The Future of Livable Cities: Shared, Coordinated Multi-Modal Services

Aug. 15, 2018
The American Public Transportation Association’s quarterly Ridership Report shows continuing declines in the use of most forms of public transportation (2.9 percent overall in 2017) in just about every metropolitan region.

The American Public Transportation Association’s quarterly Ridership Report shows continuing declines in the use of most forms of public transportation (2.9 percent overall in 2017) in just about every metropolitan region. Meanwhile, the title of a report on New York City’s traffic, “Empty Seats, Full Streets,” tells the story of the impacts of new services on traffic. The Empty Seats study found that in Manhattan’s Central Business District (CBD) the number of trips in transportation network company (TNC) vehicles, the industry name for ridehailing businesses, rose 15 percent from 2013 to 2017. During that same period the number of vehicles on the streets increased by 59 percent, and the number of unoccupied vehicles rose by 81 percent. The takeaway: “Large increases in the number of taxi/TNC vehicles in the CBD are an important source of slow traffic conditions in the Manhattan CBD.” There have been similar findings in Boston, San Francisco and other regions.

The First-Mile/Last-Mile Challenge

Ridehailing has made safe, affordable transit available to people who can’t drive — from teenagers to the elderly, and have enabled people to enjoy bars and restaurants and get home responsibly. But these services alone, unmanaged and uncoordinated, do not reduce congestion, especially at peak traffic times.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Ridehailing and other new mobility services such as autonomous buses, could help solve the “first-mile/last-mile” challenge of getting people to and from public transportation hubs. Instead of adding more vehicles to crowded streets and pulling riders off of public transit, new services can extend public transit to from homes to offices and back, boosting ridership and revenue.

Multi-Modal Coordination Needed

What’s really needed to reduce congestion and boost transit utilization is better coordination of all transit modes. Getting the right number of vehicles, autonomous or traditional, to the right places at the right times, matching supply and demand, synchronizing shared first-mile/last-mile modes with bus, rail, and ferry schedules, will do a great deal to make public transit more attractive and efficient. If one can step off of a train and into a vehicle that will get them directly to a home or office, the benefits are pretty clear — full vehicles, emptier streets, happy travelers.

For example, in Salt Lake City, the Utah Transit Authority is proposing a public-private partnership with TNCs to use on-demand ridehailing to connect riders with public transit at commute hours. "Access to some type of on-demand service that gets people from their front doors to transit and from transit, home could really help open up these neighborhoods," Julianne Sabula, Salt Lake City's transit program manager told the Utah Desert News. In other communities, Some TNCs are planning to integrate ridehailing apps with public transit schedules, for example.

Getting Cars Off the Streets

In addition to being well-coordinated, first-mile/last-mile services will need to be shared in order to reduce the number of cars on the road. A study by the University of Texas modeled Austin's population density and simulated an average weekday of travel within a 10-by-10-mile zone of the city. It was assumed that five percent of all trips would made by shared services. The study found that each shared vehicle in the Austin model replaced about 11 private autos. The roughly 20,000 people who made up this shared network required just 1,700 shared vehicles. Travelers waited an average of only 20 seconds for their rides to arrive.

In Finland, the Whim app by MaaS Global allows users to plan trips using multiple modes of travel — ride sharing, bus, rail, and bike with a single app. Users enter their locations and destinations, and can view different options with different levels of efficiency, privacy, and cost. Since introducing the app, Helsinki has seen a whopping 50 percent reduction in private auto utilization, and an envy-inducing 25 percent increase in the use of public transportation.

Finland has seen these results without necessarily coordinating services. The Whim app enables planning and ticketing. Imagine if each mode of transit was actually integrated and coordinated with one another and that it was possible to monitor traffic, demand, vehicle locations, public transit schedules and shared vehicle availability in real time. Travelers would be able to select the best mobility option with the same kind of single-app purchase.

Air Traffic Control for Cities

The shared, coordinated public-private mobility of the future can only happen if there is are realistic first-mile/last-mile transit options available, and these services are coordinated such that multiple types of vehicles, drivers and transit systems can communicate, sharing schedules and constantly monitoring and optimizing supply and demand in real time. Think air traffic control for cities. Airports coordinate services from multiple providers with multiple vehicle shapes and sizes, guiding them into and out of the air with seamless coordination by using a centralized system that the vehicles and pilots “plug” into. Such a system could make urban journeys from home to office and back much more efficient and convenient.

This is the real promise of new mobility services — where travelers can, with the tap of a finger, summon a shared, traffic-free ride using the most convenient combination of modes of transit available. Behind the scenes, shared data is crunched to match travelers with vehicles. If each shared vehicle can replace 11 empty ones, the multi-modal future will be a bright one.

Michael Cottle has more than 25 years of working with public and private transit organizations. Currently he is the vice president of sales and customer service at Bestmile, maker of a mobility services platform for autonomous and human-driven vehicles and services.

About the Author

Michael Cottle | VP of Sales and Customer Success

Michael Cottle leads the teams responsible for all sales and support activities with Bestmile’s worldwide customers. With more than 25 years of experience leading software and SAAS organizations, Cottle has a proven history of building highly successful teams and delivering successful transportation services to customers. Most recently, he served as vice president of sales and customer success at Ridecell, where he was responsible for building Ridecell's worldwide customer base. Prior to Ridecell, Cottle was vice president of Worldwide Sales at deCarta Inc., which was acquired by Uber. Cottle earned a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Dallas.