Does the Mobility Industry Have a Soul?

This article was featured on the Autonomy.Paris Urban Mobility Daily newsletter.

Like many of you, it was heartbreaking to watch videos on social media last week showing thousands of Jump bikes being scrapped as fallout from the Uber/Jump deal with Lime.

Last month, Lime announced it raised $170 million from investors. The investment round was led by Uber and, as part of the deal, Lime acquired Jump’s (Uber’s bike and scooter subsidiary) operations. However, based on news reports, it appears that Lime only took Jump’s newer bikes as part of the deal – and the unwanted, older bikes were discarded.

But they’re still bikes! One of the most enjoyable and timeless modes of personal transportation. Isn’t there a better use for them? Wouldn’t even donating them to charity be better?

I’m not sure which company ultimately made the decision to get rid of the older bikes. But the simpler, faster and/or cheaper business solution was to scrap them.

It left me asking myself – does the mobility industry have a soul?

I want to be careful here – to not have a “holier than thou” attitude. I have spent my career supporting companies making cost-benefit decisions and, like a lot of consumers, my personal carbon footprint has grown over time.

But this was truly a head scratching moment in an industry whose ethos emanates from a desire to create positive impact. I looked at it and felt like something is missing…

Drawing a Parallel to Impact Investing

My career in finance has spanned many industries. One of them is “impact investing” which is defined by Wikipedia as investments “made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return.”

It’s complicated though. The social good desired from impact investing means different things to different people. For some, the motivation may be a mission to provide affordable education or healthcare to those in developing economies. For others, it may simply be setting up a commercial enterprise that creates jobs. I think the same may hold true for mobility. For some, the motivation may be a mission to reduce carbon emissions and preserve the earth for generations to come. For others, it may be a passion for technology.

However, I have seen the impact investing industry move towards clarity and accountability by seeking to establish standards to define, measure and report impact. With so many opinions, it’s been a slow moving process – and one which may take many more years to finish. It’s definitely not perfect – but it’s a worthy endeavor and progress is being made. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Impact Management Project (IMP) and the Operating Principles for Impact Management (OPIM) are becoming the new benchmarks for impact investing and measurement. The OPIM, for example, has almost 100 companies that have become signatories putting their name down that they are willing to be held accountable to those guiding principles.

Why Doesn’t Mobility Have Something Similar?

It’s with this lens that I found myself wondering – why doesn’t the mobility industry have something similar? Shouldn’t there be a unified social or moral contract among mobility players and the cities and people they serve? Would this just add bureaucracy, or would it be a noble endeavor worthy of an investment of time from the mobility industry’s CEOs, founders and visionaries?

After last week, my personal conclusion is yes – the mobility industry, and indeed all businesses, would be better served with guiding principles and accountability for decisions in times like this. Perhaps that’s the soul that’s missing.

From the Urban Mobility Daily Editor: NUMO, which was founded in 2019 as an outgrowth of the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities, is an alliance of public and private actors working to shift urban mobility according to a set of guiding values and priorities. Uber, Lime and a host of other shared mobility operators are original signatories. The organisation could be considered as a potential starting point in realising the author’s vision. See here to learn more about NUMO.


Copyright 2020 Neil Portus | Please see our disclaimers.

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