Here at Pedestrian Space, walkability is a central focus in our advocacy for quality of life and sustainable urbanism. While we advocate for car-free spaces and pedestrianization, we also understand the critical role of intermodal mobility and welcome dialogue with stakeholders, players and advocates working with these issues.
In the spirit of furthering understanding, we were glad to have a the opportunity for dialogue with the individuals from the Prague based Mileus team: co-founder Juraj Atlas (from Humenne, Slovakia), CMO Veronika Giacko (from Bratislava, Slovakia) and Social Media and Content Specialist Elizabeth Nováček (from Vancouver, Canada), now all residents of Prague.
What brought you to Mileus?
Juraj: Having co-founded and built the largest Czech national ride-hailing operator, Liftago, I understood that on-demand transport alone will not make our cities more livable.
Researching why car commuters drive their private cars to the city every morning, I decided that I want to focus on increasing the comfort of residents’ evening commutes without using private cars – and thus Mileus concept was born.
Veronika: I joined Mileus in its beginnings and I lead marketing as CMO. What really brought Mileus close to my heart and made me join was the mission we’re on, the fact that our solution can really help reduce the numbers of cars in cities and make them much more liveable for everyone.
Elizabeth: I help with our content and social media. I love cities and urbanism, and mobility plays a pretty essential role in urban systems. So when I saw Mileus had an opening for a Social Media and Content Specialist, I jumped at the opportunity!
How was Mileus conceptualized?
Juraj: Our analysis showed that if we can eliminate or at least minimize the three pain points of public transport for evening commute (being the number of transfers, transfer connection waiting times and last-mile walking) and guarantee availability, we can have the biggest impact on motivating residents not to drive their private cars to the city in the morning.
The way to increase public transit comfort for evening commutes is to extend backbone public transport networks with on-demand transportation services and ensure service availability.
Can you briefly describe the benefit that the intermodal solution that Mileus offers?
Juraj: Using a private car for evening commute represents three core values:
2) Guarantee (the car waits for me whenever I am ready to head home)
3) Reasonable cost (or, when it comes to the cost of a private car, at least reasonability of the perceived cost)
Intermodality brings the best from both worlds – the speed of public transport in city centers and the comfort of on-demand transport for the last mile – and closes the gap on all of these three values between private car and the existing alternatives:
1) The fast commute of backbone public transport (especially during peak hours and in congested urban centres) is extended by the comfort of the taxi service that eliminates last-mile walking.
2) Working with the best of backbone public transport and on-demand transport services, intermodal service comes with a guarantee of availability, so people can rely on it and leave their car at home.
3) Public transport getting the passenger closer to their destination decreases the cost to be paid for on-demand service and as such, the combination is many times faster than driving a car all the way, but cheaper than paying for a taxi for the whole route.
Veronika: Exactly, for the consumer, this really is a comfortable, viable alternative to a private car.
But if it were just benefiting consumers, the solution probably wouldn’t succeed. We made sure it also benefits on-demand transport providers and cities alike.
For taxi and ride-hail operators, this is a new service they can offer to their users in their own apps so that they can increase ride frequency, grow revenues, and expand their market share.
And for cities, this helps reduce congestion and pollution and grow transit ridership, which has been so much needed.
How does Mileus reduce congestion and pollution in cities?
Veronika: If each private car roundtrip can be replaced by a shared transport option (in our case, the combination of mass public transport and on-demand services), it brings positive effects, and when these are compounded as more cars are replaced, the impact is significant:
1) Less pollution is generated, especially CO2 emissions — as on-demand fleets tend to be younger than private cars and move towards electrification faster,
2) Less parking space is needed — in fact, private cars are used only 4-5% of the time; the rest of the time, they occupy infrastructure (parking) space, which could be rather used for the benefit of citizens,
3) Congestion levels are lower because private cars are one of the major contributors to congestion in large cities.
Elizabeth: Less congestion and demand on vehicle infrastructure in cities opens up opportunities for better use of urban spaces, like improved pedestrian spaces.
Here at Pedestrian Space we are interested in walkability as a key component to liveable cities and sustainable urban development. While we advocate for car-free spaces and pedestrianization, we also understand the important role of multi-modal transit we see that the Mileus vision could indeed support further creation of urban pedestrian space. What are your thoughts on this?
Juraj: Making our cities more livable means we need to minimize the space, especially in urban centres, given to cars. I fully agree with what you say, and I wish we had a magic wand to leapfrog from today’s reality into the car-free, walkable and enjoyable city living.
Nevertheless, for such restrictive measures (banning cars from urban centres) to be successful, there need to be viable alternatives (this is happening) and population mindset shift motivators.
Based on McKinsey’s “Four levels of the Influence Model” you need to address four elements to successfully and sustainably change the mindset and behavior of a group of people (applies to the organization level as well as to a population level):
1) A compelling story that results in understanding of what is being asked
2) Reinforcement mechanisms – systems, structures, processes are put in place to support the change of behavior
3) Skills / opportunities – personal ability to behave in the new way and/or opportunities for such new behavior to be entertained
4) Role models – seeing others already “walking the talk”
Once the behavior change crosses a tipping point (generally considered to be 15-18% of the population group), suddenly most people perceive that “everybody else is already doing it” and the new behavior starts to become a norm.
The process of large scale change is subject to continuous, small changes. Many humans are not able to envision how a compounding effect of small changes builds up into a big deal we often only realize in hindsight. So to answer the question of “How can we achieve car-free cities?”, we first need to answer questions such as “How to switch from multi-car to single-car family?”
And since home-bound transportation in general and commute in particular are the use cases which have the biggest representation in the personal transportation mix of needs where private cars are used, then the next question to answer should be: “How to switch to commuting comfortably without using my car?”
Which gets me back to how Mileus was started and why Mileus focuses on increasing comfort for evening commutes without one’s own private car.
What are some unique aspects of mobility in your city?
Elizabeth: Having lived in Vancouver and Cape Town, Prague is unique to me because it’s relatively easy to get around without a car, thanks to the city’s density and how safe it is.
Juraj: Compared to other cities, I’d say Prague is unique because it is a medium-sized city that is relatively well connected by public transport, and that its centre is very beautiful to walk around.
Aside from this, Prague is not unique in the sense that it struggles with car congestion (especially during peak hours in the centre) while its suburbs are poorly connected by public transport like a lot of cities. This creates a feedback loop of people driving their cars into the centre (because there are few to no alternatives in the suburbs), creating more congestion in the centre.
How would you describe the walkability of your city?
Juraj: In the Old Town quarter, walking is probably the easiest way to get around (easier than bike, transit, or car). As you move away from the centre and the amenities and building densities decrease, it becomes less walkable.
I have noticed people walking more since the start of the pandemic; I suppose this results from people being more cautious of shared and public transportation and also having new gaps in their leisure time when restaurants, etc. are closed.
Elizabeth: As I live in the city centre, I essentially live in a 5-minute city which is very walkable! Throughout the city, there are several neighborhoods and parks which are great for walking, but not necessarily if you need to get somewhere.
Veronika: Prague is really very walkable. As Lisa and Juraj said, the walkability in the city centre is excellent. But not just there. We may not appreciate it only looking at Prague, but when we compare the walkability of Prague with that of some US cities, it is a huge (positive) difference.
What areas of improvement do you think are needed for transit as well as walkability in your city?
Veronika: For transit, higher service availability in the outskirts and better connections — but this is of course very resource-intensive, besides the already high subsidies for transit. So what could help tackle this could really be solutions that extend transit serviceability beyond the wider city centre and make transit more accessible to people living in these areas.
In terms of walkability, I would love to see more being done for more walkable residential areas at the very outskirts. Because in some of these areas, not all essential things are within walking distance or are accessible by walking. So I’d be happy to see the 15-minute city concept being applied here, over time.
Elizabeth: The city centre could be more pedestrian-friendly if there were better bike lanes. Bikes and scooters are becoming more popular in the city which is great, but there isn’t even close to enough infrastructure for them. So, they end up competing for space with people walking on sidewalks which isn’t great for either pedestrians or riders.
What are your favorite places to walk in your city?
Veronika: With my husband, we love taking walks in the old downtown area — warm summer nights, sunny autumn afternoons, or snowy winter streets. The history seems to come alive and its beauty is always mesmerizing.
Elizabeth: Probably when I’m lost, which happens less and less since I’ve been living here for a decade now! I love discovering new neighborhoods this way.
What is your favorite way to move around your city?
Juraj: I use public transport to the max. I walk a lot while I need to move around in the city centre. Not that much in the evening when I am depleted of energy and just “want to be at home, finally”.
I complement the public transport with either taxis or car-share services. Although I’m an avid cyclist during my leisure time, I haven’t found it comfortable to use bike-sharing services for my daily and work-related movements around the city. The barrier for me is my tendency to sweat even during a low-intensity activity. I wish Prague had more electric bike-share operators and higher e-bikes coverage.
Elizabeth: There’s Czech-founded bike-share, Rekola. I love it because it’s a locally-founded company that works really well. I use it nearly every other day. I used to walk and take public transport only, but there is something so thrilling and empowering when you’re able to connect your whole A to B journey by pedal. Plus, it’s a really fun way to experience the city.
Veronika: Definitely walking, especially to work and back to clean my head. Besides the obvious health benefits, for me, it’s this special time to focus on my thoughts and just enjoy the moment. Or listen to some great podcast. It does rule out wearing high heels, but I guess that’s yet another health benefit.
Visit Mileus online at: https://mileus.com/