How the bipartisan infrastructure bill could jumpstart mobility on demand
Strategic adoption of mobility-on-demand and mobility-as-a-service models can help ease traffic congestion, reduce road accidents and cut carbon emissions.
In the U.S., public transportation capabilities and ridership significantly lags European peers, known the world over for their excellence. The common wisdom is that U.S. cities are further apart than European ones, making it more expensive to connect them by rail. Plus, Americans prefer traveling by car rather than waiting for busses and subways. However, the reality is a bit more complicated. When faced with dirty vehicles, insufficient route coverage, inconvenient times and the need to travel to public transportation pick-up sites, U.S. residents naturally seek other alternatives. Due to lack of user adoption and insufficient funding, the U.S. lacks the modern public transportation networks that connect cities, towns and suburbs and support a continuous flow of travelers headed to work, home, or play.
The passage of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure couldn’t come at a better time. But is the solution simply to build more roads, bridges, rail networks and bus stations in hopes that consumers will change long-entrenched behaviors? No, local and state governments, along with their transportation partners, should think strategically about how to drive adoption in the U.S.
The time has come for MOD/MaaS transportation models
One promising approach is to think about public transportation as providing mobility on demand or mobility as a service. As defined by the Department of Transportation, MOD views transportation as a commodity, with different modes having different values, based on a journey’s cost, total time, wait time, number of connections, convenience and other key variables. MaaS packages and integrates multiple transportation services into a single interface, making it easy for consumers to adopt them. That means consumers can choose from bus and rail travel, as well as car, bike and ride sharing, streamlining journey planning and using multiple transportation methods to reach their destinations.
Funds from the infrastructure bill will pay out over five years, giving local and state governments time to plan on how they can be put to use, to improve access, equity and adoption, while also driving ROI. As part of this process, government agencies will need to consult with stakeholders to develop a digital mobility strategy that spans the entire public transportation ecosystem.
What enables successful MOD/MaaS models
Here’s what MOD/MaaS models would provide to the government agencies that adopt them and the consumers that use them:
Multi-modal transportation: Instead of patching together services across different apps and services, consumers would see them displayed in a single interface. They’d get personalized recommendations, with digital tools and data making journey planning easy and rewarding. Consumers would use apps to plan travel, pay for all services at once, receive tickets and get real-time travel information as they progress through their journey.
Open architectures: Government agencies would adopt open architectures with APIs that enable them to integrate the systems of multiple service providers, enable revenue collection and sharing and use analytics to evolve capabilities. These platforms would also be easy to evolve, by adding new partners, service areas and solutions.
Enhanced transportation management: Obviously, managing multi-modal transportation is a complex endeavor. Government agencies and partners will need access to traffic and incident management, decision support tools, vehicle tracking and passenger information, all integrated into one platform. By combining these capabilities, all partners would gain a single view into how transportation networks are operating in real-time. In addition to making daily operational decisions, this data could support requests for new investments in extending lines, adding more vehicles, refurbishing equipment and more.
Rider loyalty: Public transportation providers can take a page from retailers and offer loyalty programs to build ongoing ridership. Using rider data, such as demographics, location information and interests, these organizations can deliver targeted campaigns to achieve their goals, such as purchasing monthly passes, traveling at non-peak times or completing a certain number of rides. Consumers win with great incentives and deals, while providers drive revenues and reduce costs.
With bipartisan support for improving public transportation and funds becoming available, now is the time to press forward with enabling MOD/MaaS models. It’s clear that the nation’s current transportation model, with traffic congestion, road accidents and a large carbon footprint is unsustainable.
Government agencies, transportation providers, technology companies and other interested stakeholders should convene MOD/MaaS exploratory groups. By doing so, they could review success stories and best practices from nations and communities that have adopted MOD and MaaS, create will to move forward with these models and explore the technology capabilities of providers. Next, they should design multi-year strategies to begin making these models a reality and offering consumers more choice in how they travel.
While the journey forward is complex, MOD/MaaS models offer the best opportunities for solving America’s infrastructure, traffic and personal vehicle-related sustainability challenges. With the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, it’s high time to start charting a new course for the country’s public transportation ills.
Andy Taylor is senior director of global strategy with Cubic Transportation Systems.