Seamless Mobility and The Missing Player or Who Hijacked My City

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Our cities are not taking the lead. On the surface everyone talks about a smart city and a new generation of public transportation, but in practice most cities are dragged into this revolution rather than actually lead it.

Transportation companies do not represent the city’s residents. Uber for example considers (at best) the interests of its drivers and passengers. From its perspective, other public transports and pedestrians are considered as a nuisance or worse, as competition. It would have been easier for Uber if those two were not part of the public space.

These days, most of the cities that deal with smart city projects and new types of transportation do not initiate solutions. Most of them are simply following on proposed business solutions. Uber, Lyft, Bird and other companies spread their transportation networks in the city with minimal coordination or without any coordination at all. At present, no one stands to represent the pedestrians and the residents of the city in front of these transportation companies, resulting in the chaos we see today .

When you think about it, it’s amazing to realize how much power our municipalities have. With the ability to route traffic, close lanes, impose fines and more. And yet with all that power nothing is planned. Cities are being dragged into a new reality of transportation by entities that are only interested in their own profit. Instead of representing the residents, they falter. Instead of building a vision and leading, they are led.

In this article, the fourth in the series, I present what I think cities should do about transportation, how they should determine the rules of the game for all participants. The municipal government has determined and built the infrastructure and dictated the allowed user behavior on them. How many lanes would be in that street, how fast you could go, who gets priority and etc. But if so, why won’t it take control over the new transportation infrastructure – the information infrastructure?

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

In previous articles I’ve explained why Seamless Mobility is the preferred solution for the city. A system offering a new type of public transportation that will reduce overall traffic in the city and will enable good urbanism.

Let’s look at this transportation system from the city’s point of view.

The city needs to define its transportation information system as part of its urban planning. When traffic is controlled by Waze to the same extent as it does by the traffic light, it makes no sense that these two will not be synchronized. When the bus lines are determined by the city, there is no logic in the demand of Uber trips to be confidential. In principle, all transportation supply and demand must be conducted in a coordinated system that is synchronized with the physical systems managed by the city, especially with regards to pedestrians, scooter riders, cyclists and private car owners that are not being represented at all in the public transport systems today.

As I see it, the municipal system should be open to any transportation provider. Uber, Lyft, a private taxi driver, a bus company, a minivan and whatever else. Any transportation provider should be able to connect to the system, get the city’s permission to operate and take passengers. The payment should also be made through the unified system so that both passengers and providers benefit from no longer having to settle multiple separate accounts for every transaction. In fact, a municipal transportation system requires a single multi-line service that can operate over rented scooters, taxis, trains, buses, the lot.

Note that as the system is urban, its performance considerations will also be determined at the city level. Which passenger will get priority, which route will he take, how much should he pay, who will be subsidized and when – all these are determined in the infrastructure of the new city, in its information systems. This data MUST belong to the city, to the residents, they are the ones who need to set up the system. A unified municipal system on which all the participants are operating, is the only kind of system that can serve as true infrastructure for our cities.

In the system proposed in the previous articles, I explained that the means of transport should be restricted (as they are today) in their rights of way and speed according to their size and function. A taxi service or Uber can certainly exist side by side with the public transport system but a passenger should pay more for priority promotion or for taxi rides, and by that subsidize the transportation of other road users. Today, when you pay premium for rush hour surge, it all goes to Uber, not to the city. In the next generation system, those who choose to commute in line with city recommendations (share rides, be willing to wait for a bus, travel on off-pick hours, etc) will pay less and those that request priority (shorter travel time, ride along etc.) will pay more.

Private cars can also participate as players in the system. For example, the city can determine that the use of a private vehicle on certain routes and certain hours costs a certain toll. However, as a private car owner, you can tag yourself as a driver for that ride and pick up passengers on the way. The profit from the ride of these passengers will be deducted from the toll charged by the system and extra profit can even be retained as credit in the transportation system. I know it sounds very much like Uber but there’s a key difference – as a private driver you do not get payment for taking passengers but rather save the congestion toll. It is much closer to Carpooling but with a higher efficiency as drivers will only get passengers that are already on their way. The “last mile” or other legs in those passengers trips will be taken care of by the system. As a passenger, the suggested system can use cars for some of your skips. Empty seats in private cars are actually becoming part of the public transportation system… maximum butts on a minimum of seats, remember?

As far as I know there is no similar system today and it is not because of any technological barrier. The psychological barrier is not high either. There is no such system mainly because city leaders and transportation planners are (for the most part) a bunch of unimaginative engineers, while mobility start-ups are focused on short term profit rather than sustainable urban transport development.

In my opinion, there is an opportunity here for both sides, for cities and business companies to profit. They just need to work together and stop thinking small. The buds of these insights already exist in the field but that is not nearly enough.

I urge city leaders to follow the efforts of Waze, Cubic Corporation, HERE Mobility, Via, MaaS Global, Uber, Didi and others. One of these companies will soon be your much needed partner. All those companies are playing with building a unified city mobility system. I know, some of them are considered “the enemy” as they don’t play fair (yet)but you should take the lead. You have to define what you want for your city and for your constituents. You can’t do it alone, you will need those companies with you. But, most important of all, THE CITY must lead.

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