The rise of the smartphone has changed how we engage with the world. From shopping and ordering food to searching for info and remembering important events, a smartphone is an essential tool. This is also true of the transportation space. Gone are the days of carrying around a paper train schedule and coins, or consulting schedules attached to bus stop poles. Today, we can use apps to see exactly where a bus is and when it will arrive, book and pay for a taxi and flag a rideshare.
The Evolution of the Transport App
Uber has been a major player in the mobility app space for a while now. By providing a convenient booking and payment system contained within a single app, the rideshare company has been able to achieve industry-disrupting success—especially among millennials, who are increasingly abandoning car ownership.
Of course, Uber is not alone in the transport app space. Lyft is going head-to-head with its top competitor, while apps such as Citymapper and Moovit are aimed at public transport. Taxi companies have also realized that they need to pair the traditional methods of hailing a cab with apps that improve the user experience. A final platform worth mentioning is Google Maps, a longstanding go-to for trip planning. Within a web browser or smartphone app, users can plan a trip and compare routes using cars, transit, bikes, walking and more.
Yet despite exciting innovation, the current transportation app space remains fragmented. If you want to see how long it would take to ride a bike from work to home, you open Google Maps. But if you want to reserve a bike share for that trip, you have to open a different app. If you decide to stop for groceries on the way home and want to switch to public transit, another app and payment system is required.
Putting Riders in Control
Imagine the ability to type your destination into an app that immediately plans your entire journey by combining different modes of transportation. As a bonus, you’d also be able to pay for the entire trip within the app. The concept of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS)—which does away with traditional delineations between personal vehicle ownership, public transport and ridesharing—is changing the way people view transport and mobility. Instead of jumping between different apps and transport providers, why not have a single solution that streamlines the user experience?
The apps on the horizon also promise to make sharing and communicating easier for customers. Existing options like UberPOOL and Lyft Line allow commuters to share their rides, while both apps also let passengers notify friends of their location and ETA by sharing access to their booking. With greater integration of transport solutions comes the possibility of greater info- and cost-sharing, and even peer-to-peer options like Truro being added to public and third-party solutions. What you’re left with is a streamlined interface that provides all the options and information needed, regardless of how you choose to travel.
Forward-thinking transit agencies are already adopting this approach. The Dallas Area Regional Transit agency has introduced the option to select a rideshare into their app, allowing users to purchase transit tickets or, if a trip requires, select Uber or Lyft instead. The system will soon allow users to book bicycles as well.
The Whim app, currently available in several cities in Europe, is another example of an app that puts a strong focus on integration. This service combines public transit, taxi service, car rental and bike share, and allows users to pay for different solutions within the single app. Whim even includes an AI system that learns users’ favourite routes, and allows them to purchase all required tickets via monthly subscription or pay-as-you-go.
Above all else, future apps should be convenient: a one-stop shop for all your transportation needs. Eventually, these apps should move beyond simple tools and become more like virtual assistants, capable of predicting and planning your day based on available transportation options and conditions. The movement towards smart cities will certainly help facilitate this adaptation. As cities collect more real-time data and think strategically about integration, it’ll become easier to create responsive apps that handle all mobility needs for a user.
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