While terms like “smart grid” and “smart economy” are hard to peg down, we can at least say that for “smart mobility” we’re starting to see some of the bluster turning into reality. Uber gets a lot of attention in this space, as does its direct competitors Lyft, Sidecar, and Hailo to mention but a few, not to mention its predecessor Zipcar, but a slew of new entrants aren’t just emulating, they’re rethinking the mobility market as we know it.
Drivy: Peer-to-Peer Car Rentals. Started in 2010, this “rent the car next door” or “Airbnb for car rental” service allows you to rent out your car to others when you’re not using it and/or looking to make a buck. Similar to Buzzcar (started by Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar), it turns your car, which tends to sit in a parking lot for 23 out of 24 hours a day, into a revenue stream. By side-stepping car rental agencies, you can expect some recalcitrance from that sector, but this Paris-based service is backed by insurance giant Allianz, so insurance is automatically covered. With 400,000 members and counting, we’ll see if car rental agencies fight them, or join them.
BlaBlaCar: Cooky Name, but Bigger than You Realize. Already in 14 markets (including Turkey and Russia, and now expanding to India) and with a $100 million fundraising round completed, this service caters to inter-city travel. If someone is for example driving from Paris to Lyon, you can earn a buck taking on other passengers, or save a buck getting there compared to other alternatives. This service is also based in Paris, and competes in a different mobility space, usually limited to long-distance buses and trains.
Beepi: Used Cars You Might Actually Trust. If you thought dealerships were angry with Tesla Motors for cutting them out of the car purchase transaction, wait until they realize what Beepi (and others) hopes to do to them. Not only is it going for lower margins than traditional dealers, but it’s looking to use third-party information to verify that the car you buy will work, which means: goodbye dealerships. The company operates in 140 cities across the United States.
Scoot: Bringing New Mobility to Two-wheelers. Scoot just started up in San Francisco, and hopes to become something between Zipcar and the now-defunct Project Better Place, with the ability of picking up all-electric scooters at a number of stations, which come with helmets. The cool part? You dock your smartphone into the Scooter which then relays all necessary information. Nifty stuff, and we’ll see if it spreads any farther than tech-savvy SF. Meanwhile, similar efforts are underway in Vietnam, and elsewhere.
All Thai Taxi: Upcoming Entrant in a Crowded Market. Not yet launched, but promising to fight in Bangkok’s crowded turf against Uber and GrabTaxi (Southeast Asia’s response to Uber). This service looks a lot like Uber, but is backed-up by a local intercity bus company, and will launch in April with 500 Prius sedans.
So what does this all add up to? For one, Paris appears to be more of a mobility hub than I first thought. The city hosts not just Velib’ and Autolib’, but also BlaBlaCar and Drivy. Meanwhile, the city is suffering from spectacular pollution and congestion, so perhaps it’s no wonder that solutions are springing forth to meet these challenges? And outside Paris, Asia is, as with all things, the market to watch. Besides the ones mentioned above, Japan just got its home-grown Uber-challenger: Line Taxi. And China is not sitting idly by either.
It is increasingly clear that in this economy, efficiency does not just mean leaner light bulbs; it means better use of existing resources such as Airbnb or Buzzcar. The new mobility revolution is fully underway, and we can now imagine a full week of travel using all of the above services, with one serious implication: cutting the middle man out.