Rebecca Morley chats to Per Brilioth, CEO of VNV Global, about what transport challenges cities are facing and how infrastructure is adapting
Congestion and pollution have been major problems in our cities for some time now, with increasing pressure on authorities to enable greener forms of transport to help protect public health. According to transport data firm Inrix, congestion cost the UK economy £6.9 billion in 2019, with UK road users losing on average 115 hours and £894 to congestion.
At the global level, Bogota topped the list of the cities most impacted by traffic congestion with drivers losing 191 hours a year, followed by Rio de Janeiro (190 hours), Mexico City (158 hours) and Istanbul (150 hours). Sao Paulo, Rome, Paris, London, Boston and Chicago completed the top ten most congested cities in the world in 2019.
“With more people settling in urban areas, cities in Europe and beyond are facing huge problems of congestion and pollution,” says Per Brilioth, CEO of VNV Global. “As populations grow, existing transport infrastructure is under even greater strain.
“Air pollution is causing premature deaths and Governments are urgently trying to reduce the contribution to carbon emissions from transport. It’s clear that something has to change. We see this in Europe and in North Africa and the Middle East, where people have lower levels of personal wealth and are therefore heavily dependent on public transport.
“Cities are having to think hard about regulation and investment in infrastructure, to keep people moving at an affordable price. At the same time, the private sector is producing innovative new ways of travelling including electric vehicles and self-driving cars.”
The looming crisis in transport was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, continues Brilioth, with cities under pressure to minimise use of public transport – but this has also created an opportunity for new forms of transport to flourish, including electric micromobility such as e-bikes and e-scooters.
There are many technology start-ups that are working to address these challenges in a number of ways, with e-bikes and e-scooters bringing new ways of travelling to people across the world. Voi, which VNV Global has a 10% stake in, is providing e-scooter services to 50 cities across Europe and has seen over 35 million rides taken, Brilioth says.
“It’s not just about providing the means to get people places. Many transport start-ups are looking to integrate and use data around journeys, making it easier for cities and consumers to make seamless journeys. City authorities also need access to this data to improve safety and congestion levels.
“By understanding traffic flows, they hope to encourage and nudge people towards more environmentally-friendly, or simply quicker, ways to travel. Mobility as a service, or MaaS, is another area that is growing fast. It’s helping people to rethink how they travel: instead of owning a car or vehicle and tying up your capital, someone else can provide you with the service.”
Physically, cities are adapting their infrastructure rapidly to provide more space for bikes, e-scooters and walkers, continues Brilioth. “With a new reality of working from home and people staying in the suburbs rather than city centres, the potential for small personal electric vehicles has suddenly been made real.
“Just under half of VNV Global’s capital is invested in different mobility services. Voi Technology was born out of the founder’s frustration with congestion and pollution in Moscow. Micromobility gives people more personal choice in the way that they move – the vehicle adapts to their life, rather than them having to adapt to the mode of transport.
“We have always been interested in investing in businesses with strong network effects and a company like Voi has this. This market is now evolving from a B2C market to a B2B2C market and regulators are the gatekeepers here which can control a company’s growth. This means when an operator like Voi secures access, particularly exclusive access, to a city, it is very hard for any other operator to compete.”
There are record levels of venture capital around right now in Europe, some of which is flowing into tech and transport tech, says Brilioth. “At the same time, we are seeing people abandon the modes of transport on which they have spent billions of euros in the last three decades, such as private cars and regular long commutes.
“Micromobility, car-sharing and ride-hailing, electric cars and self-driving cars, or at least great automation, are all likely to increase in importance in the next ten years. Their impact will be felt first amongst younger city dwellers who are often natural early adopters when it comes to new forms of technology.
“However, there will be a knock-on effect outside of urban areas. What we don’t know right now is the extent to which travel and transport will return to a post-pandemic normal.
“Now that we have all discovered remote working, its impact will be profound and may end up being the biggest driver on how cities are reshaped and what transport looks like in future.”