Interview conducted by Stephanie Hagen, Head of Conferences and Digital Content
What was Deutsche Bahn’s strategic interest in creating ioki?
Our starting point was about four years ago when we carried out a strategic analysis with a small, interdisciplinary team on the consequences of autonomous driving for Deutsche Bahn, one of Europe’s biggest mobility providers. Our goal then and now is to actively push the topic of individual public transport for customers. Our vision is to enable flexible and individual mobility that is deeply integrated in existing public transport without the need of a private car. After 3 years, ioki was then officially launched in October 2017, being part of Deutsche Bahn’s digitalisation offensive. We are a strongly growing and passionate team of already more than 60 iokians.
Take us through an example of a future Deutsche Bahn user’s journey
A typical user journey at ioki would start with downloading the ioki App and booking an (autonomous) vehicle from the preferred starting point – most probably this will be directly in front of the user’s door. The user will be picked up in less than 15 minutes and driven to the local main train station. On the way to the station, the demand-responsive shuttle bus will pick up additional passengers such as a teenager, a mother with her baby stroller and an elderly gentleman, who have similar routes and therefore share the ride.
The shuttle is guided by our intelligent algorithm in order to avoid unnecessary losses of time and to make sure that the passengers arrive on time and catch their train. The service will be integrated in the fare system of the local public transport and the users can pay directly via the ioki app. A very easy, comfortable, sustainable and interconnected way to get from A to B while solving the first-and-last-mile-problem.
While it is clear that on-demand transit solutions are important to alleviate congestion and pollution in cities, what might their role be outside of dense, urban areas?
Public transport in Germany, which is already really strong and well-received by the public, will face key challenges over the upcoming years. Traffic in urban cities is increasing more and more – traffic jams, environmental pollution and parking space problems are the consequences. At the same time more and more people are leaving rural areas or deciding actively against public transport and pro private car, because there’s no suitable offer for the first and the last mile.
This is where ioki differs from other services, because we’re the pioneer in developing demand responsive transport travel services enabling demand-driven mobility, tightly integrated in the public transport systems in cities or complementing basic offers in rural areas. Our goal is to shape traffic in a more sustainable and efficient way. Our vision is to make mobility available for everyone and everywhere, both in cities as well as in rural areas by building a powerful on demand transit system. ioki is all about finding sustainable solutions that make mobility economically viable, and saving our environment by sharing rides, hence increasing the quality of life.
Germany has always been a great car nation, how are you planning to convince car-drivers to get out of their vehicles into – say – one of your electric TukTuks?
The world is gradually becoming more aware of sustainability, as is Germany. Hybrids and electric cars are more and more interspersed within normal traffic – regrettably, petrol-based vehicles are still the majority, but I’m convinced that this will change in the next 10 to 15 years. The importance of alternatives to private cars has also reached a political level in Germany: effectively fighting air pollution is of the highest priority for the German government, as e.g. shown in the fact that German cities will be allowed to ban older diesel vehicles from areas worst affected by pollution.
Electric (and later autonomous) vehicles provide many benefits that, in my opinion, will convince increasingly more Germans. Our simulations show that an efficient demand responsive traffic system with ridesharing in addition to existing public transport can decrease cars on the road by more than 80%. People become more and more open-minded regarding their conceptions of the way they travel. When people get a good and flexible alternative to their own car they use other modes of transport and also like to share their rides.
How will ioki work with the local authorities of cities to implement it’s demand responsive mobility solutions?
As the first company with official approval for autonomous transportation on public streets, we focus all our efforts on future progress in giant steps. At present, there are no standardised procedures for the approval of autonomous transportation services. In view of this, we are working together with partners from industry, science and politics on the further development of such systems and the corresponding regulatory framework. Within the “ioki Mobility Network”, an exclusive open business network of partners and customers such as cities, communities and companies, we are dedicated to shaping the mobility of tomorrow. We offer our partners smooth and seamless access to the future of mobility. As a business division of Deutsche Bahn, we can naturally also draw on many decades of experience in passenger Transportation.
You currently operate a self-driving bus on public roads in a small town in Bavaria and have begun testing an autonomous on-demand shuttle in a private site in Berlin. Is the ultimate goal to one day turn your entire fleet autonomous?
We are convinced that the future lies in autonomous driving, and this is why we are already working on the realisation of demand responsive transport concepts with autonomous vehicles. I think that it’s still too early to fully know all of the ways autonomous vehicles will impact our lives, but I’m convinced that we’re not too far away from a full roll-out. I’d say that it will take 10 to 15 years starting from now until autonomous driving will be part of our lives. Of course, this is highly depending on the respective legal regulations that partly still need to be put in place. Bad Birnbach, a small spa town in Bavaria where our autonomous bus is currently operating on a regular service, is proof for us that autonomous driving in public traffic already works today. The local reaction has been very positive and the autonomous bus is already part of the townscape.