Multi-Modal Services Make Stronger Mobility Ecosystems

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Expert Interviews, Shared Mobility


People have different mobility needs, which is why it is important to have different mobility options available in cities. Operators and mobility players who have experience with multi-modal services share their insights on what makes mixed modes work, the challenges and opportunities, and what the next steps should be to get more mobility services into cities.

multi modal mobility

By definition, a multi-modal trip uses a combination of different modes from start to end. It is great for cities because it can encourage trips outside of a private vehicle without having to make major infrastructure changes. For consumers, being multi-modal means understanding different vehicle options are better suited for different trip needs. Shared mobility is able to provide these different options to supplement public transit, but in order for people to actually want to make multi-modal trips, it takes more than just making these services available.

At CoMotion Miami, we convened a panel of well-known players in the mobility space to tackle the topic of multi-modality and what this means for mobility ecosystems in their respective markets. We were joined by:

The overall theme of the discussion was to better understand why it’s important to have different transportation options available, whether that be vehicle type (ex: car, moped, bike, scooter) or sharing business model (shared or subscription service). We also wanted to dive into the challenges and opportunities that operators and cities have in this space to make multi-modal trips more of a reality.

Why it’s important to have multi-modal options

Most likely when someone goes about deciding how to get from A to B, time and mood plays a role in what mode you end up choosing, says Melika from Hyundai. If you want to take a carshare to go furniture shopping but the closest one is the next subway stop away, you may consider taking transit or a scooter to get to the car, or end up opting to take a ride hail instead. Tai from Evo Car Share adds that people are naturally transportation optimizers. They will figure out what mode they need and change between modes as needed, depending on its availability and the time of day. For Tai, he sees operators being responsible for building transportation options that make it more convenient for not just users to make the trip, but to have the option to make the most convenient choice for them.

This is why it’s important for operators to be malleable to what people need, according to Ashley from Lime. She says that operators need to meet people where they are instead of telling people how they should move. Anne from Revel adds that this is why it’s important to provide more modes that not just fit into the existing infrastructure, but also provide it in a way that makes sense for the users. For example, when Revel wanted to add e-bikes to their fleet, they chose to offer them through e-bike subscriptions instead of e-bike sharing, because they found that consumers had found it hard to find shared e-bikes from existing providers. By offering e-bikes as a subscription model, users can have access to the e-bike whenever they need it, without committing to owning one.

How to enable multi-modal trips

There are many examples of operators today that already provide multi-modal trip options. Revel does this by providing shared mopeds, an e-bike subscription service, and a ride hail service as well. Lime also does this by providing a mixed fleet of kick scooters, mopeds, and bikes, and had even dabbled with carsharing at one point too. However, this isn’t the only way for multi-modality to play out.

For Lime, multi-modality plays a central role in the company, because they found that people want one app with access to different modes to plan a trip. Through partnerships with other mobility operators such as Uber and Wheels, Lime users can tap into other vehicles as well. For example, if a Lime user wants a sit-down scooter instead of a standing scooter, they can use one of Wheels’ vehicles. If a user wants to hail a ride, they can get one via Lime’s app as well. Similarly, Hyundai supports multi-modality through building strong partnerships. They don’t see the need for one operator to be the master of all modes, but rather focus on finding those who are providing a certain mode well, and supporting them while ensuring Hyundai’s mandates toward electrification are furthered as well.

Partnerships can also play out between operators, such as Evo Car Share’s mobility-as-a-service project with the local bike share and public transit agency. By building trust and establishing a way for users of all the services to access these complementary mobility options, they were able to support mode shift during commutes. Specifically, 60% of the participants opted for a shared mode instead of a private vehicle, half experimented with a new mode, and 25% used multiple modes within one trip. The key to building out this impact further is by providing seamless mobility options.

Supporting diverse ridership with diverse modes

This has been said many times – there is not a one-size-fits-all mode for mobility. In addition, there is also not just “one” rider, as Ashley from Lime points out. Instead, riders represent different mobility needs and as a result, will need different forms of mobility options. Geographically, underserved areas are often further away from dense urban centres. This means that kick scooters may not provide the comfort needed for longer-distance rides. Instead, this is where bikes and e-bikes fit in.

Similarly, women have different mobility preferences than men. In New York City, the pandemic brought a record number of people, especially women, onto bikes. By providing an e-bike subscription service, Revel was able to unlock new mobility opportunities for a different group of users. While Evo focuses on just offering cars to their members, they equip all the cars with bike racks to enable people to bridge together carsharing and biking easily and without any additional hassle.

Reliability and availability reduces friction for riders

At INVERS, we believe that reliability is the key to providing a seamless experience for shared mobility consumers. A strong foundation to build up reliability includes making sure that the vehicle always stays connected. There’s nothing worse than a user reserving a vehicle, only to find out that the vehicle is not in the specified location, or they are not able to access it via the app. Another example of a rental gone wrong, due to reliability or connectivity issues is when at the end of the rental, the vehicle needs to send a signal to the backend so the user’s trip can stop being billed. But if there is no connectivity, then the user is inconvenienced with trying to figure out how to end the trip.

Reliability also goes hand-in-hand with availability, according to Ashley from Lime, this starts with making sure there’s enough vehicles throughout the operating area. However, this becomes a challenge when cities cap the number of vehicles that are allowed to be on the streets. It’s not feasible to reach all corners of the city while having to work within a limited number of available permits. Similarly, how far someone is willing to walk to a shared vehicle influences the number of vehicles that should be on the road. Ashley says that for Lime, it’s about 3-5 minutes per micromobility vehicle. Tai says that for Evo, it’s about 10 minutes for a car.

In order to reduce unnecessary friction for consumers, Anne from Revel highlights some policy levers that cities can implement to make it easier to bridge together first mile-last mile connections so there is always a mode available for consumers. This can include integrated trip planning, minimum parking requirements, and incentivizing co-location of shared electric fleets.

Legislating for longevity

Ashley from Lime describes the need for cities to look beyond permits and parking rules as “legislating for longevity.” While operators are responsible for helping cities realize the necessary infrastructure and support to build-up a long-lasting mobility service, cities themselves need to take action to implement change. At the same time, city-enforced micromobility regulations tend to change every year, making it difficult for operators to learn from experience and allow the industry to grow, and this should be made more stable and predictive.

Melika from Hyundai adds that operators can help cities achieve their goals, but operators can’t do it alone. For example, Hyundai is looking to build more electric vehicle infrastructure to support the growth of EVs, but public parking spaces need to be reduced from streets to make this possible. Similarly, Anne from Revel adds that there is often a disconnect between the long-term goals of the city and what is actually done in the short-term. While removing parking spaces for bike lanes may be seen as an unpopular political choice now, it makes people feel safe riding bikes and scooters and helps incentivize them to change their mode of choice.

Legislating for longevity also has to do with setting realistic expectations of cities. Whether that be with permits, technology requirements, or fees, cities need to give operators the opportunity to become successful in order to provide a long-term transportation solution. Tai from Evo points out parking costs as a potential hindrance, especially with carsharing. Cities may applaud themselves for having carsharing, but if they hand operators a large parking bill and restrict access to the curb, then operators aren’t able to build up revenue and membership to be financially sustainable. As a result, operators like SHARE NOW (formerly car2go) ended up leaving North America and everyone loses in such cases, including cities and consumers.

When it comes to data, operators need to protect the privacy of users, and cities need to make data-driven decisions. For micromobility, data sharing is often mandated and part of the requirements in order to win an RFP bid and get permits for the vehicles. Many organizations, such as Open Mobility Foundation, NABSA, and NACTO, have supported the sharing and building trust between operators and cities. For carsharing, the same level of regulation is not a requirement, but operators are still often sharing data with cities on an as-needed basis. At the end of the day, cities and operators need to work closely together to ensure the necessary data is provided to further grow all modes of mobility.

Infrastructure considerations to improve safety

Anne from Revel posed a key question that should be asked by cities and operators: what does it take to get more adoption? If it’s cheap and easy to park a gas-powered vehicle on the street, then it will be harder to get adopted for other, more sustainable modes. Speed limit restrictions and appropriate pedestrian and bike infrastructure are needed to support a pleasant ride with scooters and bikes. This means that operators need to push cities to rapidly accelerate more flexible street design options that reflects the multi-modal world we’re living in.

Ashley from Lime adds that the fatalities that have happened with scooter riders did not come from a pedestrian and rider collision. Instead, it was vehicles striking scooter riders. Many times, scooter users will use a bike lane if it’s available, but otherwise they will ride on the sidewalk because it feels safer than riding on the road. As a result, cities need to provide infrastructure to make room for sustainable transportation, while also regulating the speed, and even size, of vehicles on the road.

When it comes to infrastructure, operators are also responsible for building and designing a service that consumers want to use, adds Tai from Evo. This can include setting up dedicated parking at key locations to provide the necessary mode at the right time. Just like a bus network, if the stops are put in the wrong place, people aren’t going to use them. This adds to the need to be a convenient mobility option so people can make the decision to choose a carshare or other shared modes over a private vehicle.

Wrapping it together

Multi-modal trips are great in theory, but the right environment needs to be created to get consumers wanting to link different modes together. From reliability to meeting diverse consumer needs to ensuring safe infrastructure, operators and cities both have a role to play in getting people to adopt multi-modal trips. Learn more about providing a strong tech foundation for your operations here.

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