Defining the concept of digital mobility.

By Audrey Denis, strategy manager at Cubic Transportation Systems

Where people live will often dictate their relationship with mobility and travel. For example, billions of people navigate the world’s urban centers every day. These growing populations want the most affordable, efficient, and comfortable solutions to meet their mobility needs. In perfect circumstances, travelers will choose the transit option that best suits their priorities and convenience. But passenger flows are impacted by economics like supply, demand, pricing, and service considerations. That means, meticulous coordination is needed to ensure transportation networks can operate efficiently without impacting the environment or hurting society at the local, national, and even global level.

Whether people commute or pick up kids from school; if they are traveling to an appointment or catching a flight; or taking in a recreation like a museum or concert, every city’s transportation ecosystem includes some combination of public transit options, as well as private vehicles and active travel such as biking and walking. Recently, private mobility service providers (MSPs) like ridesharing, bike-sharing, and electric scooters have also begun to exploit the growing demand for end-to-end mobility.

Transit coordinators, end users and local politicians are beginning to align around the goals to reduce traffic and congestion and dangerous emissions while providing predictable, stress-free travel that offers accessible mobility for all. The goals are clear but achieving them is not. Currently, the world’s major transportation systems are fragmented and siloed, which limits city leaders in making meaningful, large-scale changes that can move the needle on congestion and emissions. Ultimately, managing and reducing congestion will require coordinated behavior change for users. This creates the need for tools that cities can use to systematically manage user behavior and keep the network running smoothly.

This article will define the concept of digital mobility, a comprehensive transportation strategy that offers long-term solutions for the challenges of population growth, carbon emissions, and urbanization. It will provide actionable steps for operators, planners, leaders, and end-users to work towards a more sustainable and equitable transit future.

THE NEED FOR DIGITAL MOBILITY

Each transportation network has its unique challenges and circumstances. However, a few factors are consistently driving the need for digital mobility in every city, state, and region. They are congestion, emissions, and urbanization.

Many transportation authorities have adopted digital technologies and innovative strategies to address these issues by making public transit more attractive, including mobile ticketing and real-time passenger information, as well as tools to manage demand like congestion pricing. However, these technologies in silos are not enough to tackle the monumental challenges facing transportation and our world today. To address the impacts of urbanization and reverse climate change, we must embrace digital mobility.

WHAT DOES DIGITAL MOBILITY ENTAIL?

Digital mobility is centered around the idea of harmonizing disparate systems across the mobility network to enable collaborative and holistic decision-making between local, national and even international stakeholders. These disparate systems are not just a city’s various public transit services; digital mobility includes everything from ridesharing to traffic and intersection management. With one transportation network comprising multiple modes, it is expected for users to tie together different options throughout their unique journeys. We should manage these systems in the same way that users experience them: as coordinated entities.

By integrating every mode of transportation in a given area, digital mobility offers each service provider, stakeholder, and end user a common operating picture across the entire transit ecosystem. Digital mobility also facilitates a shift from reactive to proactive thinking. If city leaders anticipate a day with poor air quality, they can proactively use dynamic pricing to make road use and parking less appealing. This nudges travelers to public transit options, who may be incentivized further with discounted rates. Meanwhile, smart intersections help to make active journeys safe for those who chose to bike or walk.

The benefits of digital mobility can be applied to both present operations and future challenges. With comprehensive digital mobility, data flows in from a variety of sources to indicate real-time demand across the network: ticketing systems on public trains and buses; electronic toll collection systems across large highways; cameras and sensors at urban intersections. Using this information, transit planners and operators can employ flexible incentives to mitigate congestion and rebalance traffic flows by persuading commuters to consider more affordable options like public transit and active travel.

Digital mobility operates under the pretense that a more efficient mobility network will be beneficial to all service providers; in particular, digital mobility empowers leaders with new tools to effect direct change in their networks. However, the most important stakeholder in digital mobility will always be the end user. The principles of digital mobility place the end user at the center, delivering consistent service enhancements and price adjustments to make all journeys shorter and more environmentally friendly.

While digital mobility strives towards optimization, the ideal solution will be different for each city and its residents. Digital mobility is policy-enabled: policy inputs can shape the transportation network’s planning and operations according to the preferences of the city. In some cases, this may mean increasing the cost of road use to limit carbon emissions; in other cases, a commitment to equity may lead to increased public transit investments in specific regions or neighborhoods. Digital mobility platforms are versatile, establishing the foundation for cities to effect specific changes according to their goals.

THE PATH FORWARD

The path forward for cities to pursue digital mobility is feasible, but it requires a combination of technical, political and social initiatives to reach its full potential.

Technical: Digital mobility is attainable today. The technologies and innovations needed to make it a possibility can all be achieved through a combination of infrastructure upgrades and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions. A unified, account-based system for payments and ticketing can deliver the back-end technology to ensure interoperability among transit systems.

Political: While transit providers can facilitate the technical upgrades needed for digital mobility, a concerted effort is required on the part of local policymakers to encourage coordinated mobility management. New procurements policies that favor multi-purpose that reduce the lifetime cost of mobility systems. Cross network and public-private cooperation will not take place in a vacuum; government influence and intervention are needed to place all transportation providers on a level playing field and promote holistic management.

Social: Many of the most exciting innovations taking place in transport today center around the use of mobile devices contactless payments. However, these technology upgrades must be matched with parallel solutions for the unbanked and the tech averse. Digital mobility must consider the needs of all people, providing equitable service and access to those in low-income neighborhoods and those with disabilities.

CONCLUSION
In every area of the world, cities face an increasingly complex challenge in providing residents with safe, efficient, accessible, reliable mobility. Digital mobility offers a clear pathway to long-term stability, and it is available now to any city or region willing to invest in the next generation of transport solutions.

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