What would future mobility look like if designed by real people? Alistair Kirkbride for LTT Mobility Matters
I think the Spice Girls might help us plan the future of mobility. Like an earworm, “I’ll tell you what I want what I really really want…” keeps fusing in my head with me pondering where mobility might be heading.
I would hate to think where we would get to, but the future of mobility is repeatedly said to be service-led where the user is placed centrally in terms of shaping the services. What has been missing is real-world evidence that sets out what real users might actually want, rather than what practitioners might think they want. Clearly there needs some “curation” of competing demands, but that’s not for today.
In the past year, a collection of rich evidence has started to emerge that might help sketch out the demands of real future travellers.
Firstly, The Commission for Travel Demand’s “All Change” report looked in depth at evidence relating to changing travel demand, and was especially interested in unpicking blips from enduring change.
And? People are travelling less, making fewer trips (especially commuting) and miles. Younger people are learning to drive later and are travelling much less by car for a variety of reasons.
Figure 1 illustrates that two dimensions of this trend: it is more marked in more metropolitan areas and it is age related. Whilst it could be suggested that people drive more as they get older, Chatterjee et al’s 2018 work (LTTYYY) suggests that the effect is enduring; they showed that the suppression in driving license applications by young people endures as the cohort ages.
So it looks like in a future mobility system, the private car won’t be anywhere near as dominant as today. Maybe they’ll all shift to AVs, but we’ll come back to that.
Marsden, G, et al. (2018) All Change? The future of travel demand and the implications for policy and planning, First Report of the Commission on Travel Demand, ISBN: 978-1-899650-83-5; http://www.demand.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/FutureTravel_report_final.pdf
Chatterjee, K. et al. (2018). Young People’s Travel – What’s Changed and Why? Review and Analysis. Report to Department for Transport. UWE Bristol, UK
So how will people want to travel?
MaaS gets a lot of press, but only recently are results of pilots emerging. These get interesting as they show what people actually choose and prioritise when services are presented side-by-side. The ESP group’s Navigogo project involved target users – young adults in the Dundee and north Fife area – in the co-design of the Navigogo MaaS platform. The main demands were facilities such as personalised journey planners, deal matchers, easy payment and booking, information on destinations and taxi fare splitters i.e. facilities to make planning easy, reduce cost and reduce the sense of “missing out” on the best deals. This reflects Transport Focus’s 2018 work “Using the bus: what young people think” (LTTZZZ). This showed that younger people (late teenagers) would like bus services to be easier to use (simpler fares, mobile tech for planning and ticketing), better value for money with better facilities for people to stay connected whilst travelling i.e. wifi and at-seat charging. The value of being connected trumping travel keeps coming to the fore in research.
I recently took part in a workshop at a MaaS symposium that revealed some really interesting insight into our possible views on modes in a MaaS system. The participants (imagine those who attend MaaS symposia to gauge the nature of the sample) were asked to convert their existing mobility lifestyles to a private-car-free MaaS lifestyle, then score each mode by how pivotal it was (to make their MaaS work) and how attractive it was to them. And the answers? Though core public transport (intercity & local trains, buses, underground & trams) were pivotal, 1-way bikeshare was the second most attractive mode (after the underground), followed by trains (intercity, local) then 1-way car clubs. Interestingly, ride hailing came quite a way down the list. From a co-mobility / shared transport perspective, I clearly like to hear this, but what does it tell us about future mobility, especially if the user really is going to be more central in defining services?
If I was going to extract main attitudinal themes just from the above evidence to help define a mobility system, they would probably include the following. 1. Personal control of journey-making and personal space; 2. Value for money; 3. Simplicity, transparency & fairness, especially regarding cost; 4. Reliability & back-up service “insurance”. This isn’t new, but how do these translate to a mobility system?
Here’s one stab at translating what people seem to want into a mobility system:
- mass transit would remain the backbone – both inter-city, inter-settlement and within cities & towns. It provides the efficiency to move lots of people along the main demand corridors in an affordable way.
- demand-responsive & ride sharing services would both feed mass transit and to pick up the finer-grained matching between users that DR services are able to do.
- point-to-point services (1-way car sharing, bike sharing, scooters and taxis (conventional or ride hailing)) would allow for journeys where larger scale matching isn’t viable – people or small groups want to go from point to point individually, either because the points are otherwise difficult to access or there are special circumstances (large loads, special needs etc)
- back-to-base car (sharing/rental) and bike services would provide ways of people making independent back-to-base journeys over different timescales.
Of course, within all of this walking would be the main lubricant and mode for short journeys and linking other components. We can look to continental Europe to consider where private bike use might fit in; whilst we might be jealous of the levels of cycling in places such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Ghent, the rise of bike share is seen as a solution to tackle the associated bike parking problems, especially at rail stations in larger cities. Cycling will be a key component for providing local access in future mobility, and how this is split between bike share and private bike use will mainly be determined by type of place.
Let’s just pause and ponder where autonomous vehicles fit in to all of this. It could be argued that they provide independence, personal space and reliability (?). But will they ever manage to provide the VFM that most users would stand? And let’s not get into either the AV spatial efficiency debate nor the public & political acceptability of the constraints required to realise the benefits.
How many traps have I fallen into in writing this? The future is (definitely) uncertain, and setting out different scenarios probably more reasonable than just one. What about rural areas? Won’t peoples’ attitudes and demands evolve with the emergence of new types of services? Yes to all of these, but hopefully the trap that I have explicitly avoided is the future mobility landscape being defined by the disruptor-du-jour, but instead by real user preferences.
Policy and investment need direction, hence why we see so many visions of future mobility scenarios. Whilst “only a fool would make predictions – especially about the future” (Samuel Goldwyn apparently, or choose your own favourite quote about prediction), there is a difference between laying out visions of the “stuff” (what mobility services will exist) and how we might behave. It’s easier to generate visions & scenarios of “stuff” rather than behaviour. What I have stumbled through here is an attempt to get to some of the future “stuff” from what people are saying they want to use.
Cause and effect get messy when we stretch timescales (but that’s for another day). There is currently a risk of the well-funded-disruptor-tail wagging they mobility dog, and what’s likely to happen being dismissed as not visionary enough. Worse still, somewhere in the midst of this, meaningful discussion on what is important to most people gets airbrushed out.
Aditya Chakrabortty recently made the point (Guardian, 6th June) “Britons can throw tens of billions on infrastructure projects… or we can choose policies that serve the everyday economy that the rest of us actually live in”. Put another way, if you had a spare few hundred million quid to invest in a mobility system that would be used by most people in 10-20 year’s time and you read the “All change” report, what would you invest in?
 Transport Focus (2018) ‘Using the bus: what young people think’ https://www.transportfocus.org.uk/research-publications/publications/using-bus-young-people-think/