Can telcos help cities combat congestion?

Introduction

Part of STL Partners’ (Re)connecting with Consumers stream, this report explores how telcos could support the companies seeking to reinvent how people get around the world’s increasingly congested cities. It looks at the serious problems arising from congestion and the need for a multi-modal approach to urban travel (incorporating ride hailing, public transport, bike and scooter sharing). The report then considers the many challenges facing the new players trying to bring about this multi-modal future, before making creative and constructive suggestions as to how telcos can help address these challenges. Finally, it also outlines how some operators, such as M1 in Singapore, China Mobile and China Telecom, are already playing an enabling role in the personal transportation market.

In particular, the report explores whether telcos can help coordinate the provision of transportation, as well as providing the underlying connectivity that will enable travellers to get information and make bookings on the fly, while allowing the transport providers to monitor their assets.  In many respects, the provision of effective public transportation is a systems integration challenge that requires a wealth of highly accurate real-time information about what is happening across a city.

As explained in the STL Partners report: The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms, telecoms networks and related services can help people and companies use assets, such as bikes, cars and roads, much more effectively than they have in the past.

This report also builds on other STL research, notably:

The financial and human costs of congestion

After decades of urbanisation, many affluent cities in North America, Europe and East Asia are gridlocked with traffic. In much of the developing world, people continue to migrate to urban centres in search of work, clogging up roads from Bangkok to Bogota. Urbanisation is at its most extreme in East Asia (see Figure 1) where internal migration over the past decade has seen cities across China expanding at breakneck speed.

Figure 1: People have been flocking into cities worldwide for the past five decades

urbanisation rate

Source: The World Bank

The population density in some major economic hubs in the developing world, such as Mumbai, Manila and Lagos, is higher than 10,000 people per square kilometre (see Figure 2), compared with 1,510 people per square kilometre in London. As the UK capital suffers from serious traffic congestion, many cities in the developing world simply do not have enough space to allow the car to be the primary form of transport for their citizens.

In any case, private cars are not a sustainable mode of transport. As well as reducing people’s productivity and quality of life, traffic congestion is damaging air quality and harming human health. Air pollution has become the fourth highest risk factor for premature deaths – one in 10 deaths worldwide is attributable to air pollution exposure, according to the World Bank. Moreover, the bank says the economic burden of pollution is immense for the world and for individual countries. It estimates that ambient particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution alone cost the global economy US$5.7 trillion, or 4.4% of global GDP, in 2016.

Figure 2: Many cities in the developing world are very crowded and cramped

the biggest cities in the world

Source: UN

So where is traffic congestion at its worst? Of the 38 countries covered by the INRIX 2017 Traffic Scorecard, Thailand is top of the list. In Thailand, drivers spend an average of 56 hours in rush hour congestion, ahead of Indonesia (51 hours) and Columbia (49 hours), followed by Venezuela (42), and the U.S. and Russia both with 41 hours (see Figure 3). Among developed nations, U.S. and Russia have the most congested cities in the world.

Intriguingly, sales of cars fell in 2018 for the first time in almost 28 years in rapidly urbanising China, a symptom of both the economic slowdown and the frustration of trying to drive in the country’s congested cities. Traffic jams, parking difficulties and overcrowding on buses and subways are the top three problems for urban commuters in China, according to a 2018 report by think tank Tencent Financial Technology.

Figure 3: The countries where the most time is lost to traffic congestion

time people spend in congestion

Source: NRIX 2017 Traffic Scorecard

INRIX’s data shows that Los Angeles tops the list of the world’s most gridlocked cities, with commuting drivers spending an average of 102 hours in congestion in 2017, followed by Moscow (91 hours), New York (91 hours), San Francisco (79 hours) and Bogota (75 hours).

Figure 4: Most of the most gridlocked cities are in the developed world

cities with highest congestion

Source: NRIX 2017 Traffic Scorecard

 

Contents
  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
  • Disrupting urban travel
    • Similarities with telecoms
  • Bringing about a multi-modal future
    • The Amazon of transportation?
    • Uber’s competitors
    • Takeaways – why one company won’t win
  • The rise of e-bikes and e-scooters
  • The challenges confronting micro-mobility
    • Lack of profitability
    • The maintenance and charging conundrum
    • The threats of vandalism and theft
    • Safety and public order
    • Buying rather than renting
  • How telcos are getting involved
  • Conclusions
Figures
  1. People have been flocking into cities worldwide for the past five decades
  2. Many cities in the developing world are very crowded and cramped
  3. The countries where the most time is lost to traffic congestion
  4. Most of the most gridlocked cities are in the developed world
  5. An overview of the pros and cons of different modes of urban transport
  6. Lime and Bird are clear leaders in the US e-bike and scooter sharing markets
  7. Both Lime and Bird have reported rapid growth in the number of rides
  8. Lime claims using its products is far cheaper than using a private car
  9. Challenges facing providers of shared bikes and scooters
  10. Some Northern European countries have embraced cycling in urban areas
  11. Sales of bikes (including electric-bikes) continue to rise

Uber and Tesla: What telcos should do

Introduction

This report analyses the market position and strategies of Tesla and Uber, two of four Internet-based disruptors that might be able to break into the top tier of consumer Internet players, which is made up of Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google. The other two challengers – Spotify and Netflix – were the subject of the recent STL Partners report: Can Netflix and Spotify make the leap to the top tier?

Tesla, Uber, Spotify and Netflix are defined by three key factors, which set them aside from their fellow challengers:

  • Rapid rise: They have become major mainstream players in a short space of time, building world-leading brands that rival those of much older and more established companies.
  • New thinking: Each of the four have challenged the conventions of the industries in which they operate, driving disruption and forcing incumbents to re-evaluate their business models.
  • Potential to challenge the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google: This rapid success has allowed the companies to gain dominant positions in their relative sectors, which they could use as a springboard to diversify their business models into parallel verticals. By pursuing these economies of scope, they are treading the path taken by the big four Internet companies.


This report explores how improvements in digital technologies and consumer electronics are changing the automotive market, enabling Tesla and Uber to rethink personal transport almost from the bottom up. In particular, it considers how self-driving vehicles could become a key platform within the digital economy, offering a range of commerce services linked to transportation and logistics. The report also explores how the high level of regulation in transportation, as in telecoms, is complicating Uber’s efforts to build economies of scale and scope.

The final section provides a high-level overview of the opportunities for telcos as the automobile becomes a major computing and connectivity platform, including partnership strategies, and the implications for telcos if Uber or Tesla were able to make the jump to become a tier one player.

The report builds on the analysis in two previous STL Partners’ executive briefings that explore how artificial intelligence is changing the automotive sector:

Self-driving disruption

Uber, the world’s leading ride-hailing app, and Tesla, the world’s leading producer of all-electric vehicles, could evolve to become tier one players in the digital economy, as the car could eventually become a major control point in the digital value chain. Both companies could use the disruption caused by the arrival of self-driving cars to become a broad digital commerce platform akin to that of Amazon or Google.  As well as matching individuals with journeys, Uber is gearing up to use self-driving vehicles to connect people with shops, restaurants, bars and many other merchants and service providers.  With a strong brand, Tesla could potentially play a similar role in the premium end of the market as Apple has done in the PC, tablet and smartphone sectors.

However, Uber and Tesla are just two of the scores of technology and automotive companies jostling for a preeminent position in a future in which the car is a major computing and connectivity platform. As well as investing heavily in the development of self-driving technologies, many of these companies are splurging on M&A to get the skills and competences they will need in the personal transportation market of the future.  For example, Intel bought Mobileye, a maker of autonomous-driving systems, for US$15.3 billion in March 2017. Delphi, a big auto parts maker, bought nuTonomy, an autonomous vehicle start-up, for US$450 million, and has since reinvented itself as an autonomous vehicle company called Aptiv.

Self-driving vehicles will change the world and the way people live in a myriad of different ways, just as cars themselves transformed society during the 20th century. Some shops, hotels and restaurants could become mobile, while car parks, garages and even traffic lights could eventually become obsolete, potentially heralding new business opportunities for many kinds of companies, including telcos. But the most important change for Uber and Tesla will be a widespread shift from owning cars to sharing cars.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • How Uber and Tesla are creating new opportunities for telcos
  • Uber’s and Tesla’s future prospects
  • Lessons for telcos
  • Introduction
  • Self-driving disruption
  • Making car ownership obsolete
  • From here to autonomy
  • The convergence of car rental, taxi-hailing and car making
  • Business models beyond transport
  • Opportunities for telcos
  • Uber: At the bleeding edge
  • Uber’s chequered history
  • Uber looks beyond the car
  • Uber’s strengths and weaknesses: From fame to notoriety
  • Tesla: All electric dreams
  • Tesla’s strengths and weaknesses: Beautiful but small
  • Conclusions and lessons for telcos
  • The future of Uber and Tesla
  • The future of connected cars
  • Lessons from Uber and Tesla

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Self-driving vehicles will become commonplace by 2030
  • Figure 2: The two different routes to self-driving vehicles
  • Figure 3: The first self-driving cars could appear within two years
  • Figure 4: Money is pouring into ride hailing and self-driving companies
  • Figure 5: Waymo is way ahead with respect to self-driving disengagements
  • Figure 6: Uber’s vision of a “vertiport” serving a highway intersection
  • Figure 7: Uber believes VTOL can be much cheaper than helicopters
  • Figure 8: Uber’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis
  • Figure 9: Growth in Tesla’s automotive revenues has been subdued
  • Figure 10: Tesla’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
  • Figure 11: Tesla loses money most quarters
  • Figure 12: Tesla is having to cut back on capex