Personal mobility is breaking down old divides between public and private transport

Another bloody driverless car. Image: Getty.

Strong divisions between various transport modes – roads, rail, buses, ferries and so on – have dominated their planning and management for decades, both here in Australia and overseas. Budgets are often devised and allocated with these transport modes in mind. Whole organisational structures have been created to manage each mode’s infrastructure separately.

But how people move around – to and from work, home, or for recreation – involves personal journeys. These are driven by the need to travel, by mobility, and not governed by the mode of travel.

As a result, major Australian cities generally suffer from disjointed connections between modes of travel. They lack an overall emphasis on how the whole transport system functions to aid personal journeys.

Thankfully, transport planners have been thinking a lot more about mobility, as emerging and established technologies offer huge potential for change. The wealth of new data sources – mobile phone tracking, on-board GPS and ticketing, to name a few – provides a better understanding of travel behaviour.

Increasingly, cities are realising that individual travellers care less about the operational details of one mode or another, and more about a safe and reliable journey to their destination. Rapidly changing infrastructure technology and the availability of large passenger datasets are changing the way transport professionals plan and manage networks.

All change

In New South Wales, Transport for NSW was created to better integrate the various transport agencies and modes. While that has been a big step in the right direction, technology is changing the landscape much faster than anyone expected.

Technological advance, new transport infrastructure, a quest for greater productivity and continual population growth in major cities have created a dynamic environment for traffic engineers and transport planners. They must cater for the evolving demands of transport users while exploring and understanding emerging technologies.

Passenger expectations of what a transport network should provide have also changed and grown. Improvements in vehicle technology, road, rail and port infrastructure mean we can travel further and more efficiently than ever before. Commuters now expect this efficiency while taking safety and reliability as given.

Access through smartphones and navigation technology to mobility information about traffic conditions and scheduling has bridged the knowledge gap between transport authorities and users.

The advent of car-sharing services in Australia could transform parking and road space calculations. Image: GoGet/AAP.

On top of all this, disruptive travel options – for instance, car-sharing services such as GoGet and Hertz 24/7 – have emerged. Almost 31,000 Sydney residents have joined the two services. These use 700 dedicated parking spaces throughout the city (although heavily concentrated within 12 kilometres of the centre).

In Sydney, it’s estimated a single car-share vehicle can replace up to 12 private vehicles that would otherwise compete for parking. Then there are car-riding options such as Uber, which are creating entirely new modes of mobility.

Individually, each of us can now pick and choose between competing travel options. We can also shift our choices dynamically for each section of a trip. This simple change is radically altering the behavioural characteristics of making each trip.

That has huge implications for infrastructure planning. It also fundamentally alters the capability of transport agencies managing the system in real-time.

The shift in landscape may even disrupt one of the strongest historical divides: the competition between roads and public transport. With strong feelings on both sides, divisions have tended to impede more integrated approaches – which should be the aim of a transport system driven by the need for mobility.

Technology blurs the lines

Much of the public transport versus roads argument has been unnecessary because when more travellers choose public transport over private vehicles, the remaining drivers benefit as well. Despite this logic, the divisions remain and battles still rage.

However, the evolution of technology to accommodate (and help track) passenger behaviour, coupled with disruptive new travel options, is intensifying and will have to be taken into account. Companies are aggressively pursuing solutions for real-time on-demand ride-pooling, such as UberPOOL. This allows you to share your ride and split the cost with another Uber rider headed in the same direction.

It is not unthinkable that just as the taxi industry is being disrupted by new technology, public transport could be as well. In a world where the lines between private and public transport are blurred, traditional modal divisions move from being outdated to thoroughly unworkable.

If we rethink transport as a consumer-centred experience, targeting mobility rather than mode of travel, then a truly integrated approach to transport planning would deliver the benefits of using public transport and other high-occupancy vehicle options. Revenues from public transport would increase, while road congestion would reduce with fewer motorists. This would lead to greater productivity and economic growth.

Self-driving cars available to anyone with a smartphone have been launched in Singapore. Image: EPA/Nutonomy.

The technological changes under way will only accelerate this potential. Transport agencies need to plan for it, to ensure they take advantage of these changes and maximise the benefits.

Autonomous cars – an emerging technology that is nevertheless rapidly moving toward deployment – will accelerate this trend. If a self-driving car service offers transport solutions to anyone via smartphone, then the differences between a taxi, Uber, UberPOOL and public transport begin to blur.

A world of mobility choice

The transport sector is poised to realise a true – and revolutionary – convergence between data science, communication and autonomous technology. As large-scale data collection and sharing become the norm, our mobility options could explode.

Travellers will be able to make real-time multimodal journey decisions. They will base these decisions on the attributes that matter most to them: safety, reliability, door-to-door travel time and cost.

This will help transport planners too. The data generated will allow optimised operation of the road network such as variable speed limits, dynamic lane reversal, variable message signs and ramp metering.

Clearly, the emerging data science of transport technology innovation will have a deep impact on both the user experience and the behind-the-scenes management of the network.


Ideally, to deliver this “universal personalised mobility”, cities need to integrate pricing and information delivery. Every traveller makes their transport decisions for their own circumstances given the information available to them. This might include online journey information or roadside information about travel times, speed limits or tolls.

The complete cycle of information from the network to the operating agencies and back to the traveller is a keystone of the future transport system for Australian cities, and for cities around the world. The challenge for today is to close the information gap by building on emerging technologies and shifting our focus to providing personalised mobility travel.

That’s going to take some effort and a lot of co-ordination, but the benefits of mobility versus mode of travel will become obvious very quickly. We just need to commit to it.The Conversation

S. Travis Waller is professor and director of the Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation at UNSW Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

“This is a civic pride for the digital age”: why we should why we should willingly let City Hall have our data

He was the future once: David Cameron discusses smart cities with Angela Merkel and a German technology executive. Image: Getty.

Victorian England. From the shadows of wealth grew poverty. Slums slumped against symbols of civic pride, cowering next to towering town halls funded through rich merchant princes, whose elitist rule was insufficient to deal with too many people in too few houses with too little infrastructure.

Enter municipality. With darkness came electric light; with disease came tunnels to disperse their cause; with time came reform, regulation and the rise of town planning.

It’s over a century since those places which first industrialised became those first urbanised; yet even the wealthiest cities in the world continue to struggle with the complexities of urbanisation. In London, ten thousand die each year from pollution; in New York, six times this amount reside in homeless shelters.On the rush-hour roads of Sydney, cars stand still, and in the ‘burbs or banlieues of Paris slums still stand.

An umbrella bought during a downpour costs more than one bough under blue sky – and the truth is that, for too, long city halls have failed to forecast and so incurred greater costs. It’s a reactive culture summed up by words first head in Jimmy Carter’s budget office: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Disease before sewer, gridlock before investment, collapse before rebuild – visible fix over unseen prevention

But with the world’s urban population growing by 65m every year, this has to change: there is not enough resource to manage cities reactively. Enter technology and the move to smart cities.

From Barcelona to New YorkOxford to Amsterdam, Singapore to Seoul: billions of low-cost devices are being installed into everyday objects to send and receive data: street lights recording pollution, and bridges reporting performance; traffic lights that count, and whose analysis will be counted upon, to ease traffic congestion; health wristbands understanding our heart’s needs, shop ceilings noting our heart’s desires. A web of information woven into the very fabric of cities which, when added to data from sources like mobile phones, is providing a living-breathing picture of how we and our cities operate.

This data is no longer retrospective or historic but live and dynamic. It is of such quantity, and can be analysed at such granular detail, that it can provide certainty where once there was only supposition. It is build-up before the gridlock, illness before epidemic; the crack of an ageing bridge, the first signs of smog. It is diagnostic to preventative. Umbrella under blue sky.

Those promoting the “internet of things”, estimated to be worth $11.1trn a year by 2025, will declare it a panacea – but it is not, at least not entirely. Sure, challenges regarding data quality, privacy, standardisation, and security will be overcome; 4G will become 5G will become 6G. Devices will communicate intelligently with each other – autonomous vehicle to autonomous vehicle, autonomous vehicle to bridge, drone to home. Data will become as fundamental to cities as infrastructure, and will be referred to as such.

Yet city halls in democracies, whilst infinitely better informed, will continue to make their decisions which are restricted by commercialism, framed by political ideology, and driven by short-term electoral or media pressures.


People first

From the mid-sixties to the start of this century a UK television programme called Tomorrow’s World showcased future living. For every correct prediction (mobile phones) came countless incorrect ones: the floating-bicycle, say, or paper underwear. My point is that only a small part of understanding the future of cities is about understanding technology. The majority is about understanding people and society, the people from whom the very word “city” is derived: civitas, the collective of citizens.

Gutenberg did not change the world by inventing the printing press in the 13th century – but he did enable the world to change. The technology was the printing press, the outputs were books filled with knowledge, the outcomes were the actions of the many who used that knowledge. Technology is a tool, a process towards an outcome. 

In much the same way, the Internet of Things will not change the world – but it will enable the world to change. Sensors are the technology, data the outputs, the analysis of this data and subsequent decisions, the outcome.

It is crucial to avoid the Tomorrow’s World approach. That is, racing to implement technology first without consideration of identified social, economic or environmental needs; introducing more complexity when most citizens seek simplicity. As the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs once said:“First comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out that image.”

Start with people. Form the image. Think of technology through the Greek origins of the word, techne and logos – a discourse about the way things are gained – and capitalise on collective intelligence to move towards that image.

Since cities first started to appear some millennia ago, they’ve provided incontrovertible evidence that the wisdom of crowds is far greater than the individual; that collective intelligence gained from that trinity of city institutions – citizen, government, industry – surpasses what can be achieved by any one in isolation. Where would Apple, Uber, or Google be without the government-backed inventions like the world-wide-web, touchscreen technology, WiFi or global positioning systems?

A new civic pride

Of course, an app on a smart phone that can ask a thousand questions is meaningless if nobody feels motivated to answer. Increasing urbanisation brings increasing interdependency: lives intrinsically linked, services shared. The challenge for city halls is to turn the increase in what people have in common, into an increase in common purpose, through understanding the three benefits that motivate and lead to action.

Extrinsic benefits, of status and reward, caused merchant princes to fund city halls in Victorian England: such benefits today see the ambitious putting in extra hours. Intrinsic benefits, like competitiveness or fun, that once caused business tycoons to compete to build the tallest skyscrapers, now explain why “hackathons” and “city challenges” are such a success. Then there are the pro-social benefits of altruism or benevolence, that cause millions to volunteer their time to give back and feel part of something bigger than themselves.

These motivations are of greater significance, because there are no longer people with clipboards standing on street corners asking permission to collate our views on services: it is happening automatically through the Internet of Things. Our choices online, movements offline; the travel we take, the pollution we make; our actions and interactions. We are data.

City halls can take a click-box-small-print approach to this, like so many apps. But there is opportunity to do the opposite. They can promote the fact that citizens can knowingly provide their data towards making lives better; visualise and enable citizens to see and understand their input, alongside data provided by others.

They can incentivise interaction with data, so that entrepreneurs can work back from outcomes, solve challenges, and re-localise where appropriate (we should not need a multinational to get a taxi). They can be proudly open, enabling citizens, industry and government to receive pro-social benefit by contributing to something bigger than themselves: their life and the lives of others.

This is a civic pride for the digital age. Not just localism or patriotism based on geography but the strength of connection between people and their ability to direct and determine change through data. Not just pride in the buildings and infrastructure that form our physical world, but in the quality of data that will shape our future world and move us from a diagnostic to preventative society – umbrellas under blue sky.

We should take pride in technology, yes; but that should come second to the pride in those who, enabled by that technology, drive progress. Who, through the wisdom of crowds, form an image of the future and strengthen democracy by motivating society to move towards it. Who embrace openness and help overcome the challenges of urbanisation.

Kevin Keith is a writer, researcher, urbanist, and director of the southern hemisphere’s largest open data competition, GovHack. He tweets as@KevKeith.

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