The Way Forward: New Mobility Services and the Future of Rail
Back to the future
Predicting the future of transport has always been an exciting – albeit hazardous – intellectual endeavour. One hundred years ago, some may have anticipated that transport would become balloon-centric, if we are to believe the picture below.
Figure 1: An early century view of what 21st centurary transport could look like - courtesy of Spiegal online
Contemporary futurologists like to mention flying cars and hyperloops, as well as ubiquitous driverless vehicles. Granted, the latter does not seem too far away. The paradox is still here though, as it is easier to suggest the future of transport in 2050 than to dare forecast what it will look like in 2025. Perhaps this highlights the general difficulty in coordinating policies and integrating technologies in an optimal and consistent way. After all, many inventions and technological systems that we use daily have had a chaotic, if not unpredictable trajectory. Social adoption and market dynamics are what matter the most – so why not listen to what transport customers tell us that they want?
What transport customers want
A transport system where the first mile/last mile is no longer an issue? Less crowded vehicles, more comfort during travel, including the possibility to choose between resting, playing, studying, working and socializing? Real time information provided about transport options, accurate delay forecasts, alternative routes or modes so that one can have greatest flexibility and make optimal choices? One ticket for all modes, more flexible booking?
This does not sound too ‘techy’. It should be within our reach in the next 5 - 10 years. Whatever form it takes, the future of transport is intermodal. It is coordinated, if not integrated. It provides maximum flexibility to its users and complies with what the rail industry refers to as ‘the Four Cs’ (i.e. more Capacity, better Customer experience, less Carbon, and lower Cost). Essentially, these goals are not just an industry viewpoint, they go further to reflect the aspirations of each one of us to travel without congestion and delay, with more comfort, in a greener and more affordable way.
The New Mobility Services answer
It so happens that New Mobility Services (NMS) and Mobility-as-a-Service are the new wave of answers to these aspirations. We have throughout this series shared the vision of such New Mobility Services that would have the rail network as central artery. And we have made the case for the need for the rail industry to anticipate and take full part to the NMS related evolutions and revolutions.
Although, predicting and preparing for the evolution of NMS over the next 10 years plus still remains a challenge, it is not difficult to introduce improved connection facilities at railway stations, or new parking facilities for emerging modes such as electric vehicles and micro-mobility. Neither is it too difficult to trial Intermodal Passenger Information Systems, innovative booking/ticketing systems, and to offer differentiated services aboard trains.
It’s all about coordination, complementarity and flexibilityPerhaps the key obstacle is the difficulty to agree on the best business model. Having consulted many different transport experts and stakeholders regarding NMS for this series, it is striking that there seems to be two distinct communities with polar views.
Some believe that there are no alternatives to rail on the intercity corridors and journeys connecting large agglomerations and their suburbs and commuting ‘catchment areas’, and that demand management is mainly about planning new routes and services (or closing ones). There are others on the other end of the scale who see NMS developing and thriving without the need for rail at all, and possibly at its expense.
We need these two communities to think about the future of transport and NMS jointly, so that it becomes common wisdom that inter-modality is about the complementarity of transport modes - not about the substitution of one for another. The way for rail to maintain and strengthen its role is to adapt, while capitalising on its existing strengths such as its environmental credentials. And subsequently, the strengths of the rail network benefit all the other transport modes.
Fundamentally, transport is not about supply-side economics only, transport customers want more flexibility and options to choose from, more coordination and more integration from transport providers, and fast and accurate information. Keeping this at the forefront of an NMS vision may help find the best way forward for customers and for the rail industry.
One thing is certain, by failing to prepare, one is preparing to fail. NMS’ are already here and the vision they are built on is something to embrace. Let’s make the best out of this and what is to come.