Shared Transportation Data Could Slash Commutes, Study Says

Cities could help their residents get around more quickly by giving them access to all modes of transportation in one app and payment platform, a new report says. The data-sharing that makes this possible could also lead to better services and city planning but laws and policies would need to change in many areas to make it all possible.

The strategy, called mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), is designed to let consumers easily mix different ways of getting around. It could reduce commute times by more than one-third, according to Juniper Research.

In a white paper prepared with Moovel Group, a MaaS technology provider, Juniper analysts recommended open data, comprehensive security planning, and partnerships between companies and public agencies as steps to make such systems work.

There are more ways than ever to get around cities but, in most cases, they operate independently. It’s usually up to consumers to figure out which is best for a given trip. Riders also usually need to use different payment methods for each. MaaS could bring all modes of transit into a single app with one payment platform. It’s emerging now in Europe but Juniper expects big cities in Asia and North America to adopt the approach, too.

The results could be dramatic, Juniper said. The paper estimates an average time savings of 37% off the average commute time, which it estimates as 67 minutes per day for drivers and 61 minutes per day for all modes. That could boost the economy because even if commuters spent just 33% of the extra time working, the increased productivity would equal $733Bn per year globally. Even those who choose to continue commuting by private car would have shorter trips, thanks to reduced congestion, Juniper claimed.

As an example of how MaaS works for consumers, a commuter who usually drives from home in the suburbs to work in the city could consult an app about the best way to make the trip. Some days it might reveal that there’s a better way to get to work. It might take less time to catch a mini-bus from home to a commuter rail station, take a train into the city and use a ride-hailing service for the last leg to the office. Knowing that, the commuter might choose not to drive. Along the way, the app could suggest new modes of transportation, such as a shared bike instead of ride-hailing in the city if traffic is heavy.

In addition to help in choosing the best way to get to a destination, MaaS could provide a common ticketing and payment platform. To attract users, the system could offer flexible and affordable pricing, including dynamic pricing based on demand, plus subscriptions that cover multiple modes of transit.

All this would require sharing of real-time and historical data on a scale that hasn’t been seen in cities before. Factors like road congestion, ride demand and transit wait times could all feed recommendations as well as planning. A few cities are taking this approach already, such as New York, which offers more than 1,600 sets of open data.

One place open data already shows up is in the Citymapper app, which is available for several cities around the world and can provide trip recommendations that combine, for instance, subway trips and ride-hailing. With its Smartbus, a small bus launched as an experiment in London last year, Citymapper is demonstrating and developing a software platform that would let buses change routes based on demand and coordinate with other modes of transit as needed.

Most cities that want to implement MaaS will need to change transportation laws and policies, which have long favored private cars over other modes of transit, Juniper said. The best place to start might be trials and pilot policies. There will be other issues to work through, including consumer-data privacy, cybersecurity, and data-sharing rights.

Roads and transit networks should be equipped with sensors to gauge congestion, predict arrival times and measure on-time performance. The privacy of consumers’ data will be an issue. The commuter could pay for the minibus, train, ride-hail, bikeshare and any other shared mode of transit through the app without having to set up separate accounts or payment methods.

If transit agencies, ride-hailing apps, bike-sharing companies and other mobility providers shared much more information than they do now, entire networks of transport systems might mesh and ease the lives of long-suffering riders.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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