Is digital mobility just around the corner?


Futurists often envision a utopian world where people of all kinds can travel freely, sustainably and without stress. With modern urban mobility as challenging as ever, can we achieve this ambition or is it a pipe dream?

Naturally, people want efficient, environmentally-friendly and highly available mobility solutions. However, journeys are affected by economic concerns, such as demand, cost and maintenance. Therefore, careful planning is required to ensure networks can operate effectively.

Whether you are commuting to work, making a doctor’s appointment, or picking the kids up from school, you will be faced with a wide range of urban public transportation options, not to mention private vehicles or cycling. In addition, more recently private mobility service providers (MSPs), such as ride-sharing or electric scooters are offering alternative end-to-end mobility options.

This array of variables has led transport officials and local government bodies to align around objectives to reduce congestion and emissions while enabling predictable, low stress transport.

Easier said than done. For the most part, modern transit systems are fragmented, making it hard for co-ordinators to make an impact on traffic and pollution. Instead, reducing congestion needs managed behavioural change by passengers. So, cities need the right tools to systematically impact passenger behaviour and better passenger journeys.

Introducing Digital Mobility

Every transit network has different issues but they are all faced with the same key factors driving the need for digital mobility: congestion, pollution and urbanisation. Local stakeholders are deploying digital tools to meet these challenges, such as mobile ticketing, or real-time route and network information. However, these tools are just the beginning of how we can address the huge challenges facing modern transportation.

Digital mobility aims to harmonise siloed systems across the mobility network, helping local, national and international players to collaborate and make informed decisions. Everything from local buses to ridesharing to traffic management can be joined up to provide one efficient, co-ordinated journey.

Digital mobility also integrates every transit mode into a common operating network across the whole transportation ecosystem. It fosters a more proactive approach to thinking: if we are expecting a day with poor air quality, we might use dynamic pricing to encourage people out of their cars.

Gathering data from multiple sources, including ticketing systems on trains and buses; electronic toll booths; cameras and sensors at traffic lights, provides real-time visibility of network demand. This data enables transit planners to use flexible incentives to reduce traffic and persuade passengers to go for more sustainable options, such as public tranpott and active travel.

Digital mobility intersects with public policy, which influences the transit network’s planning and operations according to civic preferences. This could mean increasing the cost of road use to reduce carbon emissions; or increasing public transit investments in specific regions or neighbourhoods to boost fairness among different sections of the public. The beauty of digital mobility solutions is their versatility, providing a solid basis on which cities can make specific changes related to their ultimate objectives.

The Way Ahead

The way ahead for digital mobility needs a deft blend of technical, political and social inputs to ensure it can fulfil its potential.

From a technical perspective, digital mobility is available today: all the tools required to make it possible can be created through infrastructure upgrades and new software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. A single, integrated account-based payment and ticketing system, for example, can provide the back-end platform to enable interoperability between different transport modes.

Politically speaking, while transportation organisations can support the technical upgrades digital mobility demands, local policymakers also need to incentivise co-ordinated mobility management at the same time. Introducing fresh procurement legislation which favours multi-purpose transit will reduce the lifetime costs of mobility systems. However, cross-network and public-private collaboration won’t happen out of nowhere; political influence and intervention are also necessary to ensure a level playing field and to encourage a holistic approach to management.

From a social point of view, we see that many of the sensational innovations happening in transit today are related to mobile devices and contactless payments. However, not everyone owns – or wants to own – a smartphone. Therefore, these technology advances must be complemented with similar solutions for people without bank accounts or with an aversion to technology. We have to consider the needs of everyone and ensure equitable access to the differently abled and those on low incomes.

All around the world, urban areas are faced with an increasingly complicated challenge to provide their citizens with reliable, efficient, sustainable and safe transport. Digital mobility provides a defined route to consistent and enduring stability. For cities and provinces ready to invest in next generation tools and services, the promise of digital mobility is just around the corner.

Audrey Denis is strategy manager at Cubic Transportation Systems

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