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.

 
 
 
 

12 things we learned by reading every single National Rail timetable

Some departure boards, yesterday. Image: flickr.com/photos/joshtechfission/ CC-BY-SA

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked CityMetric’s editor about the longest possible UK train journey where the stations are all in progressive alphabetical order. Various people made suggestions, but I was intrigued as to what that definitive answer was. Helpfully, National Rail provides a 3,717 page document containing every single timetable in the country, so I got reading!

(Well, actually I let my computer read the raw data in a file provided by ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies. Apparently this ‘requires a good level of computer skills’, so I guess I can put that on my CV now.)

Here’s what I learned:

1) The record for stops in progressive alphabetical order within a single journey is: 10

The winner is the weekday 7.42am Arriva Trains Wales service from Bridgend to Aberdare, which stops at the following stations in sequence:

  • Barry, Barry Docks, Cadoxton, Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest

The second longest sequence possible – 8 – overlaps with this. It’s the 22:46pm from Cardiff Central to Treherbert, although at present it’s only scheduled to run from 9-12 April, so you’d better book now to avoid the rush. 

  • Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest, Trehafod

Not quite sure what you’ll actually be able to do when you get to Trehafod at half eleven. Maybe the Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park could arrange a special late night event to celebrate.

Just one of the things that you probably won't be able to see in Trehafod. Image: Wikimedia/FruitMonkey.

There are 15 possible runs of 7 stations. They include:

  • Berwick Upon Tweed, Dunbar, Edinburgh, Haymarket, Inverkeithing, Kirkcaldy, Leuchars
  • Bidston, Birkenhead North, Birkenhead Park, Conway Park, Hamilton Square, James Street, Moorfields
  • Bedford, Flitwick, Harlington, Leagrave, Luton, St Albans City, St Pancras International

There is a chance for a bit of CONTROVERSY with the last one, as you could argue that the final station is actually called London St Pancras. But St Pancras International the ATOC data calls it, so if you disagree you should ring them up and shout very loudly about it, I bet they love it when stuff like that happens.

Alphabetical train journeys not exciting enough for you?

2) The longest sequence of stations with alliterative names: 5

There are two ways to do this:

  • Ladywell, Lewisham, London Bridge, London Waterloo (East), London Charing Cross – a sequence which is the end/beginning of a couple of routes in South East London.
  • Mills Hill, Moston, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Piccadilly – from the middle of the Leeds-Manchester Airport route.

There are 20 ways to get a sequence of 4, and 117 for a sequence of 3, but there are no train stations in the UK beginning with Z so shut up you at the back there.

3) The longest sequence of stations with names of increasing length: 7

Two of these:

  • York, Leeds, Batley, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road
  • Lewes, Glynde, Berwick, Polegate, Eastbourne, Hampden Park, Pevensey & Westham

4) The greatest number of stations you can stop at without changing trains: 50

On a veeeeery slow service that calls at every stop between Crewe and Cardiff Central over the course of 6hr20. Faster, albeit less comprehensive, trains are available.

But if you’re looking for a really long journey, that’s got nothing on:

5) The longest journey you can take on a single National Rail service: 13 hours and 58 minutes.

A sleeper service that leaves Inverness at 7.17pm, and arrives at London Euston at 9.15am the next morning. Curiously, the ATOC data appears to claim that it stops at Wembley European Freight Operations Centre, though sadly the National Rail website makes no mention of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

6) The shortest journey you can take on a National Rail service without getting off en route: 2 minutes.

Starting at Wrexham Central, and taking you all the way to Wrexham General, this service is in place for a few days in the last week of March.

7) The shortest complete journey as the crow flies: 0 miles

Because the origin station is the same as the terminating station, i.e. the journey is on a loop.

8) The longest unbroken journey as the crow flies: 505 miles

Taking you all the way from Aberdeen to Penzance – although opportunities to make it have become rarer. The only direct service in the current timetable departs at 8.20am on Saturday 24 March. It stops at 46 stations and takes 13 hours 20 minutes. Thankfully, a trolley service is available.

9) The shortest station names on the network have just 3 letters

Ash, Ayr, Ely, Lee, Lye, Ore, Par, Rye, Wem, and Wye.

There’s also I.B.M., serving an industrial site formerly owned by the tech firm, but the ATOC data includes those full stops so it's not quite as short. Compute that, Deep Blue, you chess twat.

10) The longest station name has 33 letters excluding spaces

Okay, I cheated on this and Googled it – the ATOC data only has space for 26 characters. But for completeness’ sake: it’s Rhoose Cardiff International Airport, with 33 letters.

No, I’m not counting that other, more infamous Welsh one, because it’s listed in the database as Llanfairpwll, which is what it is actually called.

 

This sign is a lie. Image: Cyberinsekt.

11) The highest platform number on the National Rail network is 22

Well, the highest platform number at which anything is currently scheduled to stop at, at least.

12) if yoU gAze lOng into an abYss the abySs alSo gazEs into yOu

Image: author's own.

“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”, said Thomas.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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