Autonomous cars and hyperloop might sound like the way to go in the future, but are we really that far?
The pressure on the transport infrastructure is growing. Policy planning authorities and inventors are coming up with high-tech solutions, how to improve day-to-day commuting experience.
Autonomous cars, e-scooters, car-sharing and MaaS alike services are being thanks to recent media buzz at the spotlight. Clearly, some of them are the way to go, but aren’t we missing something here?
What about the public transport?
I’m not against all those hi-tech micro and shared-mobility solutions. They are clearly needed. Better variability in the transport system is an asset not only for the users, but it also increases the chance of reducing the use of cars. What I feel has less attention in the discussion on the future of transport and mobility, is public transport.
We don’t need to go that far to improve the transport system. Actually, we might need just a little.
Just imagine reliable public transport. Enough frequencies and connections, so you won’t have to worried how long are you going to wait for another one. Or priority lines and modern bus fleet, so you no longer have to be stuck in an overcrowded bus in congestions.
The question is, what is more sci-fi? The affordable and efficient public transport system, which could connect our daily activities or autonomous cars (which we are not sure at the moment if they will be developed enough to offer self-driven ride-hailing service)?
If the private and public sector is willing to invest in new technologies, why can’t they connect it with the development of service beneficial for the whole society?
According to a research review on quality attributes of public transport that attract car users (see Redman et al. 2013), price, frequency and reliability play the crucial part in motivating not only the car users, to shift to public transport. Even though the price still dominates in attracting the potential users, the study highlight, that the frequency, accessibility and reliability are essential too.
Who is going to take a bus, which goes once an hour or poorly connects the city districts, right?
Without making the public transport reliable and useful we could hardly expect, more people will get on the board. Cities should thus prioritise creating a public transport system that actually serves their people.
As the study says, it’s mainly those features decide, if the newly attracted user of public transport will be using it or will shift back to the car.
Way to go
We don’t need to invent public transport from scratch once again. Currently, there exist a plethora of mechanisms, how to improve the service. Besides the experiment with different fares strategies, the easy go solution might be priority lanes, to name some. Priority lanes immediately enhance the reliability of the service, since the bus is more resilience to traffic congestions.
Another fast improvement is shortening the onboarding time by allowing passengers to get on and off by using all of the doors. Although it might sound apparent, there are plenty of services, which enables passengers to get in only by using the front doors.
The pricing policy is then another tool which might be used to increase ridership. Actually, no pricing policy by launching the service for free for the users. There is an ongoing debate whether public transport can be free or not. What is sure from the discussion, that it immediately results in an increased volume of passengers.
Then we have a modern fleet with chargers, wifi on the board, on-time information system, better payment options and we could go on and on. Nevertheless, we have to bear in mind that none of them makes sense if public transport isn’t reliable, easily accessible and frequent.
I’m not trying to say that car-sharing or last-mile solutions like escooters or bike are the wrong way. Policymakers should take them into account, but instead of focusing on improving them individually, they should try to support the integration of the new mobility services with the existing ones.
Successful integration might be the key for the more efficient and pro-ecological transport system in the future. This indicates, for example, the study which is part of the Mobility and Fuel Strategy of the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure.
Policymakers should, therefore, focus on the integration and can not left the new mobility services unchecked. Uber, Lime and similar wise are covering their strategies behind slogans of sustainability but might embody different values and goals countering the very fundamental components of the sustainability.
As Greg Lindsay, urbanist and director of applied research at NewCities, pointed out at the World Urban Forum, we can’t allow to new privatised transportation systems to fade away from public transportation.
It’s healthy to question the role of the micro- and shared-mobility solutions in the future of transport. Doubts, whether they should be the backbone of the transport system are now in the right place.