Discussing the Future of Mobility with an expert in the field, Raphael Cavalcanti.

We spoke while Raphael was in between roles, but he’s now started his new role as an Urban Mobility Strategic Advisor for Nova Mobility Consulting.

So as you might’ve guessed, this episode is all about Future Mobility and the impact this might have on our cities. 

In this episode, we’ll be answering some big question. 

  • Is there a one-size-fits-all solution for urban mobility in our cities? 
  • How can cities prepare for the changing demand for new mobility modes?
  • Which startup in the Future Mobility space has caught Rapha’s eye?

The interview

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Full Transcript

Note: this transcript was generated with with artificial intelligence and therefore it might not be 100% accurate.

Today I’m joined by Raphael Cavalcanti, who is a Future Mobility and urban mobility expert, so thanks for joining me today.

Thank you Will.

How are you? Are you OK?

Doing very well, how about yourself?

Very well yet busy, but good busy. So to get us started, perhaps you can just quickly describe your background and how you first go into the world of mobility?

It all started off when I graduated from university. I did a double degree in mechanical engineering in France and Brazil. The moment when I was about to graduate was 2009/ 2010 and I was very strongly connected to the world of aerospace and aviation, I have a passion for planes. And when I was starting to look into any kind of positions, engineering or commercial, commercially focused as well in the industry was extremely difficult because it was the height of crisis no one was hiring. Funnily enough, through someone who worked at Bombardier aerospace, I was introduced to the world of Bombardier Transportation, which was a completely different world for me, I didn’t know about the existence of Bombardier transportation until I connected with that person.

I joined them through an accelerated programme like a graduate training programme and more time I spent in that world, the more time I was connected to mobility solutions within cities rather than mobility solutions connecting cities and I also realise how important that is for a city to: number one, detached itself from the rest and provide a way for society as a whole to function better. And I was able to, let’s say, the privilege of working on a handful of projects and bids in developing countries as well the developed countries where you saw the immediate benefit of putting a system on the ground. Obviously the system’s take along time to come around, but when they’re there, they will be there for 50 to 100 years. And I really saw the value in that and sort of moulded my career vision around that helping other people by creating mobility solutions that were efficient that are more equal from a social economic perspective. Now that I’ve basically traced my way from Bombardier to BCG, into the world of tech related to the world of urban mobility, simply because I just I feel it’s the best way for me to help the scene as well as for to enjoy my time with in work so-to-say.

Great! And have you got any specific examples from the time at Bombardier, you mentioned that you saw a direct impact on your work on the communities that you building doing these projects in.

There was one project which I worked on, which was quite interesting, unfortunately didn’t come to fruition. It just showed me how much coordination is required for any of these projects come to fruition. So for instance we were working on a monorail project and city northeast Brazil and you had a consortium of construction companies from Bombardier was part of a group of companies there and you have the state government as well as the city’s government all involved to try to determine what is the best solution for the city, given its current traffic conditions. Given its current ridership projections and also its population growth projections.

So over the course of roughly a month and half, We were sitting in the offices with construction companies and trying to understand how do we have to move on this specific project and Give the city you biggest long-term benefit and was quite fascinating for because I was very young and my career at that point, but it was me having been more exposed to the European form of transportation, trying to bring a lot of that philosophy to Brazil and coming up with new transportation system for a city that only had buses. It was quite well received, but unfortunately, due to funding and Brazil having a couple of issues along the way as well, the problem never came to fruition.

But I think that was a key moment for me to realise. Wow, if these projects actually go forward, they can actually change millions of lives in the course of 5-10 years.

Yeah definitely! You’ve got a lot of international experience, and you’ve also worked in the UK, how do you say that the UK approach to these big transportation projects differs from some of the other countries that you’ve worked in?

From the little experience I have gained here, I would say that the UK is a little bit more pragmatic and is willing to try out new things… I would say more frequently than other countries if I compared to the rest of Europe where I’ve worked, a lot more specifically in Germany, and in France, you would see that some ideas, which might because sometimes crazy or a bit leftfield, people in the UK are more open to trying them out Whereas, there’s a slightly more conservative side of things in continental Europe, and there’s a bit more of a, I think, say, industrial heritage that they want to respect.

It’s the project, like you see the Crossrail on HS2. They are the independent of the political position of people and whether they’re against before those projects, some of these projects are absolutely necessary. And the UK acknowledges that and in other countries there’s an unending debate about whether these projects are necessary or not. But in the UK there’s more “Okay, let’s try to get it done and see what happens.”

Okay, well I think there’s a lot of debate about HS2, but that’s really interesting, it’s a good perspective. I want to hone in there: so you worked for Boston Consulting Group, one of the biggest consulting groups in the world. How was that experience for you and how did it shape who you are today and in your work today?

It was a very interesting experience, especially having transitioned directly from the industry into the world of consultanting. I was the one of the rail in-house experts that they had. I think, one of the greatest takeaways that I obtained from my experience at BCG was that There’s no problem, which is unsolvable.

It’s a question of having number one: The brain power as well as the resources to deploy to help that. One of the things I really appreciated was that BCG was always willing to work with both big corporate clients as well as in the governmental companies and specifically in my area where we were dealing with cities, we were dealing with states, we were doing with pension funds, we were dealing with the big state-owned operators in Europe, and you saw that they took a very pragmatic yet very fact-based approach to helping them solve problems now also increasing ridership, finding the right the right size of project and coming up with the right commercial arrangements.

So it gave me, I think, a very good tool set to look at things in a very analytical way. I’m trying to understand how does the client, whether it’s a public body or a private company benefit from this and what are the upsides as well at the downsides for the client. That’s something that a lot of companies don’t necessarily do all the time. But in Consulting you always have to look at: Is this beneficial to my client? Under what situations is not why?

Okay, so then, after your role at BCG, you move more into the technology side of things rather the more strategic/ policy, right? Can you describe how you got into the technology focus?

I think the transition occurred when I was looking at possibility of trying something radically different. So for me, I wanted to stay true to the strength that had built over the course of my career, prior to moving into tech, which was rail-based transportation, and urban mobility as a whole. I was looking to find the right balance between the industrial expertise or industrial focus and tech focus, and that’s something that I was able to do here in London. It was also that was for personal reasons, of all was a partner at the time was living in London.

But I think one of the things which I realised which was very critical during the transition is being able to build a network that is also something which I think through course of this this podcast you will realise: creating a strong network of people who you have faith in as well as well as you have had experience with working or just on a private side is extremely helpful, when you’re looking for your next step, or even just trying to do a bit of sparring to understand whether the move that you’re going to make makes sense or it just to get someone else’s perspective.

That’s also something that BCG was very helpful with, a good number of conversations with people who work with me either more distantly or more directly, and try to get their ideas and get their views on What does this? Does this make sense? Does it not make sense?

Yeah, that’s really interesting! It’s good to hear about your career and where you came from and the different steps you’ve taken. If we can switch it up a little bit… and then move into speaking more about future mobility and the actual technical side of things and the human side of things as well. What would you say that the key trends that you’ve noticed in urban mobility that you think are gonna have a really big impact on our cities?

I think one of the things that we’re starting to see now it’s almost there, almost no longer trends. But you’ll see the trend towards electrification. So you see a lot of the vehicles that have been used, whether their personal vehicles or commercial vehicles technologies being built for them to become electrified. So we’re moving away from you internal combustion engine in that respect, which then changes as well the layout of cities to a certain extent because you have more of the loading stations. You have more charging stations distributed across the city, and you also have potentially a different distribution of vehicles across the city. So, unfortunately, in more affluent areas will probably have a higher concentration of electrical vehicles that in less affluent. That may also change the level of health care, as was the quality of the air in those specific areas. So that’s one of the things that I’ve seen.

Another trend which is slowly developing, but will It is a reality. Already in some places is what we call Mobility-as-a-Service. So if you think of you as a person as a citizen of a city wanting to move within the city, whether it’s with a bike from a bike sharing scheme, an escooter from an escooter sharing scheme, public transportation of any sort or using a ride-Sharing solution. Sometimes you want to use a combination of those things Based on the cost or the distance that you wanted to do or the time of travel. Nowadays, there are only a handful of offerings out there, which allow you to just do that seamlessly so you can hop from one means of transportation to the next. But there are a couple of companies that are focused on that because they see that that kind of connectivity between the means of transportation is necessary for us to take advantage of the current infrastructure, which already exists.

So, for instance, as you well know, putting together a new Metro line metro system can take decades. Putting together a new bus line will also requires a lot of planning. A lot of the infrastructure is not used to the maximum of its capacity. So how you create an optimal system where you have handovers between systems depending on the demand patterns, depending on the distribution of your transportation offer and How do you make that more optimal? So that you’re using the current systems capacity in a more efficient manor, in a more optimal manner.

So I see Mobility as a Service, I’m a big fan of it, as something that is moving, albeit slowly. It’s moving, is moving forward. So you have to have a lot of coordination between individual stakeholders as well as the municipalities to bring everyone together. I think those are the two big ones. Obviously, automation in terms of the autonomous vehicles has had a lot of hype over the past couple of years. But there is. My personal opinion is that there still has to be a bit more technical development for that to become a reality in the urban environment over the next 5 to 10 years.

What we’ve also seen is that obviously the shared mobility models that have become more almost ubiquitous they become more common in big cities, share your own private vehicle or share a vehicle which is owned by a company. You can also share bikes. You can also share e-scooters. So there’s a tendency for that model to become more about a normal thing for us as well as ride-sharing.

Yeah! We’ve got all these new modes of transport seemingly popping up all the time in our cities across different cities have different shifts in demand for these things, how come cities prepare their physical infrastructure to cope with this shifting demand for different types of infrastructure?

It’s a great question. It’s also a difficult question to answer for cities to look at a lot of the new modes of transportation. A lot of them are very experimental. Yeah, so if you look at e-scooters, for instance, in London, but they’re not allowed. But for instance recently released in Germany, and you’ve seen over the past couple of months a lot of backlash in the United States because they’ve been in the United States for longer. So they’ve tried experimenting with the technology, experimenting with business models and cities haven’t really understood whether they should be completely permissive or completely prohibited in terms of their approach.

So I think one of the important things that cities have to do not so much from the infrastructure perspective, but they have to try to be open to having conversations with these potential new offerings as soon as possible. And that’s I think something that a lot of companies now have taken down as a lessons learned from, for instance, the Uber experience where Uber was almost banned in certain cities simply because they just went in and didn’t talk to the authorities early enough. Now what’s happening is a lot of the e-scooter companies want to engage with the city and Municipalities beforehand to understand: Look we want to make sure that we’re actually solving a problem not creating a problem proposing a fake solution.

So I think having those conversations earlier on and also being open to new forms of mobility becoming part of the ecosystem trying to help these companies integrate into your infrastructure on then also trying to determine. Okay, what does that mean in terms of new movements of people, pockets of people between different parts of the city? How does that affect my infrastructure?

But it’s a difficult question to answer. Every city will have a different particular situation because they have their own movement patterns. They have their own pockets of Mobility as well and they have their own mobility infrastructure capacity to deal with as well.

Yeah, it’s definitely really, really interesting. And I guess every city is dealing with it slightly differently. Are there any cities that you know through your experience that you know that have really latched on to this and you think have the right strategy in place and are really working towards that?

I don’t know if I would call it the right strategy, and my personal opinion is that there isn’t a right strategy. I think every city has to be open to new forms of transportation, but they have to analyse how this fits into their current landscape and also look at the social economic effects of things. It’s much easier, for instance, for a newer city. Let’s let’s take a Singapore or Dubai to look at okay, how do we create the infrastructure of the 21st century, because their infrastructure is all very relatively new.

If you take city like Paris, London or Rome, you have a lot of old infrastructure, and you don’t wanna just throw that away. How do you help those different aspects of mobility play together with each other. So I think I wouldn’t necessarily say that there is one specific say that you should follow. But it’s also I think, it’s also important for these use cases. For instance, in Singapore, which is very experimental Dubai, which is very experimental in certain aspects, but also London has the tendency of experimenting with new, different kinds of business models.

Look at what has been the lessons learned from each of these experiences and seeing, for instance, for your particular city or whatever cities looking for help. Are there any parallels there from those lessons? And are there any areas where they could just learn very immediately and then adapt their own their own road map towards future mobility. Because there is no one size fits all solution. And I think that’s one of the things that a lot of people don’t admit until they actually look into the matter more deeply.

Absolutely yeh, and there’s a whole cultural and people side of this, right? Citizens are different and have different wants and needs?

Precisely, and there’s also the political angle with a lot of people forget. You have reports coming out saying this project can’t go forward and all that. That’s also one of the most fascinating things about cities that they are organisms constantly changing. You cannot forget all of the different components of that organism, one of them is the sphere of politics as well.

OK, maybe a simpler question would be: Is there a particular startup that you’ve seen doing really amazing stuff in the future mobility space?

I think one that I like to mention, and I’m not being paid by them in any way, just to let you know, this isn’t sponsored by them, but it is a company based on Finland called MaaS Global. They’ve developed a mobility as a service app called Whim which they use as the backbone to creative mobility as a service offering, in Helsinki, they’re also doing it in I think Birmingham and expanding in Antwerp and Berlin if I’m not mistaken.

So what they’ve tried to do is they tried to create the software backbone for you to be able to plug in all of the necessary forms of transportation and create an offering for a citizen. Let’s say I’ll pay £50 a month to use public transportation. Five ridesharing rides every week and using bikesharing schemes for up to 300 minutes a month. I’m just giving you random numbers, right? But if you go on to the website, you’ll see you have a sort of different plans you can subscribe to you. Then you have the maximum plans, which you pay, and, well, let’s say, £300. You have unlimited ridesharing and unlimited bike sharing.

So they’ve tried to create sort of like the ecosystem necessary for mobility as a service to be present in cities. Citymapper is trying that as well here in London, with our City Pass as well if I’m not mistaken. But I think Whim/ MaaS Global have been at slightly longer time and their business model is focused around them. What they want to do is free people from their vehicles from their private cars, so that used more of the mobility offerings out there. They’re also growing, I can’t necessarily call them a startup anymore – they’re probably like an SME.

It sounds like a really good idea. I think that idea hinges on cooperation from all of the different players, are they happy integrating with the Whim platform?

As far as I understood, yes, at least in Finland they were. I think, one of the things that is very different, at least from mobility as a services. There’s been quite a bit of research, and I think there was even a keynote speech from a BCG partner recently at the IAEA conference in Frankfurt about this specifically talking about mobility as a service. You have to sort of break the classic model with private operators just gonna be focusing on their profits and the public sector are just going to try to take a hold about profit and try to regulate them to death or trying to make sure that they are not trying to bury the game. It’s actually trying to make those two sides meet and cooperate and bring this citizen into the middle of a conversation.

So what we what we are doing with mobility as a service is trying to provide the greatest mobility, which is reducing social inequality to the citizens of the city and not favouring anyone who was part of a specific economic bracket or a social bracket through whatever mechanism. So I think that’s one of the things that I find very interesting about mobility as a service. It forces us to think less about okay, profit obivously necessary for a company to make a profit but focused on the Citizen. does it make sense for the citizen?

Yeah, that’s really interesting. Completely agree. Yeah, it’s a good point. And I think if I was to fit that on its head and talk about: are there any trends that, maybe don’t mention company, but any broader trends that you think are overhyped in this space?

I think specifically looking at the trends that have come up over the past couple of years, we have been over my my personal opinion for instance is that Hyperloop is not seen as an urban transport mobility solutions for the future. It might be one of these very flashy, high technical solutions, but I I don’t see it as it is probably a viable solution to a specific set of people that will probably be very high net worth individuals. But one of the things which I have seen his people using Hyperloop as a potential substitute to high speed trains. And I don’t necessarily agree with that because their have been very few cost estimates, which are very fact based on if you were to substitute a high speed train line with a Hyperloop, what would be the capacity of that line and all that?

So I think my personal opinion was that there’s a bit too much hype that, probably because it was a very sexy project. Maybe the involvement of Elon Musk didn’t help that.

One of the things that I also think has received a lot of hype, but it’s not really delivered, I think has been autonomous vehicles. I remember when I was a BCG roughly three years ago, people were talking about autonomous vehicles are going to be a reality in five years and we have seen autonomous vehicles, some of them do operate in an urban space. But they operate very, very slowly on fixed routes. They have difficulty dealing with different objects. So I think there’s a lot of hype around the benefit of the autonomous vehicles in the urban environment. There’s a lot of hype about the benefits of Hyperloop, for instance, within of the urban transportation, the broader transportation network.

But I still don’t see the actual benefits of those. If I look at citizens living within the city, there are much simpler solutions that provide much more benefit to more citizens that are less costly than having just autonomous vehicles all over the place having Hyperloop just connecting everything.

Yeah, I agree. Yeah, there’s two different camps I think, there’s the people that think we will have autonomous driving vehicle was driving all around the city. But then there’s the other camp that maybe think that those resources, all those really clever people [working on autonomous car tech] are spending their time working on these projects, what if they worked on mass transit or optimising those sorts of mobility modes?

Precisely, the classic examples to look at is for instance the football game. Yeah, I’m saying European football, not the American football game. Yeah, sometimes stadiums with capacities of 90,000 people. Those people are almost all gonna be moving in the same direction whether they’re going to the match or moving from the match. If you had everyone in cars, doesn’t matter if they’re autonomous or not, you’re gonna get a traffic jam in both directions.

But it’s about having a plurality of options of mobility around these kinds of events that helps you. If you think you have a big mass transit artery with Metro transport you can transport something like 50 60 70,000 people per hour per direction, so that means you can empty or fill a stadium very quickly if you have all the needs possible.

I think one of the things that we do see a lot of the world of urban mobility is that people think that there will be one silver bullet solution to solve all their problems. They tend to forget that urban mobility is a very complex environment, so you always have different actors and different stakeholders as well as different kinds of mobility involved with each other having impacts on each other, so there’s a constant feedback loop. You can’t just solve the problem in isolation, by just putting one new bus line or one metro like, that will also have ramifications for people in other areas as well.

You talk about this plurality of different modes of transport, one thing we haven’t touched on is the air space. Do you think that will play a big role in the future of our moving people around our cities?

There will probably be a bigger role for it. There’s been quite a wave of investment over the past 2-3 years, I would say even a couple of the startups that are involved in this kind of space are even slightly older because they see that there is a need for that. I don’t necessarily see them dominating or transporting millions of people within the city within a day that would just make our skies havoc. But I do see them taking a larger share of the smaller movements or longer movements between neighbouring cities for crossing town for instance. There is space for that. If you even just looked up into the sky, for instance, and in Europe you see very little helicopter traffic. So I think there is space for that. It’s just a matter of making flights safe and making sure you don’t have too many of these objects in air because at one point we will also have not just the transportation of people, but also the transportation of goods in the air, which is already a reality as well. So I definitely see a lot more humming coming to our skies.

Yeah, well, it’s an exciting future. We’re actually running towards the end of our time, but thank you so much for answering your questions. I just want to finish with a quickfire round. So I’m going to ask three or four questions and just the first thing comes into your head, 30 seconds or so on each. If you could change one thing about the UK transportation industry overnight, what would that be?

It’s a very difficult question to answer, but I would try to bring about more coordination between the different players that are involved specifically. If you look at mainline rail, very few countries in Europe that so many operators and then you have Network Rail. So trying to create a lot more coordination between them, creating a space where they’re allowed to unify their standards and innovate in a more uniform way would be helpful because what you might end up seeing is a lot of people doing trying to do the same thing in different areas of the UK so that I think the UK really needs a bit more of that coordination role. I think a part of that is done by the DfT but I think the industry itself has to come together with that work very closely. There are bodies such as RDG that do that.

If I look at mass transit in isolation, I think I don’t know how much exchange there is between the different cities in the UK, I think London does concentrate a lot of the attention, but I think it would be interesting for cities such a Birmingham or Liverpool to exchange on their experiences with mass transit with London to see what has worked, what hasn’t worked, so I think there’s a lot around bringing more people to have these conversations together.

Yeah, good answer. What book can you recommend that you read recently, or maybe in the past, that everyone should be reading?

One of the books that I read two years ago, which I revisited recently, it is Guns, Germs and Steel, which was a very interesting view of the development of society and technology. And how climate has impacted the proximity to other civilizations has impacted development of a specific civilisation and also of the impact of wars as well as disease. And the fertility of soil. It’s a very interesting read to allow us to re-baseline why we have reached the point of development in certain areas of the world. And why other areas have been a bit left behind, definitely find it is worthwhile read just to revisit that sort of, especially in our times, of a lot of polarisation and a lot of populism. Unfortunately, rising fascism, it’s good for us to be reminded that we all came from the same source. There’s a lot more coincidence and luck involved in us being where we are today, than actual method.

So what are your personal career goals for the next three years?

One other thing that I really like to achieve over the next let’s say, 3 to 5 years is to either help build my own business or with business partners that allows urban mobility to move in the right direction or at least to move in a more socially equitable direction, but also one of the things that I really liked to is maybe in five years time is to start my own potential venture capital fund and try to focus on urban mobility focused ventures that are founded either by minorities, women, LGBT founders. Because I still think that we have far too little diversity in the world of urban mobility, rail. Whatever form you take it, we need more different thought to come into it, different emotional intelligence to be involved. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement there and I’d like to be a person to help close that gap.

Great. Yeah, really strong girl. Okay. And finally, you’ve worked a lot in different parts of the world. Who is the one person you know that’s really innovative and pushing the boundaries in future mobility that I should go meet and speak to?

I think you should meet with Sampo who is the CEO of MaaS Global. Very visionary man based in Helsinki. He’s been trying to not just convince the world, but show the world through evidence that if we bring different stakeholders together into a city environment and try to remove the conflict, there is benefit to citizen. We as a population also benefit from that. So I think he’d definitely be a good person to get in touch with.

Great. Yeah, that company sounds really interesting. So definitely like to have a chat with him. Okay, so thank you so much for joining me today and carving time at your diary to talk to everyone, so thanks very much Raphael.

Thank you for your time Will.


Will Needham

Travelling the world talking to the people shaping our future.

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