on-demand electric shuttle service Berlkönig
on-demand electric shuttle service Berlkönig
( Source: Viavan)

Multimodal Mobility Multimodal Mobility is Creating People-centric Transport

Author / Editor: Cate Lawrence / Jochen Schwab

Multimodal mobility is becoming an opportunity to provide seamless-interconnected journeys and a space for reimaging the movement within urban cities.

The transport sector is being transformed by smart connected infrastructure, collaborative partnerships, and disruptive business models. Key to its success is multimodal mobility. Multimodal mobility is a term used to describe integrated transport – seamless connectivity between different modes of transportation. Such transport includes buses, trains, and trams to taxis, bike, and scooter sharing, walking, and cycling.

Multimodal mobility comes with several underlying principles about first and last-mile connectivity and everything in between:

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Less reliance on private car ownership

As urban populations increase, we've seen a wave of car-hailing and hire companies. It’s a model that disrupted taxi use and made travel more affordable and accessible. We are paving the way for a time when the bulk of cars are rented rather than owned. Less private cars leads to other changes and new opportunities. A hired car is always on the move. If people are not driving their own car to a train station and parking it there until they finish work, it means there's a reduced demand for all-day parking, and space can provide other services such as charging electric cars.

Not quite a bus and not quite a taxi

We are now seeing a blurring between maxi cabs such as Uber Pool Express and buses. For example, since September 2018, Berlin has trialed an on-demand electric shuttle service called Berlkönig, with cities such as Melbourne and Oxford also undergoing similar trials. Journeys are booked via an accompanying app. An algorithm bundles travel requests from several passengers with the same destination, creates a route, and books the passengers into a shared vehicle. It's cheaper than a taxi and more convenient than a bus, and so far, over 1.4 million trips have occurred.

Car-free alternatives

Many of today's cities feature a jumble of brightly colored electric scooters and bikes competing for customers. In multimodal mobility, e-transport is pitched as an easy way to travel short distances without the need for a car. However, while popular with founders and investors, the practice is yet to gain the traction of other mobility offerings. The City of Chicago recently shared an evaluation of a 2019 trial of 10 providers renting e-scooters in west and northwest side neighborhoods. A subset of 407,296 trips was used to assess e-scooter use over the pilot period. (An average daily ridership of 3,366 per day.) They noted that:

electric scooter, one part of multimodal mobility
electric scooter, one part of multimodal mobility
(Source: gemeinfrei / Pixabay)

"E-scooters appear to spend the majority of their time waiting to be used. The average e-scooter was used for around three trips per day and was in use for about a half-hour per day, or about three per cent of the time between 5 am and 10 pm."

Connected mapping, timetables, and payments

Multimodal transport requires journey planning from home to destination, with mapping offering personalized transport options based on the preferred mode of transportation. Platform and apps providers are competing to monetize this journey. In 2019, Chicago developed the first smart card in the US that can be used across CTA trains and buses and car-sharing services, and we can expect other cities to follow.

Such journeys are gradually becoming integrated with real-time traffic data. The map of your route options may change in real-time due to a parade, a bottleneck of traffic, or a road accident. An e-scooter may be recommended instead of a bus to escape gridlock, for example, with e-scooters in the future offered at a reduced price to entice.

Smart traffic management can monitor and analyze traffic flows to optimize streetlights to prevent roadways from becoming too congested during typical rush hours. Connected parking hubs can connect with public transport to enable park and ride customers to find free parking spots on the way to the morning train. A surge in people after a concert may lead to the preemptive scheduling of additional trains or changes to traffic timing.

Open data and open APIs

Partnerships, collaboration, and openness are what really underpins multimodal mobility. Data elicited through journeys purchased, traffic flows, e-bike use, parking, and pedestrian traffic can provide great insights into how citizens and visitors experience a city. The popularity of transport routes can be used to determine new train lines, For example, Transport for London (TfL), provides its API to more than 17,000 developers. Its data is currently used in more than 600 apps creating a plethora of customer services.

For any transport to be truly multimodal it needs to be developed in conjunction with providers, city planners, payment platforms, etc. There's plenty of pain points: How do wheelchair users navigate e-scooters on pavements? Will streets change with less permanent parking and more e-charging? Can payment providers accommodate those without smartphones? How to ensure those in rural areas are not forgotten? But there's also an enormous opportunity to create adaptive transport that is genuinely responsive to the needs of the people that use it.