Stakeholder interview: Carlo van de Weijer, PhD MSc

Carlo van de Weijer is TU Eindhoven’s Strategic Director in the field of ‘smart mobility’ and also works for TomTom. He is an expert in the fast changing world of transportation and how these disruptive changes influence other industries. 

‘It’s very hard to predict the future, but it is not so hard to be prepared for a changing future’

What is driving smart mobility in the coming years?

‘ICT and the internet have entered the mobility arena. Vehicles have become computers on wheels and have started sharing their information to further improve traffic flow. It is unbelievable how much calculating and processing power there is in a car today. Cars are more and more like a digital platform rather than just a mechanical device. Motor vehicles have rapidly become an inherently safe and clean means of transport. That will also change our common view on public transport. Arguments that public transport is safer and better for the environment are disappearing.’

‘Secondly, you see how ICT and the internet influence the organisation of personal mobility. New platforms like Uber and Blablacar make a much better link between supply and demand. Take for instance Blablacar, the leading long-distance ridesharing service, which connects drivers with empty seats with people travelling the same way and then share journey costs. Established in 2006 it has already more than 20 million members in 19 countries, and carries more passengers than the Eurostar high-speed train service! similarly with Uber, which provides a better, cheaper and cleaner form of transport than conventional public transport systems. These new developments are really changing the landscape of mobility today.’

Can governments really anticipate these developments? Can industries like the construction industry adapt quickly enough to change?

‘That’s indeed very hard. All these changes are happening in a shorter time frame than the infrastructure will last. Within the life span of a project, cars are expected to be inherently safe and clean, and the traffic will be a self-steering system of well-informed individuals. These are things which will happen within a few years, it’s not taking decades anymore. So how should governments, but also construction companies, prepare for that? They have to shift from managing traffic to facilitating traffic flow. That’s a fundamental change and you will have to make sure that the infrastructure is able to adapt. It’s very hard to predict the future, but it not so hard to be prepared for a changing future.’

What do you see as the biggest strategic challenge for construction companies such as BAM as a ‘smart company’ contributing to smart cities and smart infrastructure?

‘Built-in inherent flexibility. What if everything were to change? Will my solution still be valid or will we have to build it all over again? The latter might be the best thing for company revenue, but you would be underestimating the needs of the customer, because they probably will want additional flexibility as well. Always think about end-users, the travelling public. Invite your most innovative customers, sit down with them and talk about the future and come up with the right solutions together.’