Dr. Giovanni Circella with his shuttle

Newfound freedom to get around.

What services are young people looking for to help them enjoy safe, convenient, and more sustainable transportation? Internationally renowned urban development and road transportation researcher Dr. Giovanni Circella explains the Next Generation’s expectations for the world of mobility.


Every Friday in Europe, a growing number of school and college students – as well as adults – are taking to the streets to call for a sustainable future. Having their own car mustn’t necessarily be on their bucket list, then?

There are signs that the status symbol of having your “own vehicle” has become less important for many young people. Today, smartphones and having your own personal habits, beliefs, and dispositions are the main show in town. That includes being interested in leading a vegan lifestyle, for instance. But by no means does this suggest young people aren’t highly mobile. They want to explore the world and get to know foreign cultures. And their lifestyle choices might also include driving a car, under certain circumstances.

Mobility as a service is one solution that’s closely in line with much of the research you’ve done as the director of the 3 Revolutions Future Mobility Program at the University of California, Davis, and as a senior research engineer in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

That’s right. The expectation of always having a means of transportation available when you really need it – and not to having to worry about yourself when you no longer need it – is becoming more and more attractive, even if it is still a niche phenomenon, so far, and most travelers still depend on private cars, at least in the American market.

You’ve said that young people may even view having their own vehicle as more of a burden.

In a certain sense, they do. In an urban area, owning and driving a car is not necessarily the fastest and most convenient way to get from A to B, because you need to get the vehicle from A – your parking space at home – back to A at some point during the day, and you lose flexibility in changing means of travel during the day. On top of that, parking is getting increasingly expensive, which means you’re also paying for all the time your car is left unused, and traffic congestion is on the rise. In a mobility as a service system, on the other hand, people only use a vehicle when they need it, and access other modes when they are more convenient. At least in dense urban areas, it’s as simple as it is logical. But it requires large changes in individuals’ habits, and not all customers will be ready for it. And it needs large investments and cooperation among many stakeholders on the supply side. 

Dr. Giovanni Circella

Does that mean you’re assuming car-sharing will establish itself as a key feature of transportation services in urban areas?

That would be too narrow a view. At the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, we present mobility in a comprehensive light. So it doesn’t matter whether you travel through the city in a car, on a scooter or bicycle, whether you walk, or whether you use public transportation. It comes down to each individual’s needs in their respective situation. Am I traveling through the outskirts? Do I need to transport heavy objects? Am I headed for the office? Or meeting up with friends? The answers for which mode of transportation I’m going to use at that moment will be just as varied as that set of questions.

What role does the BMW Group play in shaping this emerging, sustainable approach to mobility? Strictly speaking, we’d be focusing on cars here...

...historically yes, but there’s an increasing focus on mobility-related services, too. And that’s precisely the point! For instance, the BMW Group has worked together with its competitor, Daimler, to allow users to find their own car-sharing services as well as e-bikes. Recently, they joined their forces under the brand “Reach Now”. Those types of initiatives are aimed in the right direction and are likely to be ramped up and complement the more traditional car industry focus, which remains the predominant - and most profitable -  business at the moment. In addition, the company is helping cities to establish a growing number of mobility-as-a-service platforms and to support electric transportation.

What role, then, do municipalities play?

City governments and administrative bodies are ideally placed to promote packages of mobility options that encourage multimodal transportation and healthier lifestyles, including mobility as a service. The big advantage of their involvement is that cities both have the decision power and already have a large pool of real-time data – for instance, on traffic counts, as well as parking space occupancy and green traffic light phases. They can use this information to pursue precisely targeted changes, then assist independent mobility experts and service providers with implementing them.