If you had to plan the urban transport system from scratch today, would it look the way it does now? This is a question that mayors, opinion leaders and entrepreneurs insist on not asking. Everyone plays the same familiar game of transportation and ‘moves the cheese’ only slightly each time. Urban transportation planning is fixated about modes and nodes. In fact … if there is anything more conservative than city transportation planning it is the design of the cars that travel in it.
Let’s bet that I can accurately describe the car you came to work with.
Wait, let me go into my mind reading state… Yes, got it… It has four wheels, it has a hoop called a steering wheel that will get stuck in between your ribs in the event of an accident (idiotic idea). You control the power of the engine with your foot (really?!?) And to stop the car you have to lift your foot and press it on another pedal. Well, you must agree with me that this is the worst user interface you ever had.
…and yet, no one has been designing cars any other way for decades. Sometimes we get so stuck in the existing design that we need a kick in the… uh… um… a kick in the conventions.
Urban public transportation suffers from the same mental fixation and I invite you to take a step back with me and rethink it. How should the urban transportation be?
This article is too long so it will be divided to several segments:
- The problems – why current public transport is inefficient (this article).
- The system – the proposed system for the public transport of the future.
- The rider – the future experience of traveling to and from.
- The city – possible influences and actions only the municipality can do.
So… let’s start. Why is our public transport inefficient? Why are people willing to pay so much more than to use it?
How many cars do we need for a rapid service?
The truth is simple and you can see it on the traffic model below. In the model we have four passengers departing from two departure points and trying to reach two destinations. In each of the proposed solutions we will examine the average road traveled by the passengers and the total road performed by the system (all cars).
The fastest solution is using four cars (Figure 1). Each car passes only at the two points it needs across a straight line and without any detours.
Average passenger route – one leg. System total – 4 lags.
That is very efficient for the passengers and wasteful for the system.
A solution of transportation in one vehicle (fig. 2 above) will, of course, necessitate driving through all 4 points – two origins and two destinations.
Average passenger route – 2 lags, System total – 3 lags.
Double the cost per passenger but slightly more economical for the system.
A solution with two vehicles (fig. 3) will require each of them to go through at least three points – either both origins and one destination or vice versa.
Average passenger route – 1.5 lags, System total – 4 lags.
In other words, we are again in an inefficient system, in fact we did not save anything compared to 4 cars while the passengers are required to pay more.
But there is also a better solution with two vehicles.
Two cars & HUB
If we tried to save fuel and driving distance, we would add a HUB (Figure 4). When passengers are allowed to pass between cars in a quick and easy way, it is possible to solve this theoretical model with two cars going through two points – one point of origin and one destination. Due to the HUB, the passengers can simply switch cars and then all reach their destination quicker.
Average passenger route – 1 lags, System total – 2 lags.
In other words, it is possible to resolve the urban transportation issues more efficiently once the HUB issue is resolved. That is, the way to build public transportation that will offer faster transport for passengers and will reduce traffic congestion must focus on solving this HUB problem. Switching between vehicles in the middle of a trip is problematic. It wastes time, it requires the passenger’s attention (When is my bus’ arrival? Which line just stopped at the station? Where is my ticket?). Those that can solve this issue will be able to create a much faster public transport system than anything existing in the city today.
Transportation solutions that deal with the HUB problem were nicknamed lately as “Seamless Mobility” so let me write it more bluntly. Both theoretically and practically: Seamless Mobility is the best solution for rapid public transport.
How many cars do we need for the cheapest service?
I will now present the second problem built in public transport – the size of the vehicle. Each optimal solution will aim to adjust the size of the vehicle to the number of passengers on board. We would not want to use a whole bus for only 10 passengers as we are aiming for the lowest price per passenger. The way to get it is high vehicle occupancy… or in my terminology – maximum butts on a minimum of seats.
Let’s look at the traffic model of transportation between the city center and the periphery. In this model we have 4 passengers, at 4 stations and all are traveling to one destination. We will examine the efficiency of each solution by counting the empty seats we had in each figure. The Buttless Seats.
Four vehicle with two seats each
In this model (Figure 5.) we have a total of 8 seats. As we get closer to the city the waste of the system rises and we have more buttless seats. This is actually the reason we have traffic jams as we get closer to the city center.
Total Buttless Seats – 10
One vehicle with four seats
In a four seater vehicle (Figure 6) it is easily seen that there is less waste in the city center, but more waste in periphery. That is actually why we are required to subsidize public transportation in the periphery and this is why all public transportation is almost ineffective in that Last Mile.
Total Buttless Seats – 6
But there is another possible solution.
Two vehicles with different number of seats
Adding HUB at the halfway point (Figure 7) and using the four seater vehicle for half of the route and a car with two seats for the other half will reduce the system’s total cost.
Total Buttless Seats – 2
In other words, it is possible to resolve the problem of transportation cost in the periphery if the HUB problem is resolved. The way to create a cheaper public transportation system must focus on solving the HUB problem. let me write it more bluntly. Both theoretically and practically: Seamless Mobility is the best solution for inexpensive public transport.
Wiser folks said similar things
So now, as some of you may not be satisfied with theoretical models, I refer you to a research made by McKinsey&Company: The future(s) of mobility: How cities can benefit.
One graph there grabbed my eyes by estimating the benefit for the city dwellers from each possible transportation solution, see below.
So far I hardly said anything new, just explained with simple models the problems in the system and why the best solution should deal with HUB, why this “Seamless Mobility” is more important than the actual means of transportation.
In the following articles I will present a better solution for public transportation. In my opinion, the information systems today are ready to transfer us to a new type of transport, one that is not defined by Nodes and Modes. To read it you are more than welcomed to register to this blog or just return here in about a week.