By Adam Cohen Mobility Futures Consultant and Transportation Researcher, Transportation Sustainability Research Centre, University of California, Berkeley

Mobility as we know it is in the middle of a major period of change — one that will drastically transform cities and deliver benefits for business and society.

In recent years, socio-economic forces ⎯ coupled with advancements in technology, social networking, location-based services, wireless services and cloud technologies ⎯ are contributing to the growth of shared and on-demand mobility. Increasing mobility consumers are turning to on-demand and app-based mobility services for an array of transportation choices. As a leader in transit communications, BAI Communications conducted global research to understand how a digitally connected public transport system can impact citizens lives and expectations around a city. The research revealed that digital connectivity is changing our ideas of what a city can be, what it must provide and what makes a city ‘world class’.

The established mobility ecosystem is on the verge of a major transformation that could result in the emergence of a new ecosystem of mobility underpinned by connectivity.

Trends impacting smart cities

There are four main trends that will impact the creation of smart cities. Key technological, mobility, social and demographic trends contributing to this transformation include:

Technological trends

  • The growth of cellular communications, location-based navigation services, and cloud-based information technologies.
  • An increasing ability to collect, aggregate, analyse, and share both public and private data.

Mobility trends

  • Increasing consumer interest in on-demand transportation services
  • Rising costs of vehicle ownership and roadway expansion.
  • Increasing congestion and commute times in many global cities.

Social trends

  • Increasing environmental awareness about vehicular emissions and carbon footprints.
  • An infusion of technology in developing countries.

Demographic trends

  • Demographic changes, such as rising life expectancies, people working longer, and Millennials entering the workforce.
  • The growth of global megaregions as population centres, economic generators, and transportation corridors.

Converging mobility innovations

These technological, mobility, social, and demographic changes are contributing to five converging mobility innovations:

Shared mobility

Shared mobility is an innovative transportation enabling users to gain short-term access to transportation modes on an ‘as-needed’ basis. The ecosystem of shared services continues to grow and includes an array of services, such as bikesharing, carsharing, courier network services, microtransit, on-demand ride services (e.g. Lyft, Uber and Didi), scooter sharing, shuttles, taxis and public transportation.

Digital information and fare payment integration

BAI’s Continuous Connectivity Report found that 94% of rail users believe that rail networks should offer digital connectivity. Digital connectivity can enhance traveller productivity and enhance decision-making with dynamic and real-time information throughout an entire journey. With a growing number of mobility innovations, there is demand for data-enabled technologies that aggregate modes, facilitate multimodal trip planning and integrate payment. A growing number of digital information and fare payment integration services are increasingly offering seamless information and payment connectivity among different transportation modes. These services can help bridge information gaps and make multimodal travel and public transit more convenient.

The commodification of transportation

Increasingly, consumers are assigning economic values to modes and engaging in multimodal decision-making processes based on a variety of factors such as cost, journey time, wait time, number of connections, convenience and other attributes. Rather than making decisions between modes, mobility consumers can make decisions among modes, in essence ‘modal chaining’ to optimise route, travel time and cost.

Automation

Automated vehicles that can sense the environment and moving with little or no input have the potential to improve safety and increase vehicle occupancy. Vehicle automation also has the potential to create new and exciting opportunities for public transportation such as cost savings, automated pick-up, drop-off and charging, and other economical and convenient demand-responsive services.

Electrification

Electric drive vehicles (EVs) that use one or more electric or traction motors for propulsion can reduce GHGs and other emissions, mitigating many of the transportation-related impacts associated with increased urbanisation in cities. Lower pollution and maintenance requirements are contributing to increased investment, improved performance (increased range and reduced charge times) and the growing popularity of EV technology.

Five converging innovations contributing to the mobility transformation

Figure 1. Five converging innovations contributing to the mobility transformation

Source: Cohen, 2019

Opportunities for public transportation and smart cities

Technology is changing the way we travel and reshaping cities and society. Studies have found that expanding the availability of technology-enabled tools can help households switch to ‘car-free’ and ‘car-lite’ households (Hallock and Inglis, 2015) (Corwin et al. 2015). Similarly, BAI’s study found that 81% of rail users believe advances in transportation technology are either changing the way they use public transportation or increasing its use. These studies suggest that as technology has evolved, it is enabling a new generational of connected travellers or ‘digital natives’ more attuned to real-time transportation information and increasingly demand constant data connectivity throughout their journey.

In the coming decade, these converging trends are likely to be the most transformative change to impact global cities and public transportation since the automobile. Vehicle automation will likely result in fundamental changes to cities by altering the built environment, costs, commute patterns and modal choice. Vehicle automation will also likely change the nature of longstanding modal relationships that have existed in transportation for years and presents several potential opportunities for smart cities and public transportation:

  • In the future, shared automated vehicles (SAVs) could provide first- and last- mile connections to public transportation, such as rail transit, to expand the catchment area of fixed-route service.
  • Reduced vehicle ownership due to SAVs could result in changes in parking needs, particularly in urban centres. The repurposing of urban parking has the potential to create new opportunities for infill development and increased densities. Infill development could also create higher densities to support additional public transit ridership and allow for the conversion of bus transit to rail transit in urban cores.
  • Automated transit vehicles have the opportunity to reduce the operating costs of public transportation. This saving could be passed onto riders in the form of increased service (more routes and reduced service headways) as well as lower fares. Increased service and lower fares could make public transit more competitive than other modes and result in increased ridership.

While the impacts of automation on regions and public transportation are far from certain, technology will continue to serve as a transportation ‘multi-modal multiplier’ for smart cities. Technology can dramatically improve the effectiveness of public transportation, allowing existing services to become automated. Additionally, transit operators could leverage innovative technologies, real-time data analytics, and algorithms in a variety of ways to improve the traveller experience, enhance operations, and predicatively forecast and respond to changes in transportation supply and demand.

Digitisation of public transportation with real-time analytics, mobile applications, sensors and satellite navigation can enhance the customer experience and allow travellers to be more informed, agile and mobile in their modal decisions. In doing so, transit providers have the potential to leverage data and predictive analytics to reduce public transit inefficiencies and pre-position assets to better meet rider demand, reduce wait times and increase ridership by targeting customer needs.

BAI’s study of rail users found that advances in transport-related digital technology are already increasing transport use, with 81% of users saying they are changing the way they use public transport. This is mostly (67%) because making information available in real time simplifies trip planning and booking (typically through a mobile app), with technology that improves safety (33%) also ranking strongly. Public transportation agencies can leverage high-quality, real-time information services to improve service reliability and manage traveller expectations throughout an entire journey.

What is clear is that public transportation, cities and society are on the cusp of changing rapidly and dramatically as advancements in mobility technology converge in the marketplace. The megatrends of population growth and urbanisation will contribute to a fundamental reimagining of urban transportation around the world. The convergence of digital information and fare payment; the commodification of transportation; vehicle automation and electrification; coupled with shared mobility will cause fundamental change and disruption to how people live, work and travel every day.

About Adam Cohen

Adam Cohen is a mobility futures consultant and transportation researcher at the Transportation Sustainability Research Centre at the University of California, Berkeley. Since joining the group in 2004, his research has focused on shared mobility, automated vehicles, urban air mobility, smartphone apps and emerging technologies. He has co-authored numerous articles and reports on shared mobility in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. His academic background is in city and regional planning and international affairs.