Ford has announced that it’s undertaking a ‘dynamic car-sharing experiment’ in London and claims it will be the first sharing service to offer one-way car trips with guaranteed parking. Given the difficulty and expense of parking in the capital this might be considered more a parking service with a guaranteed car involved… but we jest.
Londoners are already familiar with the sight (if not the actual experience) of hire bicycles with the so-called ‘Boris Bikes’ named after Boris Johnson the London mayor who introduced them. Riders pick their bikes up from one parking zone and ride them to another, paying for the hire time in between. Not unusual of course - there are many other car and bike sharing schemes already up and running around the world.
The car service to be offered by Ford has the familiar Boris Bike shape with some extra requirements thrown in - understandable given that the hire involves an expensive car with demanding parking requirements (ie parking rather than leaning against a pole).
The ‘GoDrive’ car sharing service will involve 2000 participants who register free to use 50 cars across 20 locations in London. Its pay-per-minute pricing covers all the fees due and the costs involved in the hire and the whole process is done via smartphone (from the user's point of view).
Drivers will book and access the cars via an app which can use the phone’s positioning system to lead the hirer to the car and to unlock the vehicle when the hirer is beside it. The environment hasn’t been forgotten - half the fleet will be be zero-emission Focus Electrics.
The idea of the test is to see how much Londoners take to one way transport systems and ‘integrated’ journeys involving public transport as well.
The global car-sharing industry is expected to be worth more than £3.8 billion by 2020, as congestion in large cities means mobility becomes more difficult and more expensive. Sharing becomes a very viable option as long as the technology can make the process of hiring more pain-free than full car ownership - to that end it’s deemed important that the annoying extras such as insurance, congestion charges and fuel all get bundled into the per minute price.
From a telecoms perspective the interesting thing about these applications is not just that the smartphone (rather than the car) is the real enabler, but that the back office complexity of this sort of service could make the telco an important player, able to handle all the granular charging and accounting requirements inherent in the model.
Consider the number of different players involved in a single simple hire from A to B: there’s the car owner, the app provider, the congestion charge, the parking provider(s) and the insurance provider (I’ve probably missed several players). It’s just the sort of application that telcos can repurpose their billing and OSS/BSS systems to take on.
Tomorrow we return to this very subject when I interview Peter Sany, President and Chief Executive of the TM Forum who sees a role for the forum’s frameworks and standards to connect currently disparate ‘digital ecosystems’. Car sharing is a big one.
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