The hi-tech route
to city travel

By 2030, almost 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, according to consultants McKinsey; providing the transport they need will depend on technological breakthroughs, writes Ben Webb

Home life The hi-tech route
to city travel
The hi-tech route
to city travel

The picturesque seaside town of Cascais in Portugal is home to 210,000 people, but every summer it welcomes some 1.2 million visitors. Despite the invasion, the streets are bizarrely quiet and relaxed. No traffic jams, no blaring horns; just lots of happy locals and tourists making their way around.

The hi-tech route to city travel

It seems that Cascais is not only a good place to visit if you are a tourist; it is also an excellent research destination for the world’s urban transport planners because its travel management success is no accident. It is down to an integrated mobility platform (IMP) – MobiCascais – that connects all the publicly-available transport options into one cheap and effective system. 

Download the MobiCascais app and you can find out the best way to get somewhere and book with a click. On offer are car sharing and smart parking, taxis and on-demand cabs, car pooling and electric vehicle charging, bike sharing and bike parking, bus shuttles and, for those who fancy catching a wave, the local surf bus to Guincho. 

The MobiCascais system cleverly combines the two key elements of a smart mobility ecosystem: the area's transport systems and infrastructure, and the various digital systems that connect them all. However, organising a seaside town to deal with seasonal fluctuations in numbers is one thing; shaping the growing smart cities of the future as populations expand is quite another. 

Integrated mobility platforms
Urban transport planners have a lot to think about when developing an IMP. In addition to the public companies and manufacturers providing transport, any successful system will need to include connectivity and mobile application providers, platform technology providers, mobile ticketing, traffic-flow monitoring and payment engines. 

“By integrating different modes of transport, IMPs drastically simplify route planning, making travelling more efficient while providing a customised offer based on selected preferences,” explains Ralf Baron, global practice head travel and transportation at consultants Arthur D Little, and co-author of the report Integrated Mobility Platforms. “And as IMPs also feed data back into smart-mobility back-end applications, which supports future infrastructure development, they will increasingly become the nucleus of modern mobility ecosystems.”

Integrated mobility is more than a mere theory. Cascais is just one example, albeit a very successful one. Singapore has an Intelligent Transport System that is complemented by an extensive public transport system and incorporates electronic road pricing, congestion charges and traffic monitoring via highway sensors and taxi GPS applications that provide updated travel information.

In Helsinki, residents already use a mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) app called Whim to plan and pay for multiple types of public and private transport, including train, taxi, bus, car share and bike share. Tap in a destination and the most efficient journey is selected using one or more modes of transport. Users can pre-pay as part of a monthly subscription or pay as they go using an account linked to the service.

Public and private sector join hands 
With urban populations rising so fast, the need for smart transport options is clear. For more than a century, urban planners have relied on tried and tested public transport, which remains vital for moving large numbers of people around quickly while reducing traffic congestion and pollution. Today, however, it is increasingly likely that they will also work with the private sector, which is driving rapid technological change. Shared mobility, autonomous driving, connectivity and the electrification of vehicles are all trends that will reinforce each other and have a growing influence on the way we move around our cities.

Public and private sector partnerships are a logical outcome, according to the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment and the Coalition for Urban Transitions. They looked at the impact of three privately-run mobility services – on-demand electric minibuses, subsidised ride sharing and trip planning – in London, San Francisco and Mexico City, and concluded these would make public transport more affordable, accessible and sustainable. 

Partnering with the developers of dynamic trip-planning and ticketing apps, according to Shannon Bouton, chief operating officer at the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, would allow cities to offer passengers an integrated platform for planning and paying for journeys, facilitating multi-modal travel and boosting the use of public transport. 

New mobility options
The concept of public-private partnerships is all very well, but the world of tomorrow’s urban transport promises to be seriously competitive. A city may launch its own IMP that weaves together the trusty subway, overground trains, bus routes and more, but ambitious private companies will still want to fight for as large a slice of the transport pie as possible.

Companies such as Uber, for example. It started as a cab-like company, but is diversifying rapidly to offer ride sharing (Uber Pool), delivery (Uber Eats), truck sharing (Uber Freight) and e-bike sharing (Jump). In partnership with peer-to-peer car-sharing start-up Getaround, Uber Rent allows users to rent a vehicle through the Uber app. 

For a system to work efficiently, payment has to be simple and integrated across services. That's why Uber cut a deal with Masabi, a company that provides mobile payment options for public transit systems in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and other cities around the world. Riders will be able to buy and use tickets using, you guessed it, Uber’s app. Uber, in other words, is developing its own version of an IMP. 

It seems today’s urban transport planners have a tough job and will certainly earn their holidays. In Cascais, perhaps?

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