In a few years' time, self-driving cars will be cruising through Smart Cities, so we are asking questions about how to integrate micro-mobility into a smart general transport system.
Alternative means of transport, also known as micro-mobility options, include vehicles as dissimilar as electric scooters, bicycles and gyropods. These are the perfect answer to the desire for ecological responsibility in the cities of tomorrow. Driven by human power or small electric motors, they are non-polluting by nature. But their low-tech architecture, which makes the installation of complex built-in electronics difficult, inherently means they are unsuitable for travel in urban areas where traffic will be directed by digital technology.
In 2016, a study by the Vias Institute (formerly BRSI) found that in Belgium 16% of journeys between home and the workplace were made by bicycle: an increase of 9% over 2010.
So, where do alternative means of transport fit in when all the vehicles on the road have to continuously collect and transmit data to be directed, move forward, turn or brake? Whether we're talking about manufacturers, start-up companies or users, micro-mobility initiatives are already underway to ensure it will be a widely used means of transport in Smart Cities.
Micro-mobility is redesigning the city
"The Smart City will be the 15-minute city. So there'll be a great need for micro-mobility solutions instead of medium to long-range transport options."
Stéphane Leguet, Digital Strategic Analyst at BNP Paribas.
Alternative but connected
Wink Bar, the smart connected handlebar designed by French start-up Velco and winner of the Smart Cities prize at CES in Las Vegas just over two months ago, is pushing cycling into the digital era. Wink Bar is equipped with a GPS that doesn't have a screen but instead uses turn signal lights, which also makes it highly visible. By remaining focused on the correct route, the Wink Bar was designed as a co-pilot 2.0 to help cyclists throughout their journey. A purpose-built app provides location tracking for the bicycle if it goes missing, and records how many kilometres you travel and how many calories you burn while pedalling. It also gives you access to a range of supplementary services.
In a similar vein, smrtGRiPS connected bike grips, designed by the start-up of the same name, also use GPS and a smartphone app to direct the cyclist through the city streets, this time thanks to handlebar grips that vibrate to show you which way to go. If you need to turn right at a junction, the right grip vibrates. If you should go straight on, both grips vibrate at once.
The same is happening with electric scooters. Last year the Chinese company Xiaomi marketed a smart model, the M365, which included a whole range of connected apps. And recently the French company Archos, a specialist in smartphones and tablets, launched Citee Connect, a connected scooter with a 3G antenna that works with Android. A 5-inch touchscreen incorporated into the handlebar uses Google Maps and lets you cut journey times by choosing the shortest route. The touchscreen also allows permanent location tracking, shows the speed of travel as well as the number of kilometres travelled. Even gyropods are becoming connected. Conceived as the ecological solution for getting from one spot to another in the city, the Ninebot E+ by French designer Segway comes equipped with a Bluetooth connection for the first time, which gives access to several functions such as remote control of the vehicle.
These innovations demonstrate the ingenuity of start-up companies and manufacturers in adapting micro-mobility practice to digital technology and making it compatible with data use. Although admittedly still in the early stages, it's a first step. With connected means of transport comes the need for bespoke infrastructure so that micro-mobility can be fully integrated into the Smart City. For Stéphane Leguet, Digital Strategic Analyst at BNP Paribas, "the Smart City will be the 15-minute city. Whether we’re talking about schools, shops, workplaces, co-working, leisure or housing, hyper-proximity with and hyper-accessibility to all aspects of the urban environment will be a key element of the city of the future. So there'll be a great need for micro-mobility solutions."
Elsewhere, use of the bicycle as a means of transport is on the rise in Brussels. Between 2000 and 2015, bicycle use increased from 1% to 5%. This trend is clearly set to continue between now and 2020. The Villo! shared bicycle service will play its part in the success of cycling in Brussels. We have already seen impressive progress in 2017 with journey numbers rising to 1,615,160 as against 1,577,811 in 2016.
Connected cities support micro-mobility
"We increasingly realise that when most people travel by bike, we have a livelier, safer, more sustainable and healthier city."
Jan Gehl, Architect and urban design consultant.
Smart travelling and parking
The progress made on connected junctions, which in future will direct self-driving cars in cities, is already taking cyclists and pedestrians into account in order to prevent accidents when modelling traffic in real time. Likewise, micro-mobility digitalisation will in time see vehicle-to-vehicle devices being installed, which will enable smart infrastructure to identify bikes and gyropods accurately when directing traffic. These devices work by using drivers' smartphones, making it possible for scooter or gyropod users to activate them when moving.
New smart infrastructure for cyclists
Parking too is a source of innovation. In London, the Eco Cycle start-up company is imagining future parking for bikes and is developing space-saving solutions that are ecologically responsible too. Its engineers have invented a tower-shaped smart storage system. Bicycles are hooked to rails that ascend and descend, with the capacity to store 200 bikes in each tower. Bicycle owners can easily park and retrieve their bikes by accessing the system with an Integrated Circuit (IC) Card. London also has other cards up its sleeve in its quest to make room for micro-mobility. Architect Norman Foster is working in partnership with London City Hall on an unusual project to build 10 cycle routes covering a distance of 220 kilometres suspended above the old railways that surround the city. Equipped with their own traffic lights, the routes aim to reduce congestion in the city while giving cyclists their own space.
There is still a long way to go before micro-mobility is fully integrated into the cities of the future. But the smart bicycle and connected gyropod are not simply by-products of fashion or the desire of start-ups and manufacturers to tune into their times. In reality, these innovations are fully aligned with the Smart City urban model, characterised by hyper-accessibility and based on digital technology and the sharing economy. So these alternative means of transport need to forge ahead, both now and increasingly in the future.
Improved accessibility crucial for companies
Traffic congestion is a major concern for working Belgians. In fact, it has become such an issue that it is having a severe impact on job satisfaction. Even your retention policy is suffering because of it.
Almost one-quarter (23%) of all employees want to change their job. This is not because they are fed up with the job itself, but simply because they want to work closer to home and reduce their commuting time, according to a study carried out by Securex.
The HR service provider asked 1,671 Belgian employees how long it takes them to travel to and from work. People living in Brussels are especially tired of commuting, Hermina van Coillie, HR expert at Securex, found.
"No fewer than one in three Brussels-based employees are considering changing their job due to their journey to work. This figure is one in four for Wallonia and one in five for Flanders. It also comes as little surprise that people with children (31%) in particular dream of working somewhere closer to home, even if that is not always the magic solution. The study makes it clear that moving elsewhere doesn't always reduce commuting time."
In any case, these are troubling statistics for companies that prefer to see their employees arriving in the morning with a smile on their face.
Increasing travel times
It is not so much the distance that presents a problem to commuters, but the travel time. And it is continuing to increase. On average, Belgian commuters lose up to 54 minutes per day travelling to and from their workplace. Much depends on the means of transport. Commuters who walk or cycle to work spend an average of 29 minutes per day in transit. Driving to and from work can take up to just under an hour. How about the train? The outlook is not good: although public transport is often touted as a congestion-free alternative, travelling by train, tram or bus results in an average travel time of 96 minutes per day. And if we will soon be able to work in self-driving cars (or take part in a car share scheme), the train threatens to lose much of its charm.
You might suggest to your employees that they change their address rather than their workplace. In that case, though, it is probably best for your company not to be located in the city centre. Your newly relocated employee may indeed have fewer kilometres to travel, but that does not necessarily mean that they save any time. An employee loses a total of 61 minutes while commuting to and from their place of work in a Belgian city. The time required is 15 minutes less if located outside the city. The situation is a major cause for concern in Brussels in particular. Around 60% of people working in Brussels spend more than an hour in transit. By contrast, this percentage stands at 21% in Flanders and Wallonia. Of everybody affected by the situation, Brussels residents have the worst of it. They lose more than an hour and a half (95 minutes) per day commuting to and from work. This fluctuates around the 50-minute mark in Flanders and Wallonia.
Emphasis on accessibility
The latest striking figures from the Securex study show that 71% of employees usually take the car to work, while 15% travel by foot or bike and 14% use public transport. If the predictions of the Federal Planning Office prove to be true, Belgian roads will continue to be congested well into the future. In fact, traffic jams are set to increase rather than decrease. On the road again… again… is the deceptively jolly sounding title of a study presented by the Planning Office at the end of 2015.
In a nutshell: if nothing changes, by 2030 we will be waiting in traffic jams even longer than we do today. If the policy does not change, the number of passenger kilometres will rise by 11% by 2030, while the number of tonne-kilometres will increase by 44% (compared to 2012). Road travel will remain dominant, accounting for 87% of passenger kilometres (82% by car) and 70% of tonne-kilometres (66% by lorry) in 2030. Consequently, average traffic speed will continue to fall. During peak hours, we will spend 24% longer stuck in traffic jams. It is not an especially rosy outlook...
Greater flexibility and lower costs thanks to mobility budget
Solving traffic congestion problems will require a broad range of solutions The mobility budget is one of these.
Is there a solution to traffic congestion? Constructing more roads is not the answer, because they will become congested as well before long. How about imposing a toll on freight transport? While this is supposed to reduce the number of lorries on the road, their place will probably be taken by passenger cars. Not only that, but a toll may make delivery vans even more popular than they already are. By 2030, the number of kilometres spent on the road by these vehicles will rise by 43%. The Planning Office estimates that the rise in duty on diesel will do little to combat congestion.
Many experts consider company cars to be one of the main culprits. They believe that the treatment of company cars is far too generous in Belgium. Both the OECD and the European Commission have criticised the tax benefits associated with company cars in our country. "Half the cars on Belgian roads are company cars", people sometimes claim. This is simply not true. The CVO (Corporate Vehicle Observatory) requested the registration figures for the Belgian vehicle fleet from FEBIAC (Belgian Federation of the Car and Two-wheeler Industries):
- Belgium has some 700,000 light commercial vehicles and 930,000 other vehicles (buses, lorries, motorcycles, etc.).
- However, passenger cars actually account for the lion's share of vehicles on the road, at 5.6 million. Of these, 4.48 million belong to private individuals and just 1.12 million to companies and self-employed professionals. It is clear, then, that the latter are not the only culprits when it comes to creating congestion. Abolishing tax benefits for company cars alone will not resolve the issue altogether.
A change of mentality
There is no miracle cure. The solution is like a jigsaw – it has multiple pieces. A change of mentality is required above all else. Perhaps you would like to encourage your employees to choose the most efficient, least polluting and reasonably priced mode of transport for every journey. A mobility budget would make this a possibility in the future. The experts at Arval Belgium, one of the major players in the lease market, are preparing a suitable approach. Els Costers (Sales Director at Arval Belgium):
"The concept is simple. Instead of giving employees a car, parking space, rail pass or rental bike, they receive a mobility budget. This budget enables the employer to set an agreed amount to be spent by the employee on a range of transport options: company car, public transport, bicycle, pool car, etc. The employer specifies the budget size and the means of transport available. The employer and employee also discuss the types of commute that the mobility budget is intended for: commuting to work and professional travel only or private use as well."
The mobility budget has many advantages for employers:
- You are seen as an attractive employer, because you encourage a flexible working environment and you offer your employees freedom of choice and flexible mobility solutions.
- You meet your CSR targets (corporate social responsibility) by stimulating public transport usage and by reducing the number of cars deployed, kilometres travelled and litres of fuel used.
- You lower your TCM (total cost of mobility), because you have more control over your lease vehicles, increasingly pay for use rather than ownership, and reduce administrative burden.
In turn, your employees have more freedom and flexibility when organising their travel. Last but not least, it also benefits the environment. The then Flemish Mobility Minister Hilde Crevits commissioned the Mobility budget works pilot project in 2012. The project showed that employees with a mobility budget decide more often not to use a car in favour of a different mode of transport. Car usage for journeys between home and work fell by 37% among the five companies that tested this system.
The mobility budget is evidently a fantastic system. So why is it not yet being utilised all over the country? Well, proponents of the system are waiting for a new law to resolve a series of legal stumbling blocks, especially with regard to taxation and social security. The bill has already been drawn up. Els Costers:
"Today, it is impossible for an employer to make all modes of transport available to employees. The legal rules are different for professional, commuter-based and private travel, and they also change depending on the means of transport. This makes the administrative side of things highly complex and time-consuming. The mobility budget intersects all of these rules. The new law needs to resolve this. Once it is passed, things can move quickly."
Ready for the mobility budget? Here are a few simple rules to take on board.
To implement a mobility budget, an analysis needs to be made of travel habits and the way in which the organisation functions. This analysis enables you to see which combinations are desirable, feasible and profitable.
Involve social partners when introducing a mobility budget.
The following combinations are now feasible from a tax perspective:
company car and tax-free company bicycle
company car and bicycle allowance
company car and public transport
a smaller or electric car for daily usage with a larger family car for holiday periods. In this case, the benefit in kind must be calculated according to usage.
Focus on maximum flexibility. A package such as Arval Select makes it possible for drivers of lease cars, for example, to use different vehicles depending upon their varying mobility needs.
Vehicle lease companies are also taking on the role of mobility consultants
Vehicle lease company such as Arval Belgium are evolving from pure suppliers into mobility consultants with a broad range of solutions.
What does Arval Belgium, one of the major players in the lease market, still have up its sleeve when it comes to benefiting from the new perspective on mobility? Els Costers, Sales Director:
"We are developing a mobility platform under the name Arval Mobility Link. The platform has three modules. One of these modules is the mobility budget. When this mobility budget's legal framework and uniform tax treatment have been fine-tuned, organisations will need a clear summary of the different methods of transport, prices and journeys.
The second of these is the dynamic lease budget. It is a tool aimed specifically at lease car drivers. Currently, you agree with your lease car drivers on a specific number of kilometres that they are permitted to drive each year, for example 30,000 kilometres. This maximum amount is the same for everyone. If an employee exceeds this limit, they may have to pay for the additional kilometres. If another employee is below this limit, for example 10,000 kilometres, that is unfortunate for them because the salary deduction is calculated on the basis of 30,000 kilometres per year, not on 10,000."
The dynamic lease budget works more fairly. This method is used to calculate the number of kilometres permitted to be travelled per year per employee or group of employees. This figure is calculated based on commuting distance. This means that employees who commute from Limburg to Brussels are no worse off than a colleague who travels from Vilvoorde. An employee who drives fewer kilometres records this in a savings fund, and they can then convert this amount saved into a bonus or different form of incentive. You can impose a levy on employees who spend more time on the road, e.g. 5 cents per kilometre. Employees who car pool receive another bonus. The same applies to drivers who fill up their tank at a cheap petrol station or who adopt an economical driving style.
Els Costers: "We provide the tool and help employers devise an arrangement tailored to their specific requirements. The exact arrangement depends on the targets set by the organisation: managing costs, travelling fewer kilometres, consuming less fuel, reducing CO2 emissions, encouraging employees to take part in a car pool or use other means of transport, etc."
Arval Mobility Link will be rolled out this year. That can happen quite quickly. This is what you need: an arrangement in line with your organisation's targets, a platform on which everything is registered, a black box in the lease car and... an honest employee. After all, the employee has to assign the kilometres travelled to the appropriate category on their laptop or smartphone: commute, professional, or private.
"The black box that we plan to employ for the Arval Mobility Link platform is already in use for the Arval Active Link telematics solution", Els Costers explains. "The device registers the journeys taken by the driver, the speed at which they drive, brake and accelerate, fuel consumption and so on. This can help to make employees aware of their driving behaviour and to encourage them to drive economically, defensively and safely."
Many companies have a relatively limited lease fleet. Nevertheless, they do reimburse travel expenses. The first module under the Arval Mobility Link, the travel allowance module, is designed specifically for employees without a lease car or mobility budget. This tool enables employees' travel expenses to be correctly recorded and reimbursed, explains Katrien Jacobs (business team manager at Arval Belgium):
"In many companies today, reclaiming travel expenses requires a lot of paperwork: employees bring their rail tickets, parking tickets and petrol station chits to the office, where they are then placed in a folder or, in a best-case scenario, entered in a spreadsheet. It can then take months for the requisite amount to be transferred to your employees' accounts. It is not particularly convenient. This tool allows employees to declare their travel expenses online. Furthermore, a link to the organisation's HR platform makes it much easier to reimburse these expenses."
Tips & tricks for a watertight car policy
A car policy helps companies effectively manage car use and their employees' car choices. It also contributes to a more sustainable use of the car.
A car policy is a written document that sets out drivers' rights and obligations. However, it would appear that nearly half of all companies employing less than 100 employees do not have one. Transparent agreements with regard to the company car avoid the need for discussions afterwards. This is all the more pertinent given the rising costs of using a company car.
Obviously, a car policy must be consistent with your employment regulations although it doesn't actually form part of the regulations. You can then make changes to it more easily.
What does a car policy cover?
It goes without saying that you need to specify to whom you wish to allocate vehicles and who is allowed to drive them. You also need to state the vehicles' characteristics. The responsibility of the driver must also be dealt with. What happens, for example, in the case of traffic fines, accidents, or stolen vehicles?
It is also important to agree clearly on who has to insure what. An employee can choose to take out additional, optional insurance cover on the vehicle. The provisions with regard to the excess also have to be clarified. A driver must be honest about their ability to operate a vehicle, This applies not only when the policy starts, but also during the remainder of its term. Drivers must inform their employer if and when they are caught driving under the influence, for example.
What about fuel costs?
Here, too, it is desirable to make reliable prior arrangements about who pays for what. For example, the use of the car for private purposes must also be clarified. Private use of a company car is considered a benefit in kind and as such has significant tax implications for the employee. This has been the case since 2012, in particular, when tax reforms were introduced to make private use of company cars considerably more expensive.
Choosing a car
A car policy issue that has gained increasing attention in recent years is the ways in which employees make their car choices. In general, there are three car choice schemes: budget, short list and user chooser.
In the past the choice of car was purely a budgetary consideration. But today there are several other factors at work that are usually more important than the list price of the vehicle or its options. This is why the short list scheme (which narrows the choice to 2 to 5 models) is becoming increasingly popular. The user chooser scheme is one usually favoured by board directors, but it seems that many companies continue to offer it to their lower-level staff members as well. This seems to be standard practice although half of all companies have indicated that they wish to limit freedom of choice. The fewer potential suppliers there are, the more clout you have at the negotiating table. In addition, you also avoid jealous looks from colleagues who have to make do with a less expensive car. In other words, it's a good idea to describe the process of choosing the car in some detail.
However, it's still a balancing act between the interests of the company and interests of your employees. Employees still consider a company car as an important motivating factor. But a limited choice can have a negative impact on the motivation. However, employers' and employees' interests are brought more in line with each other by benefits-in-kind being linked to CO2 emissions.