How Will Mobility Change for The Future Commuter?4 min read
What makes a city great? In today’s day and age, smart growth with strong mobility, and accomplishing more with limited resources is the answer to this question. Presently, more than 50% of the world’s population resides in cities. This number will go up to 60% by the year 2030, according to Mckinsey & Company. During the same period, more than 2 billion people will join the urban middle-class club, with the majority of them living in emerging economies such as China and India.
This urbanization will lead to a stark increase in privately owned vehicles that will further mess up the city’s transportation infrastructure, leading to traffic congestions and a severe cost on the environment. Therefore, a collective shift away from privately owned vehicles towards the adoption of shared transportation needs to become commonplace, and this itself is the future of urban mobility.
The Future of Sustainable Urban Mobility
Shared transportation is no more only about getting people from point A to point B. The ideological focus has shifted towards getting commuters from doorstep to doorstep in the shortest duration possible at an optimum cost. Ways in which this idea can be globally fulfilled is thorough harnessing modern-day technologies that are presently being tested. These include:
PMDs or Public Mobility Devices like electrically powered scooters, bikes, etc. can bridge broken links while accessing public transportation. For instance, commuters can step out of their doors, pick up a PMD, reach the metro station, park the PMD, take the train, get off at the station, and pick up another PMD to reach the final destination. Startups like Bird Rides, Inc. have been putting their latest PMDs to test in the city of San Francisco with positive uptake.
In recent years, AVs have managed to capture the attention of both media and commuters alike. Partially autonomous vehicles come with sophisticated driver-assist technologies and they are becoming popular, e.g. Tesla. The technology for fully autonomous vehicles is also being tested by Google’s Waymo, Uber, etc. and the prototypical cars are being driven on the streets in the U.S. Google has also decided to launch its first fully autonomous car this year. These applications of self-driving vehicles are being looked at especially for ride-hailing and ride-sharing services.
With the vision of utilizing autonomous cars for shared transportation, a city’s parking infrastructure will also witness positive changes. Driverless taxis will end up dropping passengers at their spot of choice and go on to park themselves closely with other cars. There will be no need for the vehicle’s doors to open which means lesser space left between two parked cars. This will reduce the total size of the multi-story parking lots, which can lead to better alternate spatial applications.
In some sense, MaaS has been introduced as an antithesis to the ‘privately owned car’. To encourage commuters to avail of the shared transportation system, a digital portal that collates and displays multimodal information will become a reality worldwide. MaaS will make mobility more optimal, convenient, and cost-effective. Presently, users have to open individual applications to avail services of various transportation providers. MaaS will bring together information from across transportation providers or TSPs for commuters. Various TSPs include ride-hailing / sharing service providers, PMD providers, etc. For MaaS to be successful, municipal authorities, software companies, and transportation providers will have to work collectively to develop this platform and ensure its seamless distribution.
The Bottom Line
Countering the impending urban mobility crises will require ambitious and coordinated actions undertaken by the private and public sectors. Technological advancements alone are not enough to improve the quality of life through shared mobility. Intelligent policies backed with appropriate funding and innovative business models are a must if we want to avoid this soon approaching global gridlock. Already there is a visible movement, especially in Europe, towards simplifying multimodal services allowing commuters to combine taxis, buses, cars, walking, and bicycling.
But, it is not just the affluent countries that are inculcating multimodality. The mobility revolution is for much of the world. Countries like China, Russia, Indonesia, India, etc. deal with overwhelming traffic congestions daily and are striving to leapfrog traditional transit paradigms by adopting new technologies in mobility. The future success of urban mobility will depend on how user-oriented it becomes without compromising on sustainability.