Mobile with a vision.

Too many vehicles in cities can burden traffic routes to the extent of restricting the mobility of the inhabitants. These problems are particularly acute in the urban centres of China. With “ReachNow CarPooling”, the BMW Group is providing employees in China with a sustainable mobility service. This model could be replicated in other regions beyond the BMW employees in China if successful.

China is a world leader in many disciplines. The country is proud of this – and rightly so. Yet there are some accomplishments that inhabitants and visitors alike are less pleased about. Around one third of the most crowded cities in the world are in China. In the capital city of Beijing alone, the number of registered vehicles has increased fourfold in recent years. With around 5.6 million cars on the roads today, the average driving speed has fallen to just 34 kilometres per hour. It is often past 10:00 pm when traffic finally returns to a reasonable flow. In short, for drivers in the urban centres of China, traffic jams are part of daily life.

“Only around 1.3 percent of the population of China possessed their own cars 20 years ago, but now this has risen to 14 percent,” says Joe Pattinson, head of mobility service in BMW China. This trend is set to continue. With increasing prosperity, more and more Chinese are succumbing to the temptation to use vehicles of their own – even city dwellers. If current forecasts turn out to be correct, imagine every second resident of a major city owns a car, this will amount to a collapse in the traffic situation. Too much vehicle mobility could eventually lead to a standstill.

One possibility of stopping the imminent breakdown would be to utilise vehicles more efficiently. Car pooling is a clever but complex approach: people who know one another personally form a car pool community and share common routes to drive to work or take children to school. Another option is to organise car pools spontaneously using an app.

Therefore, BMW Group has developed the company’s own system, “ReachNow CarPooling”, for more than 20,000 employees in Beijing, Shenyang and Shanghai, which is a cooperation between BMW Group Technology Office China, Mobility Service Department in China (UD-D-CN) and BBA (the joint venture) Trade Union.

However, Andy Liao, a mobility researcher from BMW Group Technology Office China points out that “this is an approach that throws up problems for the waiting time and matching rate.” Often these services simply take too long to create car pools. Nobody wants to stand around waiting for half an hour or longer until an available vehicle can pick them up. Sometimes even without anyone comes. Thus the service had to function better – in other words, more intelligent. The BMW Group is developing an algorithm for this purpose, which “learns” the employees’ daily mobility patterns with the help of Big Data. 

The system “knows” in advance where the user will go and when the user will departure based on previous experience. After a series of complex calculations, it can also predict who are the drivers and the passengers that want to share the same route at a certain point of time.  As a consequence, “ReachNow CarPooling” can put a potential car pool group together before a BMW employee even reaches for the service to book a pooling request.  

“ReachNow CarPooling” also offers users advantages with regard to vehicle license plate banning day. For example in Beijing, a license plate ending with certain numbers is not allowed to drive on the road on specific days. It’s hard for the users to remember since the rules changes regularly and also takes effort to organize the optional transportation by themselves. “ReachNow CarPooling” will notify uses one day before the banning day and offers the car pooling service in the role of passenger.

The fact that BMW employees can now get to work while saving space as well as the environment is only the most obvious added benefit that “ReachNow CarPooling” has to offer. “The BMW Group is also trying to bring about a change in awareness,” says Byron Han, the chairman of BBA Trade Union. Once employees have had positive experiences with the modern version of the car pooling, it is likely that they will be motivated to start organising shared transport in their private lives as well. As a result, they will become the driving role models for a more intelligent and more sustainable urban mobility.