The Business of Mobility is a series of articles featuring business leaders in sustainable mobility.
Q&A with Silvia Fischer, Vice President Smart Mobility at FREE NOW
FREE NOW was formed in 2019 when BMW and Mercedes-Benz Mobility decided to merge their urban mobility services. FREE NOW bills itself as Europe’s Mobility Super App and is available in sixteen countries and over 170 cities.
By signing up to the Autonomy newsletter you agree to receive electronic communications from us that may sometimes include advertisements or sponsored content.
In 2020, FREE NOW transformed itself from a taxi-app to becoming multimodal. Today, FREE NOW is the only Mobility-as-a-Service platform in the market which aggregates numerous mobility brands and vehicle options to make them seamlessly bookable across Europe within just one app. Their customers have access to the biggest fleet of shared mobility services in Europe. They have hundreds of thousands shared vehicles available, including shared cars and micromobility options such as eScooters, eBikes, eMopeds, and in addition also Taxis and PHV services.
We spoke to FREE NOW’s VP for Smart Mobility, Silvia Fischer, about where this important European MaaS company is taking the industry.
Autonomy: You’ve said “mobility is a commodity”, what do you mean by that?
Silvia: Mostly people want to get somewhere, not for fun, but because they have work to go to, a friend to visit, an art gallery opening to attend, etc. We want them to get there safely, conveniently and without the baggage of concerns about emissions and the environment.
Autonomy: In other words, FREE NOW is dedicated to delivering on the MaaS dream that we simply need to tap on an app and our mobility is taken care of.
Silvia: Yes, we’re dedicated to managing the complexity of multimodal mobility so that our customers have optimal choices as to how they want to get somewhere. 60% of European users want a single-app solution for their individual mobility needs. With FREE NOW, they get the only mobility solution they’ll ever need: One UX, one registration, one place for identification, payment and invoice.
Autonomy: Including public transport?
Silvia: We are very actively working on adding public transport to our current offering, because it’s about promoting those services that are most convenient and most green.
Autonomy: Is FREE NOW a tech company or a mobility company?
Silvia: These days the lines are blurred somewhat between the two. I joined FREE NOW in 2020 because I am very passionate about mobility and how tech can help a faster adoption of greener mobility behaviours. Combining mobility options smartly enabled by tech allows for high growth and helps to drive towards a greener economy and more livable neighborhoods.
Autonomy: What is FREE NOW’s business model?
Silvia: We’re a ‘metering platform’, i.e. we earn a small commission off existing services (be it carsharing, ridehailing or micromobility). In return, we bring customers to our mobility partners, help them look after those customers and solve their complete mobility needs.
Autonomy: A travel app looks simple enough, but actually it’s a complex business to design a good one.
Silvia: Yes, we’re laser-focused on designing the best possible MaaS app, ‘the Google’ of MaaS apps.
Autonomy: What makes Google so impressive is how good the user experience is.
Silvia: That’s our advantage. Mobility companies have all sorts of complexities around vehicles and e-charging etc, to worry about. It’s hard for them to also worry about building a digital platform. That’s where we can come in.
Autonomy: By some accounts you have access to 56 million users in 16 countries; that’s a real opportunity to build a consumer brand?
Silvia: For that, people must trust our service. We want our customers to feel that on the FREE NOW app they can find all the relevant mobility offerings to cover their mobility needs. Therefore, we strive to provide seamless access to the full range of mobility choices from which customers can conveniently choose and be sure that there is always a relevant offer available for them.
Autonomy: The needs of the commuter; and the needs of the environment…?
Silvia: We are 100% dedicated to the transition to sustainability and our users have a great appetite for these options. We recently released a Mobility as a Service report showing that across our markets in Europe in 2021, compared to 2020, there was an exponential growth in electric micromobility trips (including e-mopeds) and carsharing bookings on our FREE NOW app. Plus, we’re seeing more and more customers using the ECO option, by which they choose an electric vehicle over combustion. And our ECO fleet is growing.
Autonomy: You are also collecting up a lot of data.
Silvia: We all know that data is a big story for any tech business. Firstly, we are a commission business; we don’t directly monetize data. But data is useful for improving the customer offering. For example, knowing weather patterns, knowing customers’ regular routes, traffic data, etc. With all this data we can suggest optimal mobility options in real time. And really look after customer needs.
Autonomy: What about the competition? Are you open to sharing your data?
Silvia: I prefer to talk about ‘coopetition’ as opposed to competition. The overarching mission is to free cities from traffic jams and reduce emissions from transport, especially those from single car ownership. In that sense, the private car is our only real competition. The private car still dominates the mobility story, so there is a huge opportunity to eat into that market-share.
We share our data with cities, municipalities and PTOs (as well as with our mobility partners on the ground). Ultimately, data is just another tool for us to collaborate on this shared vision of sustainable mobility.
Autonomy: What’s the special sauce that makes FREE NOW different and where do you see this business going?
Silvia: After experimenting with various combinations of assets and tech, FREE NOW has settled on a clear strategy of an asset-light business that is seriously customer-focussed. That understands the values, cares and concerns of customers and that has the best possible MaaS app for getting them from A to B.
We also have a B2B aspect of the business, a mobility budget, which employers can give to employees to encourage environmental and cost savings for commuters. How it works is that employees are given a voucher to use our services; the voucher is partly subsidised by the employer to encourage employees to adopt MaaS habits.
Autonomy: And what about the employees at FREE NOW.
Silvia: FREE NOW employs about 1,850 people across the world; it’s a very diverse team, representing 74 nationalities. The people who work here are the demographic who are changing the way cities move in Europe; and initiating the switch to sustainable modes.
Autonomy: And the future?
Silvia: Flying vehicles, amphibious vehicles, AVs, drones…you name it, we want to integrate it onto our platform and wow customers with a mobility experience that beats autosolism.