by Alexa Rees-Jones, Principal Change Designer, Forum for the Future
The technology exists to revolutionise the intermodal travel experience. So what’s holding up progress, asks Alexa Rees-Jones.
The transport industry is a curious thing. Right now, we’re seeing some major technological breakthroughs throughout the sector, from the introduction of internet-connected cars to advances in super-efficient, fast-charge electric vehicle batteries and the proliferation of travel data on our smartphones. Some sector commentators say the dawn of the autonomous vehicle age is nearly upon us.
But while some of the world’s best engineers work on improving individual modes of transport, less thought is being dedicated to how we use them collectively – and users are missing out as a result.
A missed opportunity
To illustrate this point, take a look at the transport systems of even the most advanced cities in the world today. You will see how users generally have to use a card to access public transport, a paper ticket for rail journeys, and an app on their phone to call for a taxi or access car-sharing through a car club. There is no interconnectedness between the services, meaning that in the mind of the user they remain distinct and separate. This reflects a wasted opportunity, not just for the user, but in terms of addressing congestion, air quality, and greenhouse gas emissions by getting people to travel differently where they currently aren’t interested or incentivised to do so.
Wouldn’t it be so much better if all of these different transport and booking elements could be brought together into the palms of our hands, allowing users to search for journey information, select a route that seamlessly combines the best modes of transport for each stage, and then pay for – and redeem – the entire journey all from our phones?
Enter mobility as a service
The good news is that most of the underpinning technology already exists, and pilot studies have shown people are warmly welcoming services that make it easier for them to access the places and people they want to reach. However, until now very few of these so-called “mobility as a service” (MaaS) options take a multi-modal approach, which is what’s required to achieve this interconnection of the different types of transport.
Recently, I’ve been involved in developing one such solution. Trav.ly aims to offer users an interconnection between bus, rail, taxi, car clubs and park and ride schemes, as well as “active” modes, such as walking and cycling. The mobile phone app will provide everything the user needs in terms of travel information and planning, as well as all of the payment, ticketing and redemption facilities needed to create true interconnectedness in one place. Other types of MaaS include moovel and MaaS Global, as well as Citymapper, which many London readers will be familiar with.
What’s holding us back?
So if we’ve established that technology isn’t a barrier, what’s stopping this vision becoming the new normal?
Firstly, because of the transport industry’s focus on infrastructure development and reliance on its core business model of getting more “bums on seats”, it has an inherent interest in keeping the industry divided by mode and operating company. This means industry incumbents are more concerned about getting existing customers onto existing services, rather than thinking about the massive opportunity that is right in front of them to evolve their business to more intuitively meet the needs of potential new customers. By doing so they would draw in underrepresented groups such as commuters, millennials and Generation Z, and gain invaluable data from these users that, if leveraged correctly, could better inform business decisions and streamline operating costs.
In addition to the non-progressive sector incumbents, the highly regulated nature of the industry and lack of collaborative culture means that procurement policies are hindering public-private partnership – especially in the UK – and stifling innovation.
So, how do we turn the potential into a reality?
The points above are certainly proving to be significant barriers to progress, but they are not unsurmountable. There are a number of ways to fuel the growing demand by citizens for the interconnectedness offered through multi-modal MaaS.
As individuals, we can choose to travel more flexibly – and encourage those around us to do so – by doing things like opting to use the local park and ride rather than driving into city centres, walking or cycling to get to public transport services, and joining a car club rather buying another vehicle.
As businesses, we can encourage innovation in our own companies, offering employees options like car club access rather than supplying them with a company car, or incentivising more public transportation use for business travel.
And finally, we need to lobby our local and transport authorities and political representatives, opening their eyes to the benefits of MaaS and demanding they help pave the way for the new era of intermodal transport that awaits us. By being advocates for the transport services we want to see, we stand much more hope of MaaS breaking out of the starting blocks. Our lungs and our climate will thank us for it.
To find out more about Forum for the Future’s work on Trav.ly, click here.