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The fast-paced development of urban mobility platforms

crowded crossing Source: iStock/samxmeg

Increasing urbanization, coupled with society’s rising need for mobility, is calling for new approaches to mobility planning. This rising demand for mobility is directly linked to the state of the economy and grows proportionally along with it (Source: Eurostat, tables 2.2.2 and 2.3.2). As a result, it’s not enough just to keep building wider and wider streets – we need new solutions.

Infographic showing the devlopment of goods traffic, and the GDP.
Passengers, Goods, GDP 1995 – 2013. Goods traffic and transportation develop in tandem with GDP. The nature of goods traffic means that it is naturally more sensitive to economic changes and reacts to them more quickly, whereas transportation grows more steadily.

How to combine different modes of transportation is a topic that has long plagued city planners and mobility providers. There have been, and still are, many attempts to develop mobility platforms; however, each of these to date has had a different focus. I’d like to take a moment now to look at some examples in detail. They provide an excellent illustration of how this area has changed over the past few years and where I think things are headed.

Mobility ticket = more convenience

One prominent example in Germany is Hannovermobil, which was launched in 2004. Subscribers to the service can access a range of mobility offers: free BahnCard 25 for train travel, no registration fee for car-sharing provider Stadtmobil, discounts on taxis, good deals on Hertz rental cars, and free luggage storage.

Users access these offers by means of the Hannovermobil card and are billed monthly for the services they use. By providing one card and one invoice, Hannovermobil essentially offers them more convenience in the use of these bundled services. One drawback: at the moment, there is no way to connect these services, for example with intermodal routing.

The Hannover fairground by night. Source: fotolia/panoramarx
Hannover fairground at night.

One-stop payment

An example that is better known internationally is the Octopus Card in Hong Kong. With this card, people can pay for and use public transportation in Hong Kong and even beyond – the Octopus Card is also valid in the nearby Chinese city of Shenzhen. What’s more, Octopus can be used as payment at numerous participating stores and tourist attractions. It started out as a contactless smart card, but now is available in many different forms (keychain, credit card, and even an Octopus mobile SIM card with NFC payment function).

All this makes Octopus a very convenient way to both pay for and use public transportation. Because use of the card is so widespread in Hong Kong, there is virtually no difference in how travelers access the various modes of transportation. What Octopus cannot help with, however, is connecting these modes in any way other than payment. This means that users do not receive any route suggestions, for example, and cannot reserve any means of transportation.

Providing information about various kinds of transportation

Various commercial providers have entered the mobility platform market in recent years. What they all have in common is that they aim to bundle as many mobility offers as possible in one application and show users a selection of routing options that connect those offers. As these applications integrate more and more mobility offers, they are becoming ever more reliable and more powerful. For example, Google has traffic data that provides information on actual driving times. It also displays the different types of transportation available plus links to the individual booking platforms. The major disadvantage, however, is that each type of transportation has to be reserved or booked separately.

Four cars and a bicycle parked in front of a public bus. Source: SSB
Combining individual and public transport.

Multimodal booking platform in Stuttgart

This is one of the aspects that is to be researched as part of the electromobility showcases funded by the German federal government. In the LivingLab BWe mobil showcase, the Stuttgart Services project is developing uniform access to various mobility offers as well as to amenities offered by the city. The first result visible to the public at large is the polygo brand (full name, translated, is “polygo – mobility and services in the Stuttgart region”). Holders of the polygoCard can ride regional rail, suburban trains, Stuttgart’s light rail, and buses. They can also access car and bike sharing services plus public institutions such as libraries. Thanks to the wide variety of available offers, the card can achieve widespread acceptance.

Another key aspect of the Stuttgart Services project is the linking of various mobility services – not just via one mobility card, but via a booking platform as well. Bosch Software Innovations is involved in creating this platform, which facilitates the seamless booking and reserving of different carriers. In this way, it provides valuable new functions for regular users, but occasional users can also benefit from being able to switch to alternative transportation modes more easily.

Involving the greater metropolitan area in this project can yield major improvements: commuters can realistically weigh up their alternatives and opt for efficient and low-emissions routes to and from work. It’s an opportunity to move a further proportion of commuter traffic away from conventional motorized personal transport.

I believe this “one-stop shop” approach will spread further. Mobility users want just one place where they can find a wealth of mobility information, book their travel, and pay as conveniently as possible.

Do you agree? Or do you have other concerns?

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