Expert Panel: Mobility

Fleet management is moving beyond simply managing vehicles to looking at how staff get about in the most cost effective and efficient way. Our expert panelists look at the future of business travel and examine how new mobility trends can benefit fleet operators

The concept of mobility means looking at other possibilities of travel other than owning a vehicle and how a variety of transport modes can be used in one journey, such as car pooling, car clubs, ride sharing, bike hire, public transport, and even autonomous vehicles.

For some people, such as those living in cities with difficult parking, owning a car may not be practical. What’s more, research shows that the younger people entering the world of work may not even have a driving licence in the future. Research by the Department of Transport showed that in 2010-14, only 37 per cent of 17-29 year olds reported driving a car in a typical week, while the figure was 46 per cent in 1995-99.

“Vehicle ownership is already declining in some major cities,” says Stuart Thomas, director of fleet and SME services at the AA. “Car sharing and shared ownership services appeal to consumers for whom vehicle ownership would be unaffordable or impractical. Indeed, Europe represents over 50 per cent of the global car sharing markets, with 5.8 million users and 68,000 cars. This trend is set to trickle through to the fleet sector.”

Dan Regan, head of innovation at Lightfoot likens the changes in travel to the transformation that has occurred in the music industry. He said: “Services like Spotify have already transformed the music industry, seemingly overnight. Most no longer look to buy vinyl, cassette tapes, CDs or MP3s or any other kind of media; instead we pay for music “as a service”, streaming all day every day, whatever music we like from pretty much any artist you can think of.

“In a similar way, the emergence of mobility and vehicle autonomy challenges not only how we travel, but the whole vehicle ownership model,” Dan continues. “Vehicles will be able to be centrally owned by a local authority or approved operator and used by a community paid for via models like monthly subscriptions or the local tax system, for example.

“Rather than jumping into our car on the driveway in the mornings, we’re more likely in the future to walk out onto the street and jump into the nearest autonomous vehicle,” Dan adds.
Given the changes in attitudes to travelling, advances in technology, and the focus on improving air quality, future travel policies in companies will need to adapt.

For ACFO’s John Pryor, new mobility solutions will affect ‘perk car’ provision for a variety of factors. These include rising company car BIK taxation, reduced employee interest in a traditional company cars, and younger employees looking for more flexible solutions to meet their transport needs.

So how will these changes affect the fleet manager role? “The role of the fleet manager has changed significantly, with fleet leaders increasingly becoming mobility providers,” the AA’s Stuart Thomas observes. “Although the issue of vehicle ownership is one that will continue into the long term, the changing role of fleet managers is occurring now.”

ACFO stated in its recently published ‘Vision for the Future’ that managers should measure the cost of each mile travelled and let technology dictate how that journey is actually made. John Pryor explains: “Previously it would have been in a company-supplied car, but today there are various ways to travel that mile and managers must build into their systems the most environmental, risk-free and cost-effective way to complete a journey, while also ensuring the options available are not burdensome to employees.”

Lightfoot’s Dan Regan believes that the benefits of mobility-as-a-Service for fleets are “significant”. He says: “Pool car fleets in particular could be significantly reduced and vehicle down‑time and maintenance scheduling could become the service operator’s issue.”

Dan also believes that the simplicity of a future mobility system would be beneficial to fleet organisations. He said: “The cyber‑connected world of travel facilitates linking different modes of transport seamlessly and effortlessly for the user. This could mean, for example, that combinations of different transport modes like trains, planes, autonomous vehicles and taxis may become much simpler than driving point-to-point using our highways.”

Easy access

Being able to subscribe to a service that allows you to plan, book and pay for an entire journey – even if it uses different modes of transport and operators, is key for mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) to be viable. Indeed the government’s Transport Committee has launched an inquiry into the benefits and challenges of MaaS.

“The ability to have fully integrated opportunities to make bookings, buy and use tickets is a must in a fully rounded MaaS system,” comments ACFO’s John Pryor.

In order to make this vision for mobility work, connectivity in vehicles and infrastructure needs to improve. BMW describes connectivity as the ‘driver, car and surroundings becoming one’. Connected vehicles should be able to ‘communicate’ with traffic information, surrounding infrastructure and live public transport data at all times.

Lightfoot’s Dan Regan comments on the importance of connectivity: “A better digitally‑connected world can not only give rise to the seamless and efficient linking of different transport modes and infrastructures, but will be the key skeletal structure to support new transport modes like autonomous cars, taxis, and buses.”

ACFO’s John Pryor said: “More integrated systems will help businesses adapt and manage their mobility needs more effectively. Businesses are starting to understand the power and advantages that integrated technology can supply. It should have a marked environmental impact on journeys being made. The choices and range of services that such systems can provide should be embraced.”

As well as facilitating new ways of travel, advances in connectivity can also help reduce driver downtime, therefore improving productivity. Stuart Thomas says: “Better connectivity can facilitate smoother and more efficient mobility solutions to allow drivers to continue their journeys when a vehicle has been temporarily immobilised by a roadside incident. A replacement vehicle may be selected via a mobile device from the nearest car dealership or rental provider. This keeps driver downtime to an absolute minimum, reducing idle time by up to 75 per cent. Without the recent advances in connectivity and mobile applications, the communication between the dealership, repair centre and customer would not be possible.”

Self-driving vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are well suited to the future mobility mix. One scenario could be for a driver-less vehicle to ferry people at the beginning or the last leg of their journey, in areas that are pedestrianised. The GATEway project for example, involves an electric driverless shuttle transporting people to businesses and homes in the Greenwich area.

From a fleet perspective, companies could benefit from autonomous vehicles in certain applications. They could work well for urban or last mile deliveries, for example. E
Amazon are investigating delivery drones, while UK technology company Starship Technologies is working on ground drones to replace people delivering goods.

The HGV sector could also benefit from autonomous technology. Indeed, the government has put in £8.1 million to trial a platoon of partially-driverless lorries on UK roads, with the ‘driver’ joining and leaving the motorway, and able to take control of the brakes at any time. Stuart Thomas says: “Fleets could benefit from autonomous vehicles by improving productivity, as staff can spend time making calls or doing other work instead of driving, as well as obvious fuel savings and greater tax incentives.”

Challenges

Increased connectivity can throw up challenges in the fleet sector however. The vast amount of data produced from technology can often be hard to digest, resulting in opportunities being missed and actions not being taken. It also makes fleet managers more liable, for example, if data was to show that a vehicle needs maintenance or a driver is being dangerous, yet they do nothing.

Stuart Thomas says: “Whilst increased access to data is allowing fleet managers to identify efficiency savings, its availability increases the liability and responsibility of fleet managers to ensure the vehicle’s health.” 

“A fleet manager’s mindset will need to become more data-driven,” Stuart continues. “Our Insight report revealed 74 per cent of fleets containing 100-plus vehicles use telematics, but only 33 per cent of them use it to reduce accident rates. This figure will have to be more like 100 per cent as liability shifts from driver to manager, with the spread of autonomous vehicles.”

The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into affect this May, will cover the driver data gathered from connected vehicles and telematics. Fleet managers will have to become familiar with the new rules and make sure they are transparent in the reasons why they collect data and how it is being used and stored.

Lightfoot’s Dan Regan believes that future mobility services will need to have cyber-security issues overcome and GDPR addressed within a cost point that makes it attractive for businesses to use, rather than more traditional methods.

ACFO’s John Pryor also points out that the world of MaaS and connectivity has the potential to cause confusion if not regulated. He says: “With regards to technology and connectivity, many companies are already fighting for a slice of the mobility space. They include motor manufacturers, leasing and fleet management companies and rental providers, but there are also numerous entrants from outside the established fleet sector. As a result, the multitude of offerings is developing piecemeal and that is causing confusion. That’s why ACFO welcomes the House of Commons Transport Committee inquiry into MaaS and has submitted its views.”

“MaaS will only function efficiently and effectively if government departments/agencies and local councils work together on a joined-up system that will allow flexibility,” John adds.

Stuart Thomas also questions whether increased connectivity could result in more distractions for the driver. He says: “A final consideration is generational attitudes. Some drivers still remain un-averted from texting whilst driving, despite the increased penalties made in 2017. This will become of greater importance for the fleet industry as productivity increases through improved connectivity.”

Lightfoot’s Dan Regan points out that increased connectivity has the potential to be seen as “big brother.” He says: “Perhaps the biggest challenge of all are not the technical challenges themselves, but overcoming the public anxiety that surrounds the very idea of a highly digitally connected world. Drivers may feel like they’re being watched. The only way to overcome this is to ensure they see the value in becoming connected.
This is something that we’ve directly and successfully addressed with the Lightfoot platform by putting sufficient benefits and incentives in place to make drivers actually want to be not only connected, but be amongst the most efficient and safe drivers on the road.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

Stuart Thomas: “Telematics has already revolutionised the UK fleet industry and is critical to the next phase of innovation for vehicles. The AA’s Car Genie product successfully predicts and prevents more than a third of vehicle issues before they become roadside breakdowns, which will continue to improve as the product’s use is increased. These types of connected car technology will become even more crucial to fleets dealing with multiple drivers per car with the onset of autonomous technology, as the focus shifts from driver to vehicle. Telematics will be key to understanding how autonomous vehicles behave and interact with one another and will enable detailed monitoring of vehicle health and location.”

Dan Regan: “At Lightfoot we strongly believe that the connectivity that supports new modes of travel should come awith an element of choice. Some drivers and passengers may prefer not to be “connected”. Whilst it may not be possible for them to avoid the connected world altogether, any areas in which the user can be given a choice as to how connected they would like to be can only be a good thing. Lightfoot has already proven that giving drivers the right tools and a healthy level of choice, benefits and incentives maximises the benefits to both fleet operators and wider society.”

John Pryor: “ACFO believes that employees should be provided with individual ‘mobility cards’ by their employers that could be used to access all forms of travel, fed from an app that could plan and charge costs accordingly. Mobility cards, ACFO believes, would enable employees to select the most appropriate mode of travel and pay for a journey to meet personal and business circumstances. The support of government towards a more integrated system will help businesses adapt and manage their mobility needs more effectively.”

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