterprise Ireland to issue an innovation research challenge to interested parties to provide a "green" mobility solution for employees who need to make off-site journeys during their working day.
Four organisations stepped in – Enterprise Rent-A-Car, UCD, Bleeperbike and Good Travel Software – and what emerged and went into operation last May is a smart mobility hub at Dublin City Council's Wood Quay offices. It comprises a pool of shared electric cars, e-bikes and push bikes that employees use to get around the city. Users reserve their chosen means of transport via a smartphone app, laptop or PC and have access to real-time information on vehicle availability. Access to cars and e-bikes is with a PIN which is generated when a booking is made.
"We now have over 100 people authorised to use the hub and so far in excess of 1,000 journeys have been made," says Jamie Cudden, smart city lead for Dublin City Council. "From an environmental point of view, all the vehicles in the hub have zero exhaust pipe emissions, which is great in terms of air quality and general climate change. And secondly, the hub is encouraging staff to try out e-cars and e-bikes and to accelerate the adoption of these cleaner transport options.
“The intention now is to move to phase two of the scheme and to scale it up. By the end of the pilot, we expect to have a proven commercial model that can be rolled out to other authorities and to the business community at large.”
“In our experience, people really enjoy driving the electric cars and using the e-bikes in particular and, because a lot of their journeys are short, this kind of mixed fleet makes sense,” Cudden adds.
"We are also getting very good suggestions from users about the other types of vehicles they think would be beneficial to add to the fleet, such as smaller electric cars (the ones currently being used are Nissan Leafs) and cargo bikes."
Wearing his corporate hat, Enterprise Rent-A-Car Ireland’s managing director George O’Connor believes mobility hubs are going to take off in a big way within the corporate sector over the next few years because they tick so many boxes.
“They are a fixed cost and an efficient and effective solution for companies that need to move their people around congested cities,” he says. “They are also flexible and scalable, and allow users to access the right transport for a specific journey while removing the inconvenience of processing mileage expenses claims and arranging safety checks for employees’ personal vehicles.
“Mobility hubs will benefit any organisation that wants to manage employees’ transport needs while meeting its environmental commitments.”
O’Connor says Enterprise’s involvement with the Dublin City Council pilot has convinced him that hubs are the way of the future. “Mobility hubs can have a really positive effect on congestion and when employees see how well they work they quickly realise they don’t need to drive their own car to work every day. Many people also like the fact that, whatever mode of transport they choose from a mobility hub, it will always be a zero emissions option,” O’Connor says.
“Hubs will work for organisations with about five employees upwards and fleets can be tailored to suit specific needs, with a whole menu of possible mobility solutions available,” he adds.
“It is our intention to extend this product/service to public and private organisations of all sizes and the IT management system we’re using provides full transparency to administrators around usage and the tracking of vehicles. It can also generate predictions of future use to improve the management of an organisation’s transport needs.”
But while mobility hubs make sense on numerous levels, there is one potential bump on the road that may slow buy-in: the challenge of weaning Irish employees off mileage and other transport-related allowances.
It’s going to have to happen if society at large is serious about tackling climate change, but in some quarters, that’s not going to be an easy sell.