Interview

Sandra Phillips: more mobility for everyone

Shared mobility expert Sandra Phillips was the winner of the “Next Visionaries” competition launched by BMWi in collaboration with TED. She explains how her ultimate goal is to make greater mobility available to everyone.

Photo
Ricardo Beas
Interview
Jakob Schrenk

When you’re at a party, how do you explain to people exactly what you do for a living?
Sandra Phillips: I tell them that I’m a kind of architect, except that it’s not buildings I design, but mobility networks. And we have a huge need for these right now. On the one hand, we already have public transportation networks, but except for in megacities, such as New York or London, they have huge gaps in their coverage. On the other hand, we have privately owned vehicles, but a lot of people can’t afford or don’t want to buy a vehicle of their own – or simply don’t want to use their car on occasion. Children obviously can’t drive yet, and many older people can’t use their cars any more either. Shared mobility can bridge these gaps. This makes sense not only economically, but also environmentally.

And how exactly does it work?
Phillips: My agency provided consultancy services to BMW for the launch of ReachNow in North America, for example. We were directly involved in the implementation of the service and we trained the management team. ReachNow not only has a premium car fleet for car sharing but also an app-based ride-hailing taxi service. But the shared mobility network can be taken much further, for instance with bicycle or scooter rental services. And of course there’s ride sharing, where passengers make use of the same minivan and driver, to name but one possibility. The next step could be an autonomous minivan that would take commuters to their train, or a senior citizen who can no longer drive to the doctor’s. Or the kids to school, and their parents receive a text message telling them they’ve got there safely.

“It’s part and parcel of car sharing that vehicles are often not left in places where they’ll be needed again, so it would be good if they could drive themselves to the next user.”

“Up to now, it’s primarily been fairly well-educated, highly-paid men that the idea has appealed to. Women have been less interested, despite the fact that a well-functioning shared mobility architecture would mean they wouldn’t have to worry about getting home safely.”

So you’re looking forward to the opportunities that autonomous driving will offer?
Phillips: Absolutely. Sion in Switzerland has had an autonomous bus running on a dedicated route through the city since 2016. The whole idea of autonomous driving is in fact hugely important for shared mobility. It’s part and parcel of car sharing that vehicles are often not left in places where they’ll be needed again, so it would be good if they could drive themselves to the next user. Or to a charging station to get some juice. Of course, there are still a few technical and regulatory obstacles to be overcome before this becomes a reality.

  • Where do you see the greatest need for improvement at the moment?*
    Phillips: Right now, shared mobility is primarily focusing on big cities, simply because this is where a large number of people live in a relatively small area, meaning there are lots of potential customers. However, large cities usually have a fairly good public transportation infrastructure. It’s smaller cities with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants that usually have gaps in the coverage. And then, of course, we should be thinking more about the markets in Africa, South America and Asia, where the need is huge.

Who would you describe as shared mobility’s main target group?
Phillips: Up to now, it’s primarily been fairly well-educated, highly-paid men that the idea has appealed to. Women have been less interested, despite the fact that a well-functioning shared mobility architecture would mean they wouldn’t have to worry about getting home safely. People on lower incomes also don’t make much use of the services, even though they would benefit greatly from them. It’s my vision to provide better mobility options for everyone – and by doing so to improve their access to healthcare services, education opportunities, and a richer cultural and social life.

Sandra Phillips
was brought up in Switzerland, where she studied computer linguistics, English language and literature, and economics before moving to Vancouver in 2008. There, she was shocked to discover how limited the public transport infrastructure was. In 2013, she founded movmi, an agency specialising in shared mobility. She won the 2017 Next Visionaries ideas competition jointly organised by BMWi and TED.

03/02/2018