11.–12.06.2025 #polismobility

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Sharing made easy

How meeting people’s needs facilitates behavioral change

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An interview with Sandra Phillips, Shared Mobility Architect & Principal, movmi. Read more about the challenges of digital barriers and the need for universal design. Plus: the consolidation of the shared mobility market and the role of women in the industry. A look into the future of urban mobility.

Portrait of Sandra Philipps, a smiling brunette woman

© movmi

You state that the transition to shared mobility must be made easier, more attractive, more social and more accessible. However, renting a car or bike requires apps and digital skills, which can be a barrier for a lot of people. How can we ensure better access for everyone?

Traditionally, renting cars or bikes was and still is well possible without an app. But you’re right: there has been a digital shift. Even if it’s not an app, you at least need to be able to use a website to set up an account and book a vehicle. Age plays a role here, but also education. In Europe, 96 percent of people aged 55 to 74 with a higher educational level had used the internet in the previous year – compared to 61 percent of those with a lower educational level. This varies greatly across Europe: in the Netherlands or Finland, more than 70 percent of the elderly have basic digital skills, compared to less than 15 percent in countries such as North Macedonia, Serbia or Romania.

So yes, there is a barrier for older people, but it keeps shrinking. I think that on the shared mobility side we should really focus on what’s called “universal design”, the design of products and environments to be usable by all, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. In concrete terms: simplifying the navigation path in an app reduces the cognitive load.

Which would be desirable in many respects.

Yes, users struggle to maintain concentration, and secondary functions in an app distract them from what they actually want to do. This is why enlarging critical buttons for the next step can help center their attention. Another example is the reduction of anxiety by ensuring that every screen includes an apparent exit on the interface. Universal design is absolutely necessary for a large part of the population; and for the other part, it is just handy.

A recent study by the Center of Automotive Management has shown that the shared mobility market is undergoing a process of consolidation due to a reduced demand. At the same time, the number of car sharing customers in Germany has increased by 30 percent in 2022. How do you assess this development?

The process of merging and consolidation can be observed in the shared mobility space, that’s right. Just like in any other business sector, this has a lot to do with the fact that there are too many competitors fighting for the same piece of cake. In Madrid, for instance, there were thirteen companies in 2019 that offered shared electric scooters, creating a fragmented market for consumers and regulators altogether. In 2023, only three providers were still active, the others had been forced out of the market. By consolidating, providers were able to gain higher market shares and also take advantage of operational synergies, both of which help the financial viability of these services.

Sharing was developed to close gaps. Is the concept of financial viability still acceptable for mobility services? After all, important mobility options are being taken away from parts of society.

Yes, that is indeed problematic. In fact, we need to bring the public and private sectors together on this one, as mobility should be a public service and not entirely dependent on financial success. At least we have made some progress in this area in recent years, which in part had to do with the pandemic: public transport realized that in order to become more resilient and inclusive, other shared modes should be incorporated. In fact the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) has added shared mobility to their mandate in 2023 by stating that when well integrated, shared mobility can add to a multimodal transport system and play a large part in satisfying individual transportation needs.

Which again clashes with the fragmentation of operator structures that we still see today – even if consolidations have already taken place.

The situation reminds me of what happened in the early days of subways and buses. In early 20th century London, different private companies operated the underground railways, buses, trams and trolleybuses, often directly competing with each other. This led to a wasteful duplication of efforts. In 1933, the system came under public ownership in order to coordinate the services and build a reliable network. Looking at what happens with shared mobility is similar: today services are fragmented, in competition and also regulated differently across administrative boundaries. This causes frustration not only for users but also for regulators.

Maybe that’s why some major European cities have abolished e-scooters again …

… which is very short-sighted. It seems like we’re repeating history: the first motorized scooter designed for adults was developed in 1913 already and went by the name “Autoped” or “Autoglider”. Some of the models were electric, but many used gasoline. They were very popular during World War I as they consumed a very low amount of fuel. However, they became controversial very quickly; a newspaper clipping from 1916 told readers to beware of the potential dangers of the new “scooter craze”. A subheading reads: “Solo devil wagon taken up in a serious way might add new terrors to city life”. Some gangs in New York even began using the scooters to escape from the police after committing crimes. In addition to the bad press, scooter riders kept being unsure whether to drive on the road or on the pavement, which probably sounds familiar today. Eventually, they flopped. To close the loop: It’s really a matter of figuring out regulations around infrastructure and vehicle safety standards. Under the right circumstances, e-scooters would – literally – have a place to stay.

What new roles and relationships do you see for and between public transportation companies and private shared mobility providers?

We currently work on several different projects integrating privately operated shared mobility providers and public transport. Having said that, at the moment there is no one size fits all, and most likely there never will be. It really depends on the context: in Metro Vancouver, for example, there is a vibrant and successful ecosystem of private shared mobility providers, more than 3,000 sharing cars are operated by two providers – Modo and Evo – and over 2,000 shared bikes are operated by local Mobi and international Lime. In this context, TransLink – the local public transport authority – is spearheading the integration efforts and coordinating all parties. Compare that with how things are handled in the Capital District of New York, which is predominantly rural: the large international operators have little to zero interest in providing services in this area, but the local public transport authority still sees the value in having other alternatives to buses and has taken on the task to bring sharing to their operating area – also, they are fully funding the services. It does not seem to work without public subsidies, but if you look at transportation as a public service, then why should it?

With EmpowerWISM (Empower Women in Shared Mobility), you have created an award program aimed at women in the field of shared mobility. Why is having more women involved in the mobility sector such an important issue?

One of my mentors during my early career days told me that we all have an inherent design bias, meaning we design for what we personally know best. Today most new urban mobility solutions appeal mostly to young professional men with an above average income and education level. Guess what: that is the exact same demographic that designs these systems in the first place. We have a systemic bias, and if we want to overcome it, we need more women in the industry – on all levels.

Last year’s winner of the EmpowerWISM award was Whee!, which offers a subscription for a bike for three with insurance and maintenance included at a fixed monthly rate. Their solution is research based and is tapping into the specific transportation needs of urban women and caretakers needing to trip the chain with kids and goods. Guess what: the founder is a mother of two who needed to solve these very needs in her own daily life.

What is your vision of tomorrow's urban mobility?

It’s pretty simple: I want everyone, regardless of age, income, education level or where they live to have access to alternative transportation options that reduce the dependency on private car ownership. And for that to happen we need to build a network of reliable choices – be they privately or publicly operated.

Thank you for this inspiring conversation.

About the person

Sandra Phillips is the founder and CEO of movmi, a leading global shared mobility consultancy. Sandra has been bringing mobility visions to life as a shared mobility architect since 2010 and has designed and implemented more than a dozen different programs worldwide. She is a global expert on shared mobili- ty, a TED alumni and was elected to the Canadian Council of Academies Expert Panel on Connected, Automated Vehicles and Shared Mobility in 2018. Sandra holds an MA from the University of Zurich, an MBA from TrustForte Corporation in New York and is a certified project manager.