It’s no secret that peer-to-peer ridehailing businesses like Uber and Lyft have disrupted public transportation, and with it, urban mobility in general. App-based, on-demand transportation is now an expectation for urbanites in many cities, and the use of private ridehailing, bike and scooter sharing, and other services are reducing public transit utilization and with it, revenue and resources.
In an report on the state of public transportation, “Orchestrating a Mobility Ecosystem,” analysts at Accenture make a telling statement in the title of the report itself. It suggests a shift to orchestrating the services of public and private providers; and a shift from fragmented single-mode services like bus and rail to the ecosystem of mobility services that move people into, out of and around cities.
Mobility as a Service Model
Orchestrated multi-modal mobility calls to mind the vision of Mobility as a Service (MaaS)—a single mobile app that is used to book door-to-door trips using a variety of public and private mobility services. The goal is to coordinate multiple modes of transit to make journeys as efficient as possible. Currently, there are several versions of MaaS available in different parts of the world, with varying degrees of sophistication.
- In Denver, Uber users can view and book public transit rides through Uber’s app. The idea is that people might be more likely to take the bus when they can see the schedule and price. Critics say this gives Uber the advantage of determining what travelers see—how visible and attractively the options are positioned.
- In Helsinki, Finland, MaaS Global offers the Whim app that can be used to book door-to-door journeys using a variety of public and private mobility options, from scooters to trains to even planes. MaaS Global strives to create a level playing field for all of the participating mobility providers, giving users options based on budget and convenience. The company claims that public transit use has increased since the introduction of Whim.
- Iomob offers a white label MaaS platform that mobility providers can use to create their own multi-modal trip-planning applications, and to build their own ecosystems of partners. For example, the Spanish rail network Renfe plans to use the Iomob platform to partner with ridehailing company Cabify to facilitate first-mile/last-mile access to the rail system.
Coordinating multi-modal journeys solves a user convenience problem in booking door-to-door trips. Travelers don’t have to download and use multiple booking apps for each leg of the journey. Juggling schedules, prices, and options can quickly become unwieldy when using more than two modes of transit. But another layer of optimization is needed to make each leg of the journey efficient and predictable—fleet orchestration. After all, if a traveler books a ride to the train station, but the ride is late or gets stuck in traffic, the door-to-door journey fails at the first phase.
Fleet orchestration requires real-time access to vehicle locations, capacities, traffic, demand by other users and more to enable mobility providers and MaaS platforms to show actual pickup times, wait times, and trip times. Responsive routing enables drivers or autonomous vehicles to take the most efficient route. This kind of real-time visibility and decision-making is especially important when it comes to shared services like micro-transit where a ride request might be received mid-trip.
Fleet orchestration can also make it possible for different modes of transit to respond to one another. For example, if multiple fleets and modes are integrated at the back end, a vehicle can be instructed to wait for a train that is late, rather than drive off, empty, a slave to a predefined schedule. This kind of integration can give travelers and operators more certainty that trips will be successful.
The downside of peer-to-peer ridehailing services is increased congestion in cities. Unrestricted and uncoordinated, these businesses have flooded cities with vehicles that are empty most of the time, disrupting traffic as well as public transport. A multi-modal ecosystem with orchestrated fleets within it creates the opportunity for public and private mobility providers to work together to offer more seamless mobility experiences.
More than an App
Fully orchestrated mobility requires more than an app. It requires the carefully optimized performance of each mode and fleet. This also requires the backend integration of different modes’ schedules and real-time and historical demand analysis and constant updating as each fleet receives ride requests, matches travelers with vehicles and modes, and delivers an efficient, predictable service for operators and travelers. To make this work for the public good, government agencies will likely be in the driver seat, with the responsibility to make accessible transport available to all and to reduce congestion and pollution.
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By Raphael Gindrat, CEO / Cofounder, Bestmile
Raphaël Gindrat is the CEO and Co-Founder of Bestmile. Bestmile provides the first platform allowing for the intelligent operation and optimization of autonomous vehicle fleets, regardless of their brand or type, leveraging their full potential to tackle urban mobility challenges. Raphaël holds a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering with a specialization in Transportation from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Raphaël’s expertise comes from his early involvement in the world of autonomous mobility. He tested and operated some of the first prototypes of autonomous vehicles and was actively involved in the European project CityMobil2.