Multi-modal transit is a concept that’s been evolving almost as long as public transport has been provided. Many people make use of both trains and buses to commute every day—a simple form of multi-modal transport— but until now transit has often been segmented, with different fare and ticketing systems for different services.
Now, though, we’re seeing a coordinated shift towards multi-modal solutions. Most notably, the ridesharing apps of the last few years have changed the way people think about mobility and disrupted the public-versus-private model that existed for so long. But rideshare services aren’t the only driver of change. Cities are also becoming more conscious of the environmental impact and strain on infrastructure caused by an overreliance on personal vehicles, and are aiming to provide better paratransit solutions as well. The arrival of new technologies and concepts like the smart city and the Internet of Things (IoT) is also changing the face of modern transit. With greater access to real-time data comes the ability to respond quickly to changing usage and link different forms of transport in a way that makes sense for both the transport provider and the user.
In most cities today, there are several ways to make the same trip. A commuter might begin the day with a car share, park at the train station, ride the line to work, take a bike share to the grocery store and finish off the night in a taxi. A complete multi-modal solution could help simplify and streamline this, however, by providing clearer choices and making the way in which different solutions can be combined more explicit. Creating a network of linked transportation options along a direction of travel would allow commuters to truly think about alternative solutions and even consider abandoning vehicle ownership; in fact, some estimate that 90% of personal vehicles in the United States could be eliminated by a fully integrated multi-modal transit network.
While it sounds easy in theory, if each mode of transport requires its own app, payments and schedules, the personal car starts to look much more appealing. So how is technology able to address these issues and make transit the number one choice for commuters?
Linked Trips and Contactless Ticketing
The first step to a convenient, multi-modal transit system is ensuring that major transportation modes are integrated under the same ticketing umbrella. Enabling seamless transfers between bus, train and boat is key to boosting transit usage. An example of a unified, contactless and convenient ticketing system is the Future Ticketing Project in London, England, which allows travellers to use their existing debit or credit cards (or even Apple Pay) to make use of subway, bus, rail and riverboat services. Since implementation, usage has grown rapidly, with over one million contactless journeys taken in the first week alone.
Taking multi-modal integration to the next level involves looping in transportation choices beyond what is offered by the local transit agency, though. A service that integrates local bus and train options with car shares, bike shares or taxi services will offer more choices and better meet the needs of those taking transit. An example of just such a service is the Transit app. This route-planning tool integrates public transit with other options like car shares. As a bonus, it uses real-time data to show exactly where your bus is currently located or why it is late. The team behind Transit also partnered with local transit agencies to ensure data is accurate and up-to-date.
Autonomous Vehicles and Future Transport
The future of multi-modal transportation heavily depends on bringing disparate services under one umbrella and allowing users to fully plan and pay for their trips on the fly. However, it’s important not to ignore other trends that also point to a multi-modal future. Most notably, the number of transport offerings available is increasing. Uber recently partnered with JUMP to bring bike shares into its service, and signed a deal with Lime to add electric scooters to the mix. It even wants to provide the option of ordering a flying taxi in the next few years.
Autonomous vehicles will also play a major part in changing the transport industry. Thanks to the Internet of Things, different kinds of autonomous vehicles within a smart city can one day be fully integrated, creating a system where private cars, taxis, trains, buses and aircraft are connected and therefore instantly responsive to changes in the day-to-day transport landscape. For an example, consider Elon Musk’s The Boring Company. The tunnel system proposed by the company would see autonomous cars drive onto underground “skates” that take them where they need to go—all without human intervention.
The ideal form of transport for any particular journey depends on the exact nature of that trip? How long is it? Where does it begin and end? Is it within the confines of a single city? What does the traffic situation look like? As cities grow and technology improves, multi-modal transport will increasingly look like the only viable solution. By leveraging big data and integrating existing modes of transport, multi-modal solutions will allow us to move the largest number of people in the most efficient manner possible.
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