Building the next-gen transportation network
- By David Cummins
- May 28, 2015
What is the biggest challenge facing the world today? For me, I’d contend it’s urbanization.
By 2025, we could see 40 megacities around the globe -- meaning cities with populations of 10 million or greater. According to the United Nations, 85 percent of the world’s population will be crammed into urban centers by mid-century. So how will we get around when urban areas get more crowded? We need a physical and electronic network in which both public and private transportation systems will seamlessly coexist.
Mobility of the future depends on having the openness and flexibility needed to build a better urban network. And that need exists in virtually every urban area, not just in the megacities of tomorrow.
So what does the transportation system of the future look like? Driverless vehicles, high-speed rail or maybe even flying cars? Possibly, but we won’t get there with today’s mobility landscape, which is like the early days in the Wild West -- everyone is staking a claim, and the sheriff is still trying to figure out his role.
Government has always been in the business of building and financing infrastructure -- including highways, railroads, canals, subways and airports. Some might argue that the mobility infrastructure of the future is virtual, so Google or Uber should build the network, but I disagree. If the private sector builds it, then it won’t be coordinated or integrated -- both of which cities will need for an infrastructure that allows everyone to ride on the same platform.
Regardless of who builds it, however, the network should be developed with these four guiding principles:
Be open. Cities and agencies need to think about how data exchange will benefit both public and private sectors. With an open data platform, app developers and startups can create the next best way to get around.
Be driven by demand, not supply. Demand is always higher than supply, no matter what mode of transportation we’re talking about -- think parking. And while public transit is often underutilized, in recent years more people are opting to take subways and buses instead of cars.
Be flexible. Though we don’t know what mobility will look like in the future, we do know that the network must be flexible to respond to all innovations -- from driverless cars to parking sensors.
Be regulated. Government should establish the rules of play. Even though regulations can be overdone, today’s Wild West mobility won’t support a coordinated platform.
An integrated, coordinated mobility network is important for several reasons. First, demographically we can’t ignore it. Millennials are demanding more transportation options, while aging baby boomers see appeal in automated vehicles. Second, because the movement of goods and people drives our economic development, an urban mobility network can have the same return on investment as the railroad had in the 19th century. Lastly, we should care about urban mobility if we care about livability. A well-functioned mobility network can give us back time from daily commutes – time to spend with our friends and family.
We need to re-envision mobility. It’s not entirely about transit or cars -- it’s about building a platform that public and private providers can develop and flourish upon. The cities that build those networks will have a distinct competitive advantage, and those that don’t will be stuck in gridlock.
David Cummins is a senior vice president of Parking and Mobility Solutions at Xerox.