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How design can pave the road towards a new personal mobility

Smart Design’s Jasper Dekker plots a route to mobility as a service (MaaS).


City transport systems are failing. As cities grow, mobility needs within them are being under-served. There are two key behavioural drivers behind this.


Firstly, work is changing. Long gone is the 9-to-5 day when people would commute in and out of one part of a city. However, because transport systems are designed around this way of working, there are ’mobility voids’ for certain areas within a city – particularly the suburbs – which could quite easily be a working destination.


Many people find they are forced in and out of a city to get somewhere, which is inefficient. The result is a greater level of car ownership to fill this void.


Many people find they are forced in and out of a city to get somewhere, which is inefficient. The result is a greater level of car ownership to fill this void.


The second reason is that people expect mobility to be ‘on-demand’ as everything else in their lives increasingly is. The rise of ride-hailing services has shown how convenient on-demand can be – and these services are now more affordable than ever too.


There is growing concern that the increased usage of these services is resulting in more cars being on the road.


These factors, in combination, have led to more cars with fewer people inside them in areas which can’t, and shouldn’t, support so many vehicles. In a time when we are trying to encourage people to drive less, people are holding onto their cars, and even considering owning more than one.


So, how might we take this on-demand behaviour and scale it to something sustainable and usable for everyone?


Old but not obsolete


The answer may lie with the very system that is failing: public transport. When (road) space comes at a premium, and with dedicated infrastructure reaching deep inside city centres, the affordability and time-saving potential of public transport becomes clear.


However, with Smart Design studios in London and New York, we use some of the oldest and most heavily used public transport systems in the world on a daily basis and we see first-hand that they’re showing their age.


Technology is, now more than ever, a key factor in future-proofing cities’ infrastructure to maintain desirable qualities to attract talent and business.


We need to re-think how public transport systems are used and how they can be supported with modern technology. A solution lies in the integration of existing and new modes of transport: multi-modal transport. Smart use of technology can offer a personalised service that is tailored to our individual needs.


With public transportation as the backbone we can fill in the gaps using new modes of transport such as autonomous taxis, shared bicycles or a shuttle-like bus service.


With public transportation as the backbone we can fill in the gaps using new modes of transport such as autonomous taxis, shared bicycles or a shuttle-like bus service.


Ultimately, this could be one mobile experience that plans your journey, guides you and then tracks you to make sure you’re still on an optimal path, while taking care of payment and any customer service needs – all mobility needs brought together on a single platform.


In order for mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) to work well for everyone, there are three main enablers that must be in place.


Open data


Aggregated timetables, availability, status, and routes to link existing and new modes of transport would allow planning a journey in a smart and connected way, while balancing out the use of data to drive revenue for privately owned companies.


We already see Uber sharing its valuable curb data on pick-up and drop-off points, Waze sharing its crowd-sourced data with local governments in return for a heads-up when road-work is planned, and Citymapper integrating ‘floating transport’ into its app.


Data – especially real-time data – is not only essential to connect modes of transport from both the public and private sector; it can also make ETAs (estimated time of arrival) radically more predictable, thereby closing gaps in people’s journeys.


As a result, people spend less time in transit and have more peace of mind. In the era of ride-hailing apps that allow riders to follow their ride on a map on their phones in real-time, the same is expected from a bus or train.


Open payment


Multi-modal transport inherently uses a variety of new and existing services which are run by both private and public sectors. For everyone’s benefit, a single and integrated payment method will drive successful adoption of MaaS services.


Public transport systems often suffer from legacy back-end infrastructure but this gap can be filled with the emergence of modern payment layers such as Cubic or Masabi.


The addition of modernised payment layers can turn out to be a great investment for cities, as demonstrated by Transport for London (TfL).


The addition of modernised payment layers can turn out to be a great investment for cities, as demonstrated by Transport for London (TfL). When the Oyster card was introduced in 2003, it was one of the first to connect multiple modes of transport through one contactless payment system.


Not only was the Oyster Card widely adopted (used for 80% of the journeys in London by 2012), it also proved to be future-proof as today it supports contactless bank cards and mobile payments such as Apple Pay, rendering the need for an extra physical card in your wallet just for public transport obsolete.


Additionally, connecting the CRM (customer relationship management) systems for each mode of transport will drive adoption further.


Open guidance


People are creatures of habit, often taking the same route to work because it’s easy and familiar. Researching a new route (even if it is faster or more pleasant) usually doesn’t happen. Therefore, encouraging people off the beaten track requires guidance. This means having a clear overview of every (on-demand) journey on a mobile device which can travel with people to understand where they are in their journey.


In return, the data people generate enables personalised planning that can ultimately pre-empt journeys as an evolution of the current on-demand behaviour.


With these three enablers in place, personalisation algorithms have all the ingredients needed to surface journeys for every individual, while keeping an eye on the bigger picture of the city and the millions that live in it. As a result, the distribution of travellers can be optimised to alleviate stress on the city.


Perhaps the route and modalities suggested are not the ones someone would usually use but they would be the best option at that time. Trust would be built through usage.


There are already examples of this happening, such as Whim, a service in the City of Helsinki which connects all the public transport in one place and is hailed as the ‘Netflix of mobility’.


Sustainable and usable for everyone


The main benefit of this approach for a city is the efficiency of people movement, which in turn increases productivity. Cities that offer easy access to on-demand mobility with integrated payment and tracking are also moving towards a more future-proof city.


Such a service would be flexible and scalable so if the city grows, this foundation can be built upon. There will also be less congestion, less pollution, and a generally more liveable city.


For people, the ability to have direct access to mobility services will no longer mean living close to a train or subway station. In turn, this will create a more equal spread in the cost of housing. Overall, people will have less reliance on cars and there will be a decrease in car ownership.


When the voids in mobility are closed, people will have a better way of getting around and the transport system will be more accessible and inclusive.


Design as the sand between the bricks


User-centred design is key to success. Building on a deep understanding of people will lead to experiences that are inclusive, safe and relevant by merging existing and new modalities and technologies.


Local governments are the guardians of inclusivity and safety for their citizens. Also, they ‘own’ the city, are closely connected to the existing public transport infrastructure and operation, and act as legislators.


However, budget cuts often mean no, or very slow innovation and progress. Well-funded private tech companies happily jump in to fill this gap. In true start-up fashion, they tend to break rules to see how fast mobility can be pushed forward. The battle to be first-to-market and ever-growing user bases sometimes leads to these companies not playing nice with local governments, or neglecting inclusivity, accessibility or safety.


User-centred design can act as the bridge between tech companies and local governments as it excels at something of mutual interest: surfacing and answering people’s needs.


For tech companies, this drives adoption and usage and for local governments, it helps them fill the gaps and connect to existing mobility services. When the two work together, mobility services and experiences will work in existing cities from a business standpoint as well as answering people’s needs.


To truly innovate in the mobility space, the public and private sector need each other and there are examples of this happening, such as Copenhagen Solutions Lab’s City Data Exchange (CDE) which is a data marketplace between public and private organisations.


Through working together, a balance can be achieved between the interests of local governments, new disruptive tech companies and, above all, people.


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