Many thanks to Ian for getting me started with this link.

Urban transportation is getting plenty of attention in greater Vancouver.  What with lots of existing transit, big transit expansion plans, bike-share system, four car-share operations and a wonderful plan for freeways and bridges galore.

People elsewhere are seeing opportunity in the integration of all these modes, so that you, the traveler, can get information, make and change plans and pay for it all from one place (your phone).


Count the modes . . .


But one vendor sees something bigger — optimization. And personalized real-time optimization at that.

Here’s a grand vision by major US corporate behemoth Cubic Corporation (in this case, their division Cubic Transportation Systems – CTS).  In it, a vast array of service providers would be brought to you in one place, and with optimization of resource usage (roads, trains, buses, your time, cost).  Says Matt Cole, VP of CTS:

Cole spent 2010 researching growth strategies for Cubic’s Asia-Pacific smart-card business. He talked to transportation experts and people running transit in governments. He came to realize that the biggest issues fell into two buckets in cities all over the world: the inevitability of more congestion as urbanization continues and the lack of integration of emerging technologies.

“It got me thinking,” says Cole, “smart cards integrate public transit for the consumer by having a common payment system across modes of transit. Why couldn’t the payment system also be a coordinated framework as an information source and a pricing mechanism? Why can’t we bring principles of supply and demand and price elasticity to the problem of congestion?” NextCity aims to achieve just that . . . .

. . . To solve this, CTS is currently developing an app that establishes a single-account system covering payment for all modes of transportation, including ride shares, bikes, tolling, and parking. The account will offer users incentives to change their transportation habits to help alleviate citywide congestion. For example, it might offer you a discount on your bridge tolls next month, if you opt for the train instead of a car a certain amount of times this month.

Steps towards the vision are underway in London, where CTS powers the Oyster card.  Called NextCity, the outcome would be to create a single platform for travelers. CTS’ Mr. Cole is quoted in a Nasdaq newswire:

NextCity is the framework for integrating customer experience, one-account payment and big data into relevant information and choices for how and when to travel in smart cities of the future.”

Personally, at this stage, I see this as CTS making a large-scale sales pitch (a.k.a. vapourware). Not necessarily a bad thing, but risky.  This sort of platform and data integration is one of the more fragile and harder things to do. Particularly when real-time information needs to be produced for each individual, on the fly (as it were), interacting with a variety of legacy platforms.

Meanwhile, others aim for lesser ambition and closer delivery time, such as this in Berlin:

Although the personal automobile has been taking people to and from work every day for nearly a century, commuters are increasingly willing to weave various kinds of transportation into their lives instead of depending entirely on a single vehicle. In short, new programs in cities around the world are addressing a demand for a transportation system that is multimodal, a future for transportation that involves making not a single choice to get to our destination but rather being able to move seamlessly from steering wheel to handlebar.

The Berlin Experiment

One of the most sophisticated experiments in urban transportation is Berlin’s BeMobility program. Originally a research project aimed at integrating various transportation options into a single system, BeMobility has become a functional program that brings public transport, bike rentals and an extensive electronic car-sharing system into a single multiplatform network.

Frank Wolter, BeMobility’s project coordinator, says the program was intended to offer commuters access to “long-distance trains, public transport, two car-sharing systems and a bike-sharing system on one mobility card.” In Berlin, BeMobility offers a mobility card that is used to rent and start vehicles, unlock bikes from stations and carry public transportation tickets and tariffs.

In Helsinki, Finland, “mobility on demand” promises this (with thanks to Adam Greenfield in the Guardian):

Helsinki aims to transcend conventional public transport by allowing people to purchase mobility in real time, straight from their smartphones. The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.

Subscribers would specify an origin and a destination, and perhaps a few preferences. The app would then function as both journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility. Imagine the popular transit planner Citymapper fused to a cycle hire service and a taxi app such as Hailo or Uber, with only one payment required, and the whole thing run as a public utility, and you begin to understand the scale of ambition here.