Shaping the Future of Urban Mobility

Harshit Singhal and Pooja Joshi

04 Jan 2020

As I day-dream about why Tesla hasn’t yet built an electric helicopter which would help with my daily commute to work; I can’t help but wonder, how many other people have this same thought!

 

Like any other major urban city around the world, Bengaluru’s transit system has reached its tipping point. The rapidly increasing urban population has brought with it increased pressure on the city’s existing infrastructure. Despite technological advancements that have increased efficiency in most parts of our lives, the time spent in traffic has only increased. 

 

So, What is the Future of Urban Mobility? 

 

With a limited number of non-renewable resources, one future scenario for the mobility sector would be one of the shared economies. There will be a higher integration of vehicles and roads, leading to higher utilization of assets. In the coming decades, business-as-usual in the transit sector will just not cut it. Governments and industries need to work together to come up with innovative policies and pricing strategies. Moreover, apart from improvements in efficiency and convenience, sustainability also has to be at the core of new developmental strategies, to have harmonious mobility in urban cities. To overcome the heavy congestion faced by the urban city dwellers, mobility will move towards a multi-modal transport system, which would integrate different transportation services, such as walking, cars, buses, bikes, trains, and shared rides. 

 

Can Urban Mobility be Revolutionized? 

 

Micro-mobility was conceptualized with this intent. It refers to vehicles that can carry one or two passengers. Commuters could use these vehicles for short distances to get to their nearest preferred mode of public transport, therefore, solving the first-mile last-mile (FMLM) problem. From there, share their journey with other commuters who have the same destination. Over the last few years, many micro-mobility start-ups have emerged largely in China (Ofo and Mobike), US (Lime and Bird), and India (Rapido and Yulu). They have two business models: self-serve scooters or scooter rentals and bike taxis. 

 

Will Technology Shape Urban Mobility?

 

Can technology eliminate our transportation woes, all-together? 

Urban planners and policy-makers have a tough task at hand. How can the decrease in the number of vehicles on the road be incentivized to implement safe and out-of-the-box solutions? Many organizations are now encouraging their employees to work-from-home and have meetings virtually, where possible. 

Apart from expanding their existing public transport systems, cities are also looking to digitize them. For example, in Helsinki, under the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) Action Plan, residents will be able to book and pay with one click for any trip by bus, train, taxi, bicycle, and/or car sharing, through one seamless app. This mobility-on-demand model aims to make personal cars redundant by 2025.

 

Mobility hinges on the supply and demand of vehicles. In many urban cities, demand has been optimized through tools like congestion pricing, dedicated lanes for shared vehicles, off-peak deliveries, etc. On the other hand, optimizing supply would mean increasing or upgrading the existing infrastructure, but in densely populated and developed cities, this could be a major challenge. 

 

Changing Attitudes

 

Although many cities around the world are investing in their existing public transit networks to improve mobility; the real challenge remains to change people’s perception of mobility. Apart from the convenience of commuting, owning a vehicle (or multiple) is seen as a status symbol in many parts of the world. However, with the rapidly expanding urban population comes with the challenges of pollution control and traffic congestion. Experiencing the daily struggle of both these factors should make people more inclined towards making conscious choices that would benefit both the community, as well as, the environment in the long run. On the bright side, in the US, vehicle ownership rates are decreasing. On the other hand, many cities have adopted permanent pedestrian and cycling zones in the heart of the city, in the hope to eliminate vehicular traffic all-together. In Milan, commuters are given free public transit vouchers to ensure they do not take their car to work. To ensure that no one cheats, an internet-connected box on the dashboard keeps track of the car’s location.

 

Towards Transit-Oriented Development

 

The future of urban mobility leaves us with more questions than answers. However, the onus of the future of urban mobility can not be placed on only the residents of a particular city, or the private or public sectors, alone. All have to work together to move towards a more integrated and seamless mobility future for urban cities. Urban planners and policymakers in emerging cities still have some leeway to make a city transit-oriented. In older cities, high-density, mixed-use development in urban areas with easy access to mass transit is the goal.


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