Seamless Mobility and Passenger Experience or How Can Public Transportation Travel Look Like

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If you had to plan the urban transport system from scratch today, would it look the way it does now? Probably not. The key to good public transportation is Seamless Mobility – a user experience so great that the passenger hardly noticed the vehicles he rides or the road. An experience tailored to the transportation solution I have suggested in the previous article.

This article was divided to several parts due to its length.

Seamless Mobility

On your way to work today I bet you have used public transport. Yes, there is a great chance that you did so without noticing it. The transportation method was so comfortable and so integrated with your life that you didn’t even notice. Even though you had to pick the destination, even though you waited for it to arrive, you barely remember that you have ridden it … the elevator.

The key point in Seamless Mobility is – The mindset of the passenger

The elevator is the ultimate example of Seamless Mobility. You wait for it and don’t give it a second thought, you travel in it, you share it and you don’t mind doing so. It’s not just a matter of “ease of payment”. If we want to create a real Seamless experience for public transport passengers, changing means of transportation should be as easy and smooth as moving from the car to the elevator. Zero brain power investment by the passenger.

Driving cars today almost reaches this “zero brain power” state. Thanks to Waze and other navigation apps, you can travel miles without actually paying attention to the road. Studies have shown that drivers that use Waze are less capable of describing the road they had just traveled on. But you already know that from your personal experience, don’t you? This is the experience we need to strive for when we move passengers from one public transport vehicle to another.

The problems we encounter when we switch means of transportation

Transition between means of transportation today poses several problems. The first and foremost is the need to pay – take out the wallet or show your ticket, or purchase a ticket, or take the change and so on. Quite a few companies are dealing with this issue and the solutions they provide are quite reasonable. The best solution, of course, is to pass without doing anything between vehicles. An application can easily register which vehicle you used and charge you accordingly.

The hardest problem is the need for the passenger’s attention. We require the passenger to pay attention to swaps, to know where to get off, to go to the station where line 44 stops, to make sure that the bus coming over is in fact, line 44. On trips that are not common and familiar we demand even more – it is the passenger’s burden to  decide which lines to use and choose the route. All those tasks make you notice that you walk, that you pay, and that you switch vehicles. Unlike your trip from your car to the elevator, where no attention was required, our public transport passenger should definitely pay attention.

You may think this that the current state is the best we can do and that the wish I presented can not be achieved. To you, I suggest to think about the travel experience of a young child guided by his mother. Does he need to remember the line number? No, of course not. Someone holds him by the hand and leads him in the right track while his attention can wander between the ice cream vendor in the street corner and the birds in the sky. If you’ll ask him to describe the trip he wouldn’t be able to do so. His mind is free to focus the important things in life, ice cream and birds.

What we lack to make public transportation better is a system to manage us and lead us “by the hand”. We don’t want to think about a route, about money, about stations, hubs, switching buses and all that added hassle. We just want to get there.

The experience of tomorrow’s public transportation

Let’s follow John from his house till he gets to work.

John opens the app and sets the destination he wants to reach. In fact, that’s all John has to do (img 1) . The system assumes that John is a traveling alone but if he is not, he can define that he is taking his two kids with him. The system needs to know the number of seats to preserve.

John has his preferences set in the system (img 2) , he can always change them for that specific trip. These preferences define what is more important to John – minimum price, minimum time, minimum hops or minimum walking. John is a conservative man, he has already set his preferences to minimum walking and minimum price (img 2).

This is the information that will be presented to John before the trip so that he can change the settings if he wishes.

Note, a map is needed here about as much as it is needed for a London Underground passenger … which is – not necessary at all. I really think that all applications that display Google maps or similar GPS mapping systems  only do so because the engineers that build them are technological geeks (like myself) that love maps and APIs. I’m willing to bet that most customers don’t really need it.

John goes on foot until the first public transport – the elevator.
I had to put it here to wake you up… and also because I’m not going to set out again the various vehicles operating in the system (see previous article).

He takes the elevator down the building. This is an A type vehicle. He leaves the building and waits (img 3) for the “quarter elevator”, a type B car.

John doesn’t get on the first B car that passes by but on the one the system tells him to get on. There are no fixed lines, no defined stops. The system tells the car with the sign of the lion to stop and tells John to board it (img 4).

After a short drive the system stops the B car and tells John to get down. If it doesn’t, a voice alert will be heard that calls him by his name. John is instructed to wait five minutes for the bus with the sign of an elephant, a C type car.

John discovers that he is standing with other people at this point and some are instructed to go with him to the same bus. There are no defined stations or defined lines. It is possible that the system will decide to put on this bus only passengers to Tel Aviv and may decide to add passengers to Jerusalem.

John takes the bus till at some point John is instructed to get off the bus and wait for 30 seconds.

John is again transported to a B type car of 8 passengers that takes him to his workplace. He takes the elevator (A) to the office along with another 4 people.

Few notes

Notice the differences in John’s experience from the public transportation of today – this is a real seamless experience. The system “takes him by the hand.” John is not paying, he doesn’t have to remember where to get down, he doesn’t have to pay attention to the numbers of lines and the buses that are coming in.

John doesn’t have to figure out where to switch lines or remember the route he took this time, it won’t be a fixed route anyway. Just as current car drivers rely on Waze and don’t remember the way they traveled, John does not deal with the route as well. The system may send him to use a bus or a train and sometimes around the entire city. Just as the driver of the car relies on the navigation app to set him on the shortest way, John also relies on the system to bring him to the destination.

John chose “minimal walk”, which is why the system brought him door to door. If he had chosen otherwise, he might have been offered other means and the travel time would have been different.

John preferred “minimum price” and not “minimum traveling time” or “minimum hops” and the system will treat him accordingly. Had he chosen otherwise, the system might have routed the vehicles differently to promote him over others. In an extreme case, John will get a designated taxi that would take him without hopping, door to door, with high priority at traffic lights and … at a very (very) high price.

We have the technology and ability to deal with the main problem of current public transportation – the HUB, the inevitable need to change cars on the way. Only mental fixation is limiting us to apps with maps, nodes and Modes. In my opinion my draft proposal here is the way we will go sooner or later. Google, Waze, Hear, Cube … those and others are moving in the right direction but at the moment without setting a truly ambitious goal. We need and we can get real Seamless Mobility.

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