Mobility is a particularly challenging topic for most cities around the globe. Each urban area has its own specificity, but they all have one thing in common: the necessity to create a sustainable, regulated, equitable and easy-to-navigate mobility ecosystem to ensure the general welfare of their citizens.
Why cities should be at the center of the mobility (r)evolution
Going forward the large majority of people will live in cities, or in close proximity to cities. The increasing urbanization is putting huge pressure on municipalities to manage their infrastructure more systematically. Looking at any city ranking (in terms of livability and ability to attract the best talent), the quality of the mobility offer plays a central role.
If you add the heightened societal demand to get access to sustainable mobility (with low carbon and energy footprint), and the explosive growth of new modes of transportation, we are going to experience nothing less than a perfect storm. Cities are being challenged by disruptive companies. Together with other more traditional players, like car OEMs, cities have until today been on the defensive, reacting rather than proactively driving the change. It is time that they make a move.
Municipalities will have to hurry to the center of the storm, simply because they own the physically limited infrastructure and control regulation as well as taxation that govern the entire system. Public transit forms a central pillar of moving around the city, and contrary to private operators, there is no underlying interest of profits or a successful business model. The raison d’être for cities is to improve the daily life of its residents, and at the same time ensure equity among the population. This is not an easy riddle to solve, and there are several obstacles along the way that we need to address immediately.
No challenge is too great — but we’ve got work to do
Adding up to the issues we are used to discussing, such as air and noise pollution, cities are facing several upcoming challenges. The plethora of modern mobility service providers flooding the streets are shaping mobility in unknown directions, outdated mobility tools and technology are used to manage mobility and shared transportation is not living up to users’ expectations. As if this was not enough, the entire ecosystem of transportation could become monopolized by private providers, should the cities fail to address the challenges of urban mobility.
- New players shaping mobility in uncertain directions
There is an interesting mix between traditional public transit agencies and private mobility providers in most cities. However, these mobility modes are usually separated rather than connected. In the current set-up, we detect two risks arising from the segregated mobility market:
- Most mobility modes tend to function as stand-alone units competing against each other. We need to make sure that all of them connect and work together. Integrating all mobility into one holistic solution supports the backbone of city movement — public transit — and makes it easier to choose shared before individual mobility. If cities own this network, they can introduce rules and requirements ensuring that the right providers operate at the right places.
- New mobility is shaping cities in unknown directions. It has already been observed that the emergence and expansion of ride-hailing businesses cannibalize public transit — and reduce private car usage. It can also lead to more congestion in city centers if the infrastructure is not adapted to other types of vehicles. Policymakers need to get access to better data about how urban mobility is developing. Only then can authorities form policies that control and manage mobility for the greater good.
2. The need for a digital twin
Most approaches to mobility management tend to be quite rigid: the tools are outdated and require very specific knowledge to operate. The only partial digitization still entails a lot of manual work that might lead to inaccurate information.
At the moment, there are no digital twins of how the real-life city moves. Digitizing the physical infrastructure would be highly beneficial for the city and citizens alike. For the citizens, it would create a seamless experience to match recent upgrades in other sectors. (i.e. Here, we could offer a solution that could be the Netflix or Amazon of transportation). For the cities, it would mean finally getting a full overview of the transportation network. When gathering insights on how people move (or want to move), cities can adapt their mobility system and incentivize certain types of transport based on events, weather or influx of people.
In the long run, imagine a city where shared mobility gets more affordable and covers all use cases, from driving children to school to going on holidays. You will have cities that understand the needs of both people and service providers. Based on real-time data, mirroring supply and demand, the right set of regulations are put in place, making sure that the entire system works as one for a seamless, sustainable and safe service.
3. The inefficiency of shared transportation
Another pressing issue, coming as a surprise to no one, is that shared transportation does not match the increasing user expectation. The public transit network is often unreliable and unpredictable, and commuters tend to have more diverse use cases than it covers. To become competitive, public transit agencies need to step up their game and become more flexible.
Emerging ride-hailing and shared mobility options are attracting more and more people. Some who might otherwise have used public transit or their private car. It is in the hands of cities to take these conclusions and to act on it: add more bus lines, tweak train and metro schedules, provide dynamic routes and integrate first and last-mile options. Taking charge of the full system, connecting the public transit network to new mobility modes puts the city back in the driving seat and can prove to be an efficient driver of more — rather than less — public transit.
4. Private players threaten to monopolize the market
The mobility ecosystem can be divided into three platforms representing the people, the transport providers, and the city itself. Currently, each platform functions as a stand-alone unit, where development and decisions are made in silos.
When it comes to the transport providers, we see a worrying trend arising: quite a few private players want to take the role of the mobility integrator for the city. However, this would lead to a situation where commercial operators would control mobility and shape infrastructure without being responsible for its upkeep. In extension, the city itself would lose access to visibility and insights. This would lead to infrastructure and policy based on assumptions rather than information based on actual real-time data.
To ensure sustainable urban mobility, we must enable the city, consumers and transport providers to act in close collaboration, with one transcending goal: a sustainable, easy-to-access, affordable and frictionless mobility experience for all.
A bright future ahead
Mobility experts all over the world are experimenting to find solutions to deal with the ever-increasing urbanization and in consequence, moving masses of people in limited spaces. This is not a simple question with a simple answer.
We see that the old paradigms like a strict split into rail-based public transit and private road-based mobility will make way to a new era of intelligent mobility, where multiple forms of mobility will coexist and complement each other seamlessly, where fair access to mobility must be ensured and above all, and where mobility must be managed more systematically.
At Trafi, our mission is to provide cities with the right digital tools so that they can take back control of their transportation network and proactively drive the transformation towards integrated, intelligent and democratic urban mobility.
-Martynas Gudonavičius, CEO