Shared Mobility Means Multi-Modal

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MaaS, Shared Mobility


Even with the growth of shared mobility services, it takes more than just one option to get people out of their personal vehicles. Instead, trips and the way people get around need to be multi-modal; getting from A to B should include public transit if possible, and supplemented with shared mobility services as needed.

multi modal trips

How mobility looks is determined by a range of factors – societal, environmental, and technological. In addition to these factors, the number of shared mobility services available influence people’s decision on how they move around the city.

Right now, there are over 2,095 cities globally with carsharing services alone, not including other modes such as bikesharing, scooter sharing, and ride-hailing (University of California Berkeley). In North America specifically, over 400 cities have carsharing, 120 with bikesharing, and 300 with ride-hailing (Shared-Use Mobility Center). These numbers highlight the growing number of transportation services to get you from A to B.

While having more options is great, having to manually search for the best service to use each trip is inconvenient and time consuming. In addition, the collective goal of shared mobility is to replace personal vehicle trips; however, one service will not always be able to meet your transportation needs (New Cities).

Instead, a consolidated portfolio of options is needed to displace the personal vehicle. Whether your trip starts with a bikeshare and ends with a bus ride, or is on a scooter share the entire way, opting for multi-modal transportation is what the future of mobility needs to look like.

Building the Foundation

In any metropolitan city, public transit exists. For decades, public transit has been the second option for those who wanted to get around but could not, either by choice or circumstance, use a private vehicle. Even though public transit is the most effective way to move large amounts of people along a route, it does not provide the door-to-door service people desire.

As a result, discussions on improving public transit has touched on the first and last mile journey. How can cities get people to and from main transit routes so they can rely on public transportation? This is the first way shared mobility fits into the multi-modal portfolio. In San Francisco, Lyft found the top destination for rides is to rail stations (Curbed). If cities want more people ditching single occupancy vehicles, they need to consider how the entire mobility ecosystem can work together. According to David Oliver, Co-founder and CEO of Cowlines:

Cities need a wide range of transportation services to solve mobility issues. Each transportation provider must realize they play a role in the city’s mobility ecosystem, but that no single mode can cover all needs.

“In addition, the opportunity lies in having different players in the industry working together, with cities, to shift a larger percentage of private trips towards public transit and shared mobility.”

The next key step in making cities ready for multi-modality is to provide open data sources for partnership opportunities. Data isn’t just for making transportation aggregator apps possible. The primary benefit of data should be to gain insight into people’s travel behaviours, and to structure services, policies, and cities accordingly. Withholding data for only one company to use will not benefit the larger goal of getting people out of their personal vehicles. Data is needed to identify what gaps are needed in today’s transportation infrastructure.

Instead of just looking at the latest mobility service as a potential solution for transportation issues, cities need to practice discipline in looking at mobility holistically. Autonomous vehicles may be perceived as being what we need to move people around, but it will not contribute to the solution by itself. New mobility services serve the purpose of improving overall transportation in a city, but the ones that are available now should be integrated into everyday life first.

How to Achieve Multi-Modality

Being multi-modal means acknowledging that a vehicle may not be the best way to get from A to B. Similarly, in order to shift people’s behaviour towards multi-modal, discussions need to move past the car versus transit argument. Those two options are not perfect substitutes for each other, and ignores the other mobility options available in a city (Bloomberg CityLab). Instead, in order to truly replace vehicle use and ownership, more options are needed (The Beam).

To start, the importance of going multi-modal needs to be highlighted. With density expected to increase by 30% over the next 15 years, changes need to be made to avoid gridlock throughout the city (McKinsey & Company). In order to support this growth and ensure people are still able to travel, both the public and private transportation sector need to work together for seamless mobility (McKinsey & Company).

Cities need to be built for people in general, with equal access to a variety of transportation options, whether that be walking, biking, bussing, or driving (Planetizen). The Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities highlight the need to identify the best shared and efficient ways to use vehicles, lanes, curb space, and land. In other words, every mode of transportation should be considered in people’s daily mobility choices.

Making it Easier

In the shared mobility industry, we are seeing a shift towards seamless mobility. There are apps like Whim that provide a platform for people to rely on mobility options other than their personal vehicle. Transit App includes shared mobility services to show how people can switch from one form of mobility to another. Cowlines combines any form of transportation in cities so that people can find their optimal route to move faster and greener, while being told what mix of transportation options is best for them. While these apps aggregate mobility services in different ways, the movement towards mobility as a service is growing in relevance and importance.

David Oliver from Cowlines says, “Multi-modal trips have the potential to change people’s day-to-day schedule. Instead of just relying on one mode to get you from A to B, it is more efficient to evaluate all the modes available in your city, and take a mix of them to get you to your destination up to 40% faster.”

By going multi-modal, you will save time in your commute and be able to spend more time on more valuable aspects of your life, like being with family.

In cities like Portland, Oregon, the shift towards multi-modal is starting. With the city’s TriMet Tickets app, people can plan and pay for trips made on the public transit system, Lyft, car2go, or BIKETOWN (OregonLive). By including all these options in one app, it makes people’s life easier to switch between different modes and choose what is most convenient for them for a particular trip.

Barriers to Multi-Modal Trips

One of the biggest questions to achieving multi-modal as the go-to habit for people’s daily transportation needs is “how will we get people to change the way they get around?” Changing people’s habits is a challenge, but by providing the tools to make multi-modal easy, people will find it convenient to change the way they get from A to B.

Currently, knowing what mix of modes to take is a manual process, especially when there can be hundreds of transportation providers in a city. Aggregator apps are one of the main platforms to put all the modes together so far. However, app-based access limits service accessibility to those who can afford or choose to have a smartphone. Even though 77% of US adults own smartphones, that’s still leaving out a large segment of the population (Fast Company). As a result, some people may be left with long commute times to work around bus schedules and car payments they cannot afford. Mobility needs to be made easier for everyone, not just those who have a smartphone.

Even aggregator apps have its limitations, as they are reliant on mobility providers to open up their API to the service. Mobility providers may be hesitant to provide access to third party platforms for competitive reasons, data concerns, or just lack of interest. As a result, people may not be able to combine all the mobility options available in their city easily.

Similarly, the importance of data sharing needs to be reiterated here, as it is a barrier to making the most out of multi-modal trips. Data aggregation from different mobility options and the analysis of those data will build insights for action plans to further improve people’s way of getting around. Data also encourages competition and innovation, which is what is needed to further drive change in people’s transportation choices. If governments set regulations on what data needs to be shared, then cities become one step closer to multi-modal bliss.

The Next Steps

The future of mobility will involve integration of various forms of mobility (McKinsey & Company). This will look different in cities depending on if they are dense urban centers or smaller towns. But the similarity across these futures is that people will be able to get from A to B in shared modes easily, without thinking about any other alternative.

In order for this future to be achieved, public and private sectors need to work together and focus on reaching the goal of reduced congestion and reduced reliability on personal vehicles. New policies and regulation may need to be instituted in order to safeguard data while allowing it to be shared, but these are crucial steps to make the future of mobility seamless.

The future of mobility is shared, so let’s work together to make that a reality.

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