Energy, English, Mobility, Technology

Mobility Series II – Mega vs Micro

The previous episode of this series discussed the current and future challenges of urban transport. This episode will focus on the issues with the current format of transport and introduce micro-mobility.

The growth of cities is happening at a very fast pace. More than half the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and this figure is expected to grow to two thirds by 2050. Urban areas are expected to grow 80% in the next 10 years. This rapid growth and higher concentration of people in cities presents an urgent need to solve transport issues around emissions, traffic congestion and cost.


Current forms of transport are not sustainable. They pollute the air we breathe, cost us valuable hours spent in traffic and account for up to a fifth of our expenditure. The overall quality of life for the vast majority of people is and will be determined by the urban environment we live in, and our ability to move quickly, affordably and sustainably is of fundamental importance. Our infrastructure is being outpaced by the growth of cities, leaving our transport systems constrained in one way or another. How then do we find something that solves our transport needs and the issues of emissions, traffic congestion and cost?

Current forms of transport are not sustainable. They pollute the air we breathe, cost us valuable hours spent in traffic and account for up to a fifth of our expenditure.

We may be able to take some learnings from the concept of “leapfrogging”, where we leapfrog development to build the systems of the future, rather than of the past. Many references have been made to this concept in telecommunications, where emerging countries have leapfrogged landlines through the mobile phone, avoiding the development of a redundant network of physical lines that countries in Europe or the US have built. 

The same is happening in the energy sector, where distributed energy systems such as renewable micro-grids and even rooftop solar are powering communities and households without the need to build out large centralized power plants and their accompanying transmission networks. Interestingly however, the energy sector has taken a hybrid approach. Distributed generation is indeed reducing demand from centralized infrastructure, but in many cases, it is still connected to a distribution line and the broader electricity system.

Transportation is likely to take a similar approach. Personal vehicles could be the ‘mobile phone’ equivalent and public transport the ‘landlines’, yet personal vehicles are the ones that have been making our cities less efficient by clogging up roads, polluting the air we breathe and so on. Cars haven’t really worked for our cities, but there are other forms of mobility coming that will enable our transport systems to leapfrog. However, let’s first address the problem with cars.

The issue largely comes down to format, more specifically size. Personal vehicles occupy a lot of space in our cities and are generally occupied by a single person (around 45% of personal vehicle trips are done with a single occupant, i.e. driver only). In a restaurant or shop for example, there are typically 2mof area per person, yet the vehicle that person drives to get there occupies 17mfor parking and up to 27mconsidering the driveway; cars are occupying 13x more space than what is actually needed for you to be there!

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This exaggeration of size results in a waste of space and, in our roads, causes extreme traffic congestion. Because of their size, vehicles also have a lot of weight, around 2 tons of steel to be precise. There is a huge amount of energy needed to move a vehicle, roughly 20-25 times what you’d need to move yourself. And that’s without getting into the safety implications of 2 tons of steel freely moving alongside people at 50-80km/h. We have to address the issue of format; the current size of a car is the main inhibitor to the success of personal transport in cities.

In comes ‘micro-mobility’.

This has become a very popular term recently. But what is micro-mobility?

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Although many people relate the term to short distances, it more accurately relates to smaller forms of mobility, personal mobility. Renowned technology analyst Horace Dediu applied the definition: small lightweight vehicles for personal mobility, less than 500kg and for 1-2 passengers. Indeed, these vehicles tend to represent shorter distance trips but because of the nature of their size. Size, not distance, is the root of the term ‘micro-mobility’.

Micro-mobility: small lightweight vehicles for personal mobility, less than 500kg and for 1-2 passengers

There are various forms of micro-mobility currently including bicycles, electric scooters, motorcycles and hover boards, and they are evolving fast. Many more forms of micro-mobility will exist in the near future. This format of mobility presents many important benefits in contrast to the personal vehicle, principally related to space, energy, safety and cost:

  • Space – Because of its smaller size, micro-mobility occupies less space; it reduces congestion and frees up space in our cities for other uses.
  • Energy – It naturally has a lower weight and requires less energy to move, therefore it is far easier to electrify, creating a zero emission, sustainable transport solution.
  • Safety – Its weight and speed make it less hazardous to pedestrians and other vehicles, although work still needs to be done on safety guidelines and regulation.
  • Cost – Micro-mobility assets are smaller and inherently less expensive, which makes them very compatible with the sharing economy (think of shared bikes and scooters), and because they require no fuel or only electricity to move, offer a very cost-effective form of transportation.

A picture I took of several forms of micro-mobility – mopeds, bicycles, scooters and motorcycles – next to a car in Austin, TX. About 9 micro-mobility vehicles occupying the same space.

There is a huge potential with micro-mobility, the characteristics of these vehicles make them suitable for trips up to ~13km, representing 60% of all passenger trips and approximately 80% of trips within cities. As we continue unbundling transport and creating different forms of mobility, we will discover that there will be more than one single choice of transport and be able to choose according to the type of journey. We will truly be able to reduce our ownership of cars with a suite of mobility services and micro-mobility will play a huge role.

Micro-mobility presents an incredible opportunity to transform mobility in our cities and make them cleaner, safer and more affordable places to live and work. It will enable zero-emissions transport, allowing us to have cleaner air in our cities. It will take up less space, enabling us to have faster journeys with less traffic and more space for parks, shops, offices and more. We will be able to move freely and in a cost-effective way. Overall, it will make our cities more inviting and help set the urban environments that will be home to more and more of us on a path towards long-term sustainability.

Energy, English, Mobility, Technology

Mobility Series – I. The Urban Transport Challenge

I’ll first start by saying why I’m writing this series. In such a complex world that we have there are a great number of problems or, better put, challenges. Each of us, each city, each country with its own. Then, there are problem solvers. Most of us strive to provide solutions to some of these problems, as a doctor would when attending someone sick or as an engineer building the next bridge. Attention for these problems is generally widespread. However, there’s a set of universal challenges, ones that go beyond borders or are present in many instances. These, I’d say, are of great importance. They tend to have some form of relationship to our basic necessities: food, energy, transport, health, shelter, wellbeing. Therefore, it is important that as society we dedicate sufficient resources, talent and time in solving these. One of these is mobility. 

Mobility is defined as the ability to move or be moved freely and easily. Urban mobility then, should mean we are able to move easily within the urban environment, cities. However, is this the case? Do we really have urban mobility? By 2050, it is expected that 2/3 of the global population will be living in cities and this is an irreversible trend. Cities are growing at a very fast pace, faster than its underlying infrastructure, and part of this infrastructure is our transport infrastructure. 

Therefore, we are presented with an urban transport challenge. This challenge will consist of moving 7 billion people within cities to their family, friends, home and job in a practical, affordable and sustainable way. Are we doing it now? It doesn’t seem like so and we have to make a significant correction. The main challenges of urban transport in cities are emissions, traffic and costs. Some have certain elements more acute than others but those are the underlying trends. These relate to some of the necessities I mentioned above, mainly energy, transport, health and wellbeing. How are we benchmarking in terms of these problems? Below I explore these in more detail, with a particular focus for a region that is my home, Latin America. 

  1. Emissions – Most of us are well aware that transport is one of the main emissions contributors, affecting the air quality of our cities and adding on to climate change. There are more than 1bn vehicles in the world which account for 21% of CO2 emissions. The UN has recently warned that if we don’t dramatically change our current rate of emissions by 2030 (11 years!) we’ll have caused irreversible damage and the effects of climate change will be catastrophic. If climate change and the last sentence doesn’t cut it, let’s make it more perceivable and think of the air you and I breathe everyday in our cities. Monitoring data shows that in Latin America, 93% of the urban population breathes air above the WHO guidelines, level beyond which our health is unsafe. Analyzing data for Mexico’s largest cities, we can observe we’re breathing not just above the guideline but up to twice above that established by the WHO and Mexico’s official standard, every day.

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    Average measurements of PM 2.5 & 10 in Mexican cities, compared to World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines and Mexican Official Standard (NOM). Data from the WHO Ambient Air Pollution Database 2016.

  2. Traffic – We spend approximately 150 hours in grid-locked traffic a year in the main Latin American capitals. In some places like Mexico City and Bogota more than 200. We’re losing all this time without even factoring in the rest of the time when we’re actually moving in our commutes. Think of what you could do with an additional week of holiday, this adds up to approximately the same. Time also translates to money. In the US, for example, 97 hours are lost on average and adding up to 87bn USD in economic losses. The worst part is that many trips are done with a single occupant in the vehicle, more than 50% thinking of Mexico.

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    INRIX Scorecard 2018

  3. Cost – This is affects all of our necessities through our personal economy. How much is it costing us to commute to work, home and all aspects of our lifestyle? It’s a cost we need to cover to participate in the job economy, but does it leave enough room to put a roof over our heads and food on the table? How much? Some countries like Luxembourg provide free public transport, but costs are still recovered through some form of tax. In Latin America, transport spending as a share of household spending ranges between 10-20%. Unfortunately, in most cases, the trend is that it is going up. In Mexico for example, it constitutes almost twice (20%) than in the US (10%).


    Transport Spending as a Share of Household Spending, Evolution from 2008 to 2015. Gandelman et al., 2018. Household Spending on Transport in: Latin America and the Caribbean

These indicators show that we’re already at a difficult spot. How then, will we solve this challenge moving forward? How will we ensure the cities of today and tomorrow are livable? The following of this series of three will be dedicated to what I believe to be an option for a solution, defining it and justifying how it can work. 


Energy, English, Mobility, Movilidad, Technology

The Vehicle Manufacturers’ FOMO

Today’s my first entry for this blog in English. My previous entries have been with the objective of sharing my views and all the awesome things happening in the sustainability, energy and innovation space. They’ve been in Spanish as the audience I’ve been writing for are friends, family, acquaintances, other people in Mexico and the rest of Latin America, not necessarily the people already involved in the space. Today, however, I’d like to write to a broader audience as something incredible is happening and I feel the urge to talk about it.

My previous entry back in March was about how EVs should be thought of as a thing of the ‘now’ and tried to address some of the misconceptions around them. I talked about how the cost of the batteries was coming down, about some popular models which would be available in the Mexican market, and everything about how cool this EV revolution would be. Back then, just before the Tesla 3 announcement, my evidence was mostly based on historic trends, forecasts and company goals. I wrote about it relying on my faith of how soon this would come and change our lives.

Well, a lot has happened in six months… 

It really struck me last week, with a Financial Times headline that read «Ford warns tech push will hit profits». That’s a bit of a boring headline tbh (the second subheading tells the more exciting story – i’ll get to that later) but it emphasizes what I’ll call the ‘The Manufacturers’ FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)’. Something incredible is happening and these guys don’t want to miss out on it. The EV revolution is happening more fast-paced than what I and many other optimists like me expected, and I’ll put it into context through three simple elements: Ford, China and Everyone, all somehow related.


The Ford headline that week for the Companies & Markets section in the FT.

The FT note

The note came from the Companies & Markets section, stating how Ford had warned profits «would fall next year as they ramp up investments in new technologies». After tossing a lot of numbers on amounts, years and percentages it read that it was due to Ford’s heavily investment in electrification of vehicles, autonomous cars and other forms of new mobility. They plan to introduce 13 electric vehicles – WOOOOW – into their line-up by 2020, forming the sub-headline which I was mostly interested about: «Electric cars expected to be 40% of line-up by 2020». 40%!!!!!!!!  Pardon me for being a geek, but THAT made my day that week. If that’s not enough, they followed with how they want to be leaders in autonomous vehicles, saying it could account for up to «20% of its sales by the end of the next decade». Can you believe that? They’re even totally rethinking their business models and shifting their thoughts from selling «things» into usage (ride-sharing fleets to be explicit). Watch out Uber and Google, Detroit strikes back!…


China is thinking of imposing a quota which would require automakers to produce or import new-energy (electric, hydrogen and the such) vehicles as a proportion of the vehicles they sell. If you are looking for a number, China wants these to be sold at a rate of 3 million  again WOOOW – per year (BNEF). It seems like a simple idea, but it’s incredibly intelligent: by setting that quota they fuel their industrial economy, create technology advancements which put them in the lead globally and it gives them chance to enhance the air quality in their cities. Smart? If you think that’s hard to do, you should know they have over 200 companies/start-ups – 200! developing electric vehicles and which are backed by several billionaires. As a matter of fact, the issue is so out of hand that China is considering restricting the number of EV makers to ten (you can read more about it here); this, to push for quality and protect the development of the industry. Not a fan of putting barriers to innovation but hey, if it works…5 year plans to go please!


Remember when you used to think of EVs and Tesla would be the one to come to mind? Well, not as simple anymore. EVERYONE, has their minds on future vehicles now. From new carmakers to old carmakers, to service platforms, to tech companies, to countries, to electricity system operators, to brothers (yes,.. brothers) are all thinking on future vehicles. Take a look at the Kreisel Bros: three brothers in Austria with a workshop developing electric-powered prototypes (land, air AND sea). The Kreisel brothers even manufacture their own battery pack, talk about these guys elbowing with Tesla! They have Austria’s first lithium-ion battery assembly plant and they’ve collaborated with partners such as VW, Audi, Airbus and Google, recently acquiring a contract under which they will build 100,000 cars over the next two years (read here). And it’s not just the electrification, it’s the greatest tech revolution in vehicles since they first began to be manufactured. As an example just this month, Uber began its trial on autonomous vehicles. They plan to ultimately replace drivers with autonomous vehicles and have taken a slightly different route than others by developing a device, and not the vehicles themselves, that is actually fitted into these. So like I said, everybody is working on the vehicle of the future. Like the saying «two heads think better than one», no bad thing can come from so much attention being focused on delivering the mobility solution of the next decade. Hopefully you can now see why manufacturers are having that ‘FOMO’, I hope I can come back again in 6 months and repeat the words «a lot has happened in six months..«.