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The gray area as an ‘innovation playground’ for mobility and area development

What brought you here will not take you forward. That is our firm belief. That means constant reflection on “how to move forward? Since January 2023, Iris Ruysch has been one of our two directors. Not so much because of extensive experience, but because of a fresh perspective on mobility, which she combines with a construction background. Together with Alwin Bakker, she leads this fast-growing company on a daily basis. Together they gave an interview for Biind, now also available to read here.

Through Teams, the duo talks about their ambitions, plans and their take on mobility. “The rejuvenation must continue,” Bakker explains the addition of Ruysch to the management team, some 5.5 years after she joined the company. “The third shareholder, Joop, recently stepped down. He is currently traveling around the world.” Ruysch: “That was a great moment for me, after a year with the three of us, to pull the cart completely together with Alwin. I ended up at Future Mobility Network more or less by chance 5.5 years ago from a research project around self-driving vehicles.”

“The way of working here appealed to me. We have a holistic vision, where everything is possible. I try to merge the worlds of mobility and the built environment. That has led us to develop a separate theme, Real Estate & Strategy, which now has a whole team working on it that has already realized some 35 mobility plans and advice for area development projects.” We are also active in the field of mobility management, writing mobility visions for the future, working out zero emission policies for municipalities, including the municipality of Delft, and already realizing more than 100 hubs for the municipality of Rotterdam.

Flexible design

You can be so progressive yourself in area developments but in many cases a hard parking standard is attached to projects. How does Future Mobility Network deal with this? Ruysch: “We always put the target group first and try to imagine what it would be like to live and work at a certain location. In addition, we also consider the future situation. Today’s starter may start a family. So you have to be adaptive about this. Instead of a parking space, for example, you can create a parking spot. We want to move with the design and make an area as flexible as possible. That means we don’t think so much in terms of owning space but more in terms of using space. An interesting question here is who actually ever determined that a parking standard is the norm? For us, 1.8 cars per household is not a norm that is future-proof. The livable city is not served by that, it has to be different.”

Self-driving shared car. Why not?

Bakker: “Over the past few years, cars have gotten bigger and bigger, they are making a bigger and bigger claim on space. We always think about ground level, but who actually owns the sky?” To reduce the pressure of cars on space, Bakker and his colleagues are working on a new product, the remotely controlled shared car. “A share car that comes driving to you. Because why is the share car actually standing still? This car is controlled from Estonia. Legislation often follows these kinds of new developments, including now. As far as we are concerned, we think far too often from the current situation, in which case indeed no change is possible. We believe that legislation should have an adaptive capacity. After all, to get the mobility transition done, we have to let go of the current frameworks. Precisely that gray area is the ‘innovation playground’.”

Walking group to school

Bakker and Ruysch point to the inhibiting lead of the Netherlands, as a true cycling country. “We are stuck in the old thinking,” Ruysch argues. “Take the pick-up and drop-off of school children. That’s a made limitation. We engage and think about what the problem is and then what it takes to solve that problem. The goal is to get children to school safely and on time. That’s why about a year ago we started developing an app: sCOOL2Walk . Through the app, we organize walking groups to and from school led by a supervisor.”
The project serves multiple benefits, Ruysch knows. “The core of walking starts with children, just as a child ‘learns’ to ride a bike from an early age, walking should also be taught much more in parenting. There is also a piece of education in it, awareness of the (traffic) environment. You also get much less pick-up and drop-off traffic, because we offer an alternative for picking up and dropping off children. This gives parents a lot more freedom and time during the day and perhaps they will choose to bike to work.

Bakker: “This is what I mean by giving room for the gray area. We need that space for new things. For example, we also introduced the first self-driving shuttle in the Netherlands in 2016 and later brought delivery robots and automatic ferries into operation.

China

For a broad perspective, FMN employees also go abroad, Ruysch says. “We are soon going to Beijing with three colleagues. People think differently there. And yes, all sorts of things are happening that we in the Netherlands think very differently about. But there are also a lot of good things happening that we can learn from.”

This mindset is reflected in everything FMN does, according to Bakker. “Where it chafes, we feel good. The advice we give doesn’t always fit the existing situation and doesn’t always match what the client expects beforehand. It’s that valley of disillusionment where we find each other again and then can take steps forward.” Ruysch: “In doing so, we want to create livable cities. The profile of that client has to match that as far as we are concerned, we really want to do it together.”

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