Feature Report: Sustainable Mobility

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Urban Mobility: Transportation Goes Digital to Boost Efficiency

In a world where more and more people live in cities, good organization and management of urban mobility is crucial to ensure acceptable social and economic conditions and reduce pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Digital technology has fostered a new approach to urban mobility. Pictured here is a car-sharing mobile application in the center of Toulouse, France. ©PASCAL PAVANI / AFP

Since the start of the century, a large number of studies and urban development projects have introduced innovations to redesign public spaces, improve transportation networks and change social attitudes. Several of these new concepts are explained in the glossary below1.

 

57: The number of transportation operators in the enormous city of Tokyo, all of whose services need to be coordinated.

 

Urban data governance – Just like digital technology has transformed the powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... sector and the way we manage energy, the mining of large quantities of travel data is revolutionizing the way we look at urban mobility. In a sign of the times, the German ministry of transportation has changed its name to the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur). Big data makes it possible to manage and predict traffic flows, calculate itineraries, obtain real-time information about departures and arrivals and book a growing number of services. However, the data must be “governed” efficiently and effectively. Tokyo, for example, has no less than 57 transportation operators, and coordinating their services is a complex task. Some cities have already created data warehouses. Singapore has announced the implementation of a global navigation satellite system that will improve the flow of trains, buses and passenger cars, all of which will be equipped with receiving devices.

Intermodal passenger transportation – Intermodal transportation involves the use of two or more modes of transportation to get from one place to another. The concept is not new: travelers in the past would switch from stagecoach to ferry in order to cross a river. Today, intermodal transportation serves a variety of needs. It can dissuade drivers from entering a city center by offering them other travel options, it can connect an outlying area to a regional train station and it can link an overground circular tram line to a network of subway stations arranged like the spokes of a wheel. Smartphone applications offering full itineraries make it easier for travelers to switch from one mode of transportation to another, and users equipped with a mobility pass can pay different operators with the same card or mobile app.

Urban logistics – Urban logistics organize the movement of both people and goods within a city. Delivery trucks are a major cause of pollution and traffic congestion. Some cities, such as London, have introduced consolidation systems for delivering heavy equipment to construction sites. Others, like Barcelona, have implemented multi-use lane systems so that deliveries can be made at prescribed hours. The Hague, Montreal and Detroit are focused on developing the productive capacity of their surrounding areas and transitioning toward the circular economy. In particular, all three are proponents of urban farming. The rehabilitation of industrial wasteland and the creation of vertical farms that grow crops in a soil-free, nutrient-rich solution can reduce truck delivery of fruit and vegetables in city suburbs.

The last mile – This term refers to the various logistics operations involved in the end link of the distribution chain for products and services. The last-mile problem has become more acute with the rapid development of e-commerce, which delivers parcels directly to the consumer’s home. Costs associated with the last leg of the journey can often be high. Parcel pickup points have become a common delivery method and, more recently, bicycle and scooter delivery has reappeared in many European cities. Drones are also being experimented with as a means for delivering packages in rural areas. New services, such as home delivery of meals, are also impacting urban travel, albeit less directly. The last-mile concept, which also applies to the first mile, is relevant to passenger travel as well. Getting from home to the nearest subway station or from the bus stop or train station to the workplace can be a major ordeal. In response, kick-scooter-sharing schemes are being tested in Moscow and New York.

Guided transit and rapid bus transit (RBT) – Public transportation services in cities and suburbs often include guided rail systems (subway, tram, commuter rail) or transit systems that operate along exclusive rights-of-way. Systems such as these require major infrastructure investment and need to be continuously extended or upgraded. A more versatile solution – the dedicated bus lane system – has gradually made its way into the urban landscape. To serve their suburbs, a growing number of cities are deploying RBT systems that employ more flexible routes. Not only are the infrastructure costs much lower, operations can be adjusted according to the traffic situation or time of day. In London, there are twice as many bus passengers as subway passengers.

Ride sharing – This arrangement allows two or more people going to the same destination to share a ride. It includes both short commutes and long-distance travel (BlaBlaCar, for example). Users generally book a ride online or through a mobile application. Today, transit authorities are seeking to build synergies with ride sharing apps in order to provide first-mile/last-mile connections at bus stops and train stations or alternative transportation options when service is disrupted due to maintenance work.

 

Cities such as Moscow and New York have tested kick-scooter-sharing services.

 

Car sharing (cooperative, round-trip or free-floating) – This system allows drivers to rent a car for a short period of time. There are a variety of car sharing models. In a cooperative business structure or association of individuals, members buy and manage the cars collectively. The most common arrangement for car sharing is for companies to make their fleet of vehicles accessible to members, who pick up their vehicle and drop it off at dedicated locations. This is what is meant by the round-trip or closed-loop system, with one example being Paris’s Autolib’ electric car-sharing program. The free-floating system combines a mobile booking application with smart onboard data tools. Users can pick up a vehicle and drop it off anywhere they choose. Sharing schemes also exist for motor scooters, bicycles and kick scooters, and tomorrow they will apply to electric unicycles, hoverboards and other one-wheel transporters.

Demand-responsive transit – Demand-responsive transit (DRT) is a form of public transportation that employs flexible routes and hours. Users book the service through an operator or an automated system, which finds a minivan for transporting the passengers according to their specific requests. The system is well suited for seniors or people who do not own a car. It is also referred to as vanpooling or buspooling.

Shared space – For several decades, many cities in the industrialized world have been promoting soft modes of transportation, most notably cycling and walking. This has led to the development of various sidewalk and road-sharing solutions in urban environments. In some schemes, the use of big data modifies the way space is shared between cyclists, motorists and truck drivers depending on the time of day. Copenhagen has more than 400 kilometers of biking lanes, including a series of cycle super highways that connect the city to the suburbs, allowing roughly 40% of all journeys to be made on bicycle.