Interview: Is GoOpti the future of sustainable mobility?

Is ride sharing the future? How bad are personal cars for the environment? Are electric vehicles the solution? Marko Guček, CEO at GoOpti, and Stephen MacSearraigh, GoOpti's investor, share their thoughts on current mobility habits and the possibilities that the future holds for the transportation sector.

Travel technology has brought immense changes to tourism and air travel is no exception.

1Travel technology has brought immense changes to tourism and air travel is no exception.

Marko and Stephen are both currently working on the development of a new smart and sustainable mobility service that will offer people a wide spectrum of transportation options in one place.

How bad are personal cars for the environment and why?

Stephen: Personal cars are terrible for the environment. In Europe, passenger-car use accounts for nearly one-fifth of all CO2 emissions. About 500 000 people die in Europe each year due to small-particle air pollution, and researchers believe cars, particularly diesel vehicles, are heavily implicated. Emissions per vehicle will be reduced as electric vehicle use expands, but there are still the environmental costs of EV manufacture to take into account − and in this regard, EVs tend to be somewhat worse than cars with internal combustion engines − as well as the environmental cost of power generation.

Marko: Surprisingly bad, unfortunately. On average, transport accounts for around 25-30% of total emissions. In Slovenia, this figure is even higher, accounting for 50% of all emissions. On average, 73% are related to road transport, and in road transport as a whole, passenger cars account for 60% of all emissions, according to EU research. If we combine this, we see that in Slovenia, our passenger cars account for 22% of all emissions. This is huge and is entirely up to us − the owners of personal vehicles. However, CO2 emissions are only part of the negative impact on the environment. Just recently, the EU did a study in which they calculated the cost of emissions to facilitate comparison, and found that the costs associated with illnesses and deaths directly related to air and noise pollution in diesel vehicles are, in total, even greater than the CO2 emissions and their future consequences. Petrol-powered vehicles are only marginally better in terms of total emissions costs, and electric vehicles still account for around 40% of diesel emissions, even if the electricity is produced from 100% sustainable sources, which, as we know, is not the case.

I’m afraid people will still opt for private cars unless we can crack that combination of factors that makes private car use so irresistibly appealing.

From your point of view, what is the best way to convince people to stop using their car?

Stephen: This is the $64 billion question. We actually know now that it takes a pandemic to change mobility routines. McKinsey estimates more than 20 percent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office, 3-4 times the rates pre-Covid. And at the same time, we are seeing an entirely new approach to provision of transport services. In the near future, shared vehicles will offer the on-demand door-to-door convenience of a taxi at the cost of a bus. But even then, I’m afraid people will still opt for private cars unless we can crack that combination of factors that makes private car use so irresistibly appealing. One is the freedom that a car represents, even if you don’t use it to its full potential. Hardly anybody drives away into the sunset to start a new life after a row with their partners, but they could. Ride-sharing services don’t quite offer the same possibilities yet. A car is also a space in which you can be alone and think − a controlled familiar environment that shuts out the outside world. Almost a refuge. So this combination of freedom and security is critical.

Marko: First, alternatives must be at least as good as private cars in terms of freedom, duration, reliability and cost. Once this has been verified, people will find it much easier to accept the facts I presented in my previous answer. On the other hand, we need to communicate all the positive external impacts of the use of public transport, car-, bike-, scooter-sharing, dynamic shuttles and other new modes that will soon be available, such as volocopters and hyperloop. Travel times will be faster because there will be no more traffic jams, you will not waste time in the car and you will have no worries.

What is the ideal alternative to the personal car?

Stephen: Open the on-demand shuttle app, request a ride, three minutes later it’s outside your door, takes you into town, drops you where you want to go. Total cost €1. Same on the way back home, with plenty of segregated space for shopping in the back. No parking hassles, no car maintenance or insurance or worrying about filling it up with petrol or recharging. And mainly no traffic cops to worry about.

Marko: It depends. If the weather is nice and the destination is not far away, I open the mobility app where I can find, book and check out bikes nearby. If the weather is bad, I see that I have to walk 50 metres to the nearest bus stop, where I have a direct bus to where I want to go within five minutes. If I am going to a location without a direct bus connection, depending on my flexibility and urgency, I can choose between private transport (taxi) or shared shuttle, where for a lower price the duration may be slightly longer and I may wait a little more, but I get a door-to-door service for the price of a bus. If I have to travel a bit further for family or business reasons, I choose the nearest car-sharing option (electric or hybrid for longer distances).

Travel times will be faster because there will be no more traffic jams, you will not waste time in the car and you will have no worries.

How do you typically move around your town?

Stephen: In Ibiza, I drive a car. The transport options are somewhat limited and the regulations are designed to prevent change. In London or Ljubljana, I prefer to use a bicycle.

Marko: Unfortunately, there is no dynamic transport yet, and taxis are too expensive and definitely not sustainable. When I can't use my bike because of weather, distance or necessity, I still drive my 10-year-old car and I really hope I can retire it soon without having to buy a new one.

What are the biggest challenges cities face with regard to offering efficient mobility solutions?

Stephen: The biggest challenges are adapting to new urban planning possibilities, congestion, and how to spend their subsidy funds on public transport most effectively. The whole suite of new mobility services, combining autonomy, EVs, ride-sharing/ride-hailing applications, as well as multi-modal integration of all forms of transport, including walking and bike- and scooter-sharing services, combined with what is likely to be a wide range of IoT services, provides planners with capabilities to comprehensively improve mobility and habitability in cities. But honestly nobody knows how this is going to shake out and what is going to work.

Some ride-hailing applications promised cities they would reduce congestion, but actually the opposite happened, because their surge pricing sends an immediate demand signal that brings more cars into the pool.

GoOpti’s dynamic pricing we believe genuinely does have the capability to reduce congestion by allowing passengers to book in advance. And that brings me to the final challenge, which is subsidies. A lot of city mobility is subsidised, either by ride-hailing applications spending billions of dollars to break into new markets, or by city authorities, for a variety of reasons. We are not in love with either approach. GoOpti is pretty efficient at finding the right price to operate any given route profitably and competitively. What we would prefer to see is cities subsidising off-peak travel to flatten out travel peaks.

Marko: The first problem is old laws that make new mobility projects less attractive for investors and entrepreneurs. The second problem is habits. It is difficult to communicate that we are actually often locked into the mindset of 'I own my car', but once we get over that, we actually get real freedom from car ownership and we can start choosing between the different solutions available to us to get around, according to the real needs at that particular moment. Cities will have to learn how to communicate to their inhabitants that, to be truly happy and free, we do not need an expensive asset that is constantly losing value and in need of regular maintenance, taking up space in front of the house, and generating a pile of emissions and negative externalities with every kilometre driven.

The first problem is old laws that make new mobility projects less attractive for investors and entrepreneurs.

What is different and new in the service that GoOpti is developing?

Stephen: The new GoOpti will offer point to point services, between towns and cities to start. If there is demand and we have support from municipalities we will offer intra-city, on-demand transit options. We are also looking to expand internationally more rapidly than now.

Marko: GoOpti is the missing piece of the mobility puzzle. We have a lot of options, but we don't have a low-cost shared taxi that can reliably arrive at the agreed time and take me directly to my final destination. This is something we have conquered on long distance routes to airports, but soon we will hopefully test between neighbouring cities and connect parts of the city that do not have a direct connection. Once this works also within cities connecting suburbs without a direct connection, we have a solution that, together with other mobility players, offers everything that a private car has to offer, but at a lower overall cost and with more time for us.

Do you believe that ride sharing or a combination of different options can offer the same flexibility as a car?

Stephen: Yes. I actually believe ride-sharing will offer new possibilities beyond what cars currently offer.

Marko: Yes. And at the same time doing something good for the planet and society.

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