Article Highlights

Key Takeaway:

Despite having efficient ways to cover the first and last mile of the traveler’s journey and the means to move large numbers of people over the middle miles, the industry needs suitable commercial models to make the mobility system work better.

Key Data:

It was not an exaggeration that people leaving home early in the morning would not know if their commute would take 40 minutes or more than 4 hours.

Organizations Mentioned:

• Cubic Corp.

In towns and cities around the world, people are starting to dream, plan and prepare for a new normal (whatever that means) and a post-COVID world.

A key question for us to ponder is how do we ensure the world we return to is better than before? Can we put commercial interests aside to ensure we put mobility solutions in place that focus on riders’ needs and preferences?

You do not have to cast your mind back too far to remember a world full of congestion and stress. We had people leaving home early in the morning because they did not know if their commute would take 40 minutes or more than 4 hours.

Unfortunately, for many people, that is not an exaggeration and created a world full of stressed commuters unsure if they would make it to work on time, miss their flight or get back home in time to spend precious moments with their families.

A significant contributing factor to that world is that we have never mastered the elusive first and last mile. For decades, authorities have found it prohibitively expensive to build and operate public transit networks that connect where everyone lives with where everyone works. 

The advent of entrepreneurial ride-hailing and micromobility services was somewhat born out of that necessity and gap—the promise of door-to-door services where you don’t have to worry about timetables, frequency or connections.

The issue here is that these services cannot compete with public transit with respect to moving a large number of people over a considerable distance. With finite infrastructure, the net result was an increase in traffic, congestion and travel times in the cities where ride-hailing services have been most successful.

They have helped address the first- and last-mile issue but have cannibalized people away from more efficient public transit services and circled us back to stressed commuters and riders. That is because, too often, they take people for their entire journeys and not just for the first and last mile.

If we now have a more efficient way to cover the first and last mile (ride-hailing and micromobility) and an efficient means of moving large numbers of people for the middle miles (mass transit), we have the ingredients to make an efficient mobility system. So what is holding us back?

Imagining a System that Promotes Multimodal Travel
Can you imagine a world where someone takes a ride-hailing service from their home to the nearest mass transit hub, where they take a train, bus, or tram for the heavy lifting middle miles; and then connect onto a scooter or bicycle for the last mile? A world where they have less stress and more travel time certainty? A world where everything works seamlessly, and they are never worried about missing a connection and being left stranded.

We have all of the technology and smarts in the world to make this a reality. What we need now is to find suitable commercial models to make it work. 

We need a solution where the rider is incentivized to take multimodal travel, where they cherish the benefits of not having to worry about driving or parking and are confident that the service will be more reliable and less expensive.  

We need a solution that incentivizes and rewards commercial operators, such as ride-hailing services, for participating in a unified system that works together instead of aggressively competing against each other and public transit.

We need a solution where riders are presented options for integrated, connected journeys based on their preferences rather than the commercial interests of the operators—a solution where these journeys use the correct mode for each leg of their trip.

Coming Together on Finding Right Commercial Model 
For example, when ride-hailing and micromobility services are used for the first and last mile, they would feed people back to public transit instead of taking riders away and creating more traffic and congestion.

My call to all of you is that, as an industry, we now need to come together and work collaboratively to find the right commercial model to make this happen. We need to acknowledge that each mobility mode serves a unique need and stop fighting against each other.

I strongly believe that we all have a shared vision of providing mobility solutions that focus on riders’ needs. Let’s put differences aside and build that world together.

Mick Spiers is a veteran of the transit fare-collection industry and heads up Cubic’s new Umo platform business.