The future of mobility: Multimodal travel will be the new standard
Innovation Director at INFO and visiting professor TU Delft
Read more by Iskander Smit
Multimodal travel – using multiple modes of transportation for one trip – becomes increasingly common. You choose the means of transportation that suits the moment and let it depend on your departure location and destination, but also on the goal of your trip, who you are traveling with, the weather, etc. As an NS-Business cardholder (corporate subscription for the Dutch Railways) I already have access to this type of flexibility. Whenever possible, I travel by train, so that I can keep working during my travels and, depending on the destination and the weather, take an OV bike (a bike that you can rent with your public transportation card), other public transportation, or a Greenwheels car to reach my final destination. In addition, I have a Car2Go subscription, I own a bike and a (classic) car, and occasionally use Uber. This is how I meet my own transportation needs in the city.
I doubt that I am an average traveler, but multimodal travel already is a possibility. By being able to check in with your card, the threshold of buying actual, physical tickets is lost. This also holds true for initiatives like Car2Go or Uber where there’s a time-lapse between using the car and paying for it.
Internet of Things (IoT)
That technology strongly impacts mobility is hardly a shocking statement. Mobility for a big part consists of technology and has always been an indicator of change. Smart services that are made possible by the IoT are often inspired by mobility issues. Take the car sharing systems that are already available, for instance. A Greenwheels car can be opened by any registered user thanks to the connection the car has to the Internet. For Car2Go, this connectivity is even more important, because of the so-called “dockless” concept: the cars are no longer tethered to a fixed location, which means the location must be monitored online. The same goes for the “shared bicycles” that were introduced in the Netherland in 2017.
Of course, the next iteration is the self-driving car. Slowly, but surely we will become more accustomed to multiple safety services assisting the driver. For now, it’s just the basics, like parking sensors and lane departure warnings – pretty passive systems. Premium cars are already going a step further however and can drive on the highway by themselves. Technically a lot is possible already, but the legislation is still lacking a little. Still, many trials are in the pipeline. The speed with which these developments follow each other seems to slow down, but it’s just a matter of a couple of things coming together in terms of technology and regulations before the process will really speed up.
The mobility landscape
Multimodal travel and the fact that people value possession less than use are the two main ingredients for the change in mobility. But what will that actually look like? To get a good sense of the mobility landscape, it’s a good idea to list all players within the field:
- We all use the same infrastructure, whether it consists of roads or railways.
- Then, there are the means of transportation, the mobility pods. These can be used by one person (bicycle), several people for private use (car, taxi), and several people for shared use (bus, train, etc.).
- Service providers provide access to different means of transportation. Right now, this mostly happens through a direct link to the transportation device. Consider the lease company for your car, for example, Car2Go for dockless car rentals, Swapfiets for your lease bike, etc. The Dutch Railways already offers a mix by combining the train, with an OV bike and – if you own an NS-Business Card – a shared car.
- As long as not everything is self-driving yet, the driver still plays an important role. The driver can be you, but it can also be the Uber driver or the guy operating your train or subway.
- Finally, it’s the user that takes on different roles depending on the goal: commuters in a shared transportation environment, privately in a solo pod, or in the role of moderator during a meeting in a self-driving car.
The service is determined by the experience
Another way of looking at mobility is by analyzing the different experience levels. These become more important when we take the above-mentioned stakeholders from the mobility landscape, separate them and connect them in new and different ways. Much like how you experience the difference between first and second class, there could also be a difference in the number of people you want to share a pod with or the response time that you expect from a service. All variables can be made into new services. Just like you do now with your Ziggo Internet subscription, it might become possible to lease a private car that you will sometimes have to share with people you know or people that you are matched up with through an online profile. This is already happening at Snappcar: you can lease a Fiat 500, but you have to make it available through Snappcar a couple of times per month.
Parties like Uber and Snappcar assume that with the increased flexibility of infrastructures and mobility pods, they will be able to compete on service and trust between provider and user.
Another interesting example is Volkswagen. We view this company as a manufacturer and seller of cars. That means that it’s focused on possession. Of course, for a big part of the company, this isn’t the case anymore, since a large part of Volkswagen’s fleet is supplied via lease constructions. Often, a third party is involved in this, but you can also directly lease a car from Volkswagen.
Besides, Volkswagen owns Greenwheels (together with Pon) and with that actually provides a car sharing service. The user is largely unaware of this because they have a contract with Greenwheels. However, it’s not unthinkable that in the future you can purchase a subscription to a mobility guarantee from Volkswagen and that there are multiple ways of filling that subscription. Luxury-level diversification then becomes an option. If you would prefer not to share your car with more than ten people, choose a premium service that uses the same platform, but uses different cars. Volkswagen could easily further develop such mobility services with the Ubers and Snappcars of this world. I talk about the 8 trends that drive the future of mobility in my previous blog.
Mobility as a Service
The bottom line is that the world of mobility is going to change dramatically due to the separation of services and physical objects, and the fact that they can be purchased flexibly, whether or not in combination with different levels of use. Here lies a major task for designers to develop concepts that fit the needs of users and that provide cost-effective constructions for the various platforms. The makers of the platforms will develop increasingly generic systems that can also connect the various solutions to each other more easily.
Last December, a question from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment already hinted at this. Under the name Mobility as a Service, multiple parties were asked how to facilitate such services. I don’t believe that a large umbrella system is a solution, but I do think that different systems that work optimally with each other and with which you can develop highly targeted services across the different layers are.
It is interesting to see what role cities will play in this. Will they only become the supplier of the physical space or will the data layer that arises from all transport movements also form part of it?
The process starts now and will – if the different infrastructural and physical components start to move autonomously – change even more in the future. For example, parking will be separate from the destination and may very well disappear completely if pods are driving around continuously. Pods can also become more atomic: be much smaller. The pros that trains and buses now offer disappear when the pods are able to follow each other very closely.
The most important questions that will then arise are who will develop the infrastructure, who will be responsible for the operation, and under which conditions this will occur. Besides, for a long time to come, there will still be a mix of owned transportation, self-driving, and assist systems.
The completely flexible “final” situation creates possibilities to develop context-driven concepts that will be put together based on the (literal) customer journey of the mobility consumer of the future. This way, the customer can remain king, but also travel in style.
This article was previously published in Dutch on Emerce.
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