Using Smart City Technology to Adapt to COVID Mobility Preferences

As cities continue to fight against COVID-19, citizens are changing their commuting preferences to adjust to a new way of life. Cities across the globe have experienced significant increases in the number of pedestrians, cyclists, and private cars on the roads as a result of public transport restrictions and social distancing requirements. This has created many new challenges, as cities previously dependent on public transport must now adapt to accommodate more vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists.

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Urban Mobility and Access to Transportation in Sub-Saharan Africa

As I started to get into the background for this work, I found that a lot of the writing was heavily focused on technical and infrastructural issues, but didn’t focus on governance, leadership, or what it takes to facilitate transformative change. This question of governance in urban transport and mobility was strongly established in the original TUT-POL project. The expansion of this research into Sub-Saharan Africa allowed us to get an inside look at differences in the governance of urban transport in this region. It enabled us to explore what works and what doesn’t and helps explain why certain places are experiencing challenges and hopefully also shed light on how to solve those challenges.

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The Power of Mundane Mobility Fixes

There’s a tension in transportation news. On one hand, cities are eager to nudge residents away from automobiles and toward modes that pose less danger, both to people and the planet. But the mobility stories that grab media attention often involve launching buzzy plans for hyperloops, autonomous vehicles, MaaS apps, and microtransit startups — innovations that have yet to prove they can reduce driving. As I’ve argued in CityLab before, city officials touting these tech launches are often motivated more by FOMO than by a strategy to catalyze mode shift.

But local leaders have a choice. Rather than racing to be the first to deploy some new technology, they can instead focus on mundane mobility solutions that actually work. These are fixes that don’t grab headlines, but will give cities a better chance to grow the share of trips taken on transit, on foot, by bike or on a scooter. They’re also unlikely to break a city’s budget or trigger angry pushback. In fact, many people won’t even notice them.

Make intersections safer — and more useful

Drivers often park as close to an intersection as they can without blocking the crosswalk. When they do, the parked vehicles limit visibility of pedestrians or bicyclists at the curb. The intersection then feels — and is — less safe, compelling people to avoid it. The fix: “daylighting” the intersection, preventing cars from parking too close. (The National Association of City Transportation Officials recommends 20 to 25 feet of clearance.)

But rather than simply blocking off the curb adjacent to the intersection, why not turn it into something useful, like parking corrals for bikes and scooters? That is what Washington, D.C., plans to do in 100 intersection-adjacent locations across the city. (Parking was already illegal in these places, but cars were often left there anyway.)

This initiative can achieve several goals at once. The corrals will physically prevent drivers from illegally parking close to the intersection, reducing unlawful behavior and improving safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. Better yet, the city will expand the availability of bike/micromobility parking, making it a little easier to take a ride. District DOT Director Jeff Marootian says his agency will pay around $25,000 in total for the project, with negligible resistance from residents: “It’s already illegal to leave your car in these spaces, so we’re not taking away any established parking spots.”

Build a better bus stop

Time spent waiting for a bus feels even longer when there’s no place to sit or get out of the rain. I mean that literally: A study from the University of Minnesota found that a five-minute wait at an exposed, “pole-in-the-ground” bus stop will seem like a 13-minute wait. If the transit agency simply offers a bench and some kind of roof, perceived wait time falls to 7.5 minutes.

As Pedestrian Observation’s Alon Levy has noted, the price of such a bus shelter is only around $15,000. That makes them a cost-effective way of making bus trips seem faster, even if a transit agency lacks the resources to increase service frequency. And it is perception that drives human behavior.

VIA, San Antonio’s transit agency, spent $12 million to build 1,000 bus shelters from 2014 to 2017. Correlation is not causation, but the steep decline in VIA’s ridership began to taper off at around the same time the program began, and in 2019 bus ridership grew in San Antonio — bucking national trends.

Fix the sidewalk

Sidewalk improvements are just about the lowest-tech urban mobility fix, but they can have a big impact. Even transit or e-scooter riders will be pedestrians for the so-called “first mile/last mile” of their trip, as they walk to and from a station or rented device. But in too many U.S. cities, crumbling or non-existent pedestrian infrastructure make walking or using wheelchairs perilous, and driving an all-too-inviting option.

Walk this way: a section of sidewalk under repair in Chicago. (Tim Boyle/Bloomberg)

In Denver, property owners are responsible for maintaining the adjacent sidewalk, leaving many neighborhoods with substandard walkways. In 2017 the city stepped in with a $4 million program to subsidize sidewalk repairs for lower-income residents, with a priority placed on locations with a history of automobile-pedestrian collisions. As the sidewalks improve, they make walking more attractive — and also provide a funnel to other modes of transportation. Smart.

Let bikes on trains and subways

Most people won’t walk more than a half mile to or from a transit stop. For that reason you’d think public transportation agencies would bend over backwards to woo those who might bike to a commuter rail, light rail, or subway station; otherwise such people would likely hop in a car. 

But historically, North American transit agencies have been slow to embrace the idea that their riders might use a bike to reach the rails. During rush hour you still can’t bring a non-foldable bike aboard trains run by agencies like SEPTA, BART or NJ Transit, due to supposed capacity limitations. But other systems seem to have found a way; the Bay Area’s Caltrain offers onboard bike storage, and Washington, D.C’.s Metro began allowing bikes on all trains a year ago, around when Maryland’s MARC commuter rail system opened the door to full-sized bikes on the Penn Line connecting D.C. and Baltimore. Pulling this off required installing bike racks in some cars, shaving off a handful of seats, but it has made a big difference for plenty of commuters.

If North American transit systems won’t allow bikes on the train, they might at least offer enough secure parking near rail stations, as the Dutch do. (The huge bike parking facility beneath Utrecht’s train station can hold 12,000 bicycles.) Systems on this side of the Atlantic have a lot of room for improvement on that front as well.

Without breaking the budget or triggering a NIMBY backlash, these kinds of mundane mobility solutions can make it a little more likely urban residents will opt to leave their car at home — or not buy one in the first place. They can’t take the place of expensive or politically challenging initiatives like adopting congestion pricing, building protected bike lanes, and expanding transit service. But just about any city can implement them, even when big-ticket changes aren’t possible.

That said, don’t assume fixes like these will be prioritized naturally, no matter how intuitive they seem. Compare an autonomous vehicle launch with a sidewalk repair campaign: Which do you think will earn more press attention for local officials? Which is more likely to have private lobbyists advocating for it?

Local leaders who opt for mundane mobility over trendy tech solutions are likely to pay a price in media attention and in private sector support. But if the goal is to save lives and our planet by getting people out of their cars, these fixes might still be a bargain.

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Insurance Companies in the New Mobility Service Market

MaaS can create new channels and business opportunities for insurance companies. In the future, the main revenue stream of mobility insurance is expected to be fleet insurance, end-user related insurance (for on-road accidents, property loss and damage, third party and liability, trip cancellation, and delays), and insurance for the workforce. In order to unleash this new potential, the first step is to gain understanding of which products are already covered within the new mobility ecosystem, and which are not. MaaS Alliance is currently working on a gaps analysis to establish a clear picture of what elements in the new mobility ecosystem are covered by existing mandatory or additional insurance schemes.

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12 KPIs to Evaluate Success of Urban Micro-mobility Programs

In the past few years, micro-mobility services have been arriving at unprecedented speed and scale to cities that are oftentimes ill-prepared to manage them. Typically, these services are introduced by private operators and are deployed as a “floating” system, meaning that only the vehicles themselves are physically present in public spaces. Legislation does not clearly define these new vehicles, and new business models do not fit neatly into existing methods of managing private businesses in public spaces.

The transportation community has responded by producing several helpful publications on the topic of micro-mobility, bringing more clarity and understanding to this phenomenon, documenting the growth and expansion of programs in cities, and providing guidance on good practices.

At Ramboll Smart Mobility we wanted to push the discussion away from general statistics about micro-mobility, and towards the identification of strategic goals and tangible key performance indicators (KPI). The KPIs can be measured by any city to better understand how successful and sustainable they are in providing new mobility options to their communities, and where they can improve.

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Injured on an E-Scooter? A ‘Mobility Claims Board’ Can Help

As scooter, moped and bikeshare programs proliferate around the country, safety concerns surrounding shared micromobility remain. Riders of electric scooters in particular have injury rates that both cities and service providers have struggled to address. And since most riders click away the scooter operator’s liability upon renting, users often have no practical legal remedy in the event that they are injured.

But there’s a third path to make sure that injured riders are at least legally protected : a Mobility Claims Board administered by the city. The Mobility Claims Board would evaluate any injury claims involving shared mobility services where the rider alleges that either the provider or the city were at fault. For people injured on a shared bike or scooter due to an alleged product defect or a poorly maintained road, this would provide a simple procedure to request and recover monetary losses in lieu of a formal lawsuit.

For example, consider someone who rents an electric scooter and hits small pothole in the bike lane, leading to a spill, a fractured wrist, and medical expenses of $5,000. The rider claims that the scooter’s handlebar stem was loose and not safe for regular use. The rider also claims the road was not properly maintained by the city.

The Mobility Claims Board would allow a streamlined resolution of this claim. The injured rider would submit a simple claims form with a sworn affidavit of the basic facts and allegations along with a police report, photos, medical bills, or other documents that the rider would like the Board to consider. The Board would be entitled to further investigate the scene or request more information from the claimant. The Board would then make a decision on liability and offer a settlement of the claim (in this hypothetical, let’s say the offer of settlement was $3,000, to be paid in equal part by the city and scooter rental service). The injured party could then either accept the settlement and agree to waive any further legal action or refuse the settlement offer and pursue traditional legal action. A denial of claim would similarly allow the injured rider to pursue traditional legal remedies.

Rider insurance has also been proposed as a solution to the risk of injuries for shared mobility users. But “good” insurance—full coverage policies with low deductibles—is not cheap. Insuring a single trip could cost as much as a few miles of riding. In an already cost-sensitive market, that’s a tough sell.

The alternative, a Mobility Claims Board, is actually not so novel an idea. Indeed, most cities require that civil claims involving local government entities and their officers or employees initially be filed with an administrative agency, and not through the court system. These matters are investigated and reviewed by a Claims Section or other administrative body who then approves or denies the claim.

For example, a pedestrian injured by a negligently operated New York City bus would first be required to file a legal claim with the MTA Bus Company. The same process applies for injuries caused by improperly maintained sidewalks or property damage that results from fallen trees on public property. One of the most common claims is for cars damaged by potholes. In Michigan, any “highway defect” claim causing damages under $1,000 must be submitted to the state Department of Transportation. Although reimbursement is rare, the process only requires a completed, notarized form; more expensive claims go to court.

This type of process, which typically requires the aggrieved individual to fill out a standardized form, serves the city by increasing efficiency and reducing legal expenses. It can also provide injured parties a simple and streamlined legal remedy for minor claims. In some cases, municipalities create special “claims sections” for specific types of claims—for example flood damage, sewer issues, or auto accidents involving municipal vehicles.

Why would bike and scooter-share companies agree to this process? For starters, they wouldn’t have a choice. Use of the public right-of-way requires municipal approval, typically in the form of a permit. And cities can dictate the terms of these permits for mobility providers that want to deploy on their streets. Most cities already require that private mobility service providers carry minimum insurance and post a bond with the city in order to protect riders (and themselves) from being stuck if the provider goes bankrupt or is otherwise unable to satisfy legal judgments.

For example, New York City currently requires that bikeshare companies remove any liability waiver or arbitration clause from their User Agreements. In fact, this requirement caused Jump Bikes to reconsider deployment in the city. As a compromise, New York requires people to first go to mediation to resolve potential legal disputes before filing lawsuits against the city’s sole bikeshare, CitiBike. By agreeing to a Mobility Claims Board, bike and scooter operators could gain good will from the city and its customers, while the city could increase transparency and demonstrate to its citizens that safety is a priority.

To date, cities have been slow to experiment with new laws and have failed to innovate at the speed necessary to adapt to the technology and business models impacting cities. When lawmakers have hit back against new mobility providers, they’ve often used blunt legal tools like outright bans, permit fees, or impoundment. While advocates call for protected lanes and wider sidewalks to make way for new forms of mobility, policymakers can also do more to build a sustainable legal infrastructure.

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The Future of City Mobility

An interview with Matt Cole, conducted before his departure as the President of Cubic Transportation Systems. Interviewed by Gordon Feller, Founder: Meeting of the Minds.

There are multiple definitions out there of “mobility-as-a-service.” These range from some of the early-stage approaches, which focused on subscription plans and pricing, and not necessarily the outcomes. But, in my own view, that approach to “MaaS” was trying to promote all sorts of things that needed to exist in order to enable mobility. My own view is this: we’re working to enable mobility networks in cities and regions that promote journey choices. The emphasis is on journey choices that can range from the most affordable to the most efficient, or the most environmentally sustainable. But the aim is to enable all of the possible journey choices for all of the possible travelers. That means addressing the needs of every customer segment that needs to travel within a given city or region. We’re trying to enable those choices for everyone.

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How Cities Can Engage with Mobility as a Service

By incorporating multiple transport modes into a single application, users can benefit from personalised services which recognise individual mobility needs, easier transactions and payments, and dynamic journey management and planning.

A fully comprehensive MaaS offering could mean the ownership of private vehicles is no longer necessary for people. As mobility needs begin to be provided by a range of services through a single platform, usership could replace ownership.

The potential of MaaS has been recognised around the world. In the UK, the government has included MaaS within its transport strategy. An expert committee of Members of Parliament concluded that MaaS has the “potential to transform how people travel” by boosting public transport, reducing congestion, and improving air quality.

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How Gen Z Impacts Urban Mobility

A short time ago, the auto industry viewed millennials as the lost generation. Automakers expected car sales to plummet and prepared for change. But that didn’t happen. Instead, millennials delayed their adoption of cars until they started getting married, having children and discovering the suburbs.

Simultaneously, the growth of the smart mobility movement with the introduction of rideshare, car share, e-bikes, high-speed rail, scooters and automaker-backed subscription models have transformed how we define transportation. This dramatic change has birthed a mobility culture. The “me” foundation of car culture – where a car takes “me,” how it makes “me” feel about myself and how it represents my values – has been replaced by a “we” perspective.

Allison+Partners’ latest U.S. study called “The Birth of Mobility Culture,” found Generation Z (those under the age of 24) will drive this new culture forward in part due to an inherent comfort with connected technology. Gen Z has grown up hand-in-hand with new technology: it is not scary or intimidating to them and they welcome rapid change as the norm.

The tipping point for mobility innovation won’t be determined by how quickly the technology arrives. The true tipping point will be when Gen Z arrives at a life stage when their consumer spending behaviors (and ability to spend) match values synonymous with mobility culture.

The Allison+Partners study revealed Gen Z consumers view cars more like appliances and nearly 56% agree a car represents essentially no more than a means of transportation. Some 70% of Gen Z consumers do not have their driver’s licenses and 30% of this group has no intention or desire to get one. In fact, Gen Z survey respondents actually ranked alternate reality, VR and smart homes higher in interest than autonomous vehicles.

However, those who make up Gen Z do see autonomous vehicles as an eventual reality. Some 60% of those we surveyed believe they will use autonomous vehicles by 2029.

The implications of these insights are far reaching. We need to immediately rethink how we excite Gen Z consumers about transportation options. Automakers should complement or replace attributes of car coolness, such as horsepower, tow capacity and even fuel economy, with new features such as productivity, shared time, or total experience.

Gen Z has shown an early willingness to invest money and loyalty in brands that demonstrate an ability to align marketing with these new values synonymous with mobility culture. The latest example is in Madrid, with more than 5,000 electric scooters – the largest fleet globally – available for on-demand use as a means to cut down on traffic, noise, emissions pollution, and parking issues. Younger Spaniards flock to these options, with companies increasing the size of the fleet more than fivefold in the past year.

Inverse to this lack of interest in driving comes the acceptance of autonomous technologies. With its high trust level of technology, Gen Z will fuel the adoption of autonomous vehicles.

The combination of autonomous transportation with “we” values core to mobility culture suggests a reimagined way to use time while on the road. In fact, data from Allison+Partners’ The Birth of Mobility Culture report shows nearly half of Gen Z consumers (45.5%) are comfortable with shared ride experiences in an autonomous vehicle.

This new mobility culture also calls into question the commute and opens new options for city planning and commute patterns. Our study found almost two-thirds of Gen Z consumers would be willing to accept a longer commute in a self-driving vehicle. While the single driver commuter experience is generally perceived as bad, unhealthy, and stressful, the “we” commute of mobility culture could be a positive and healthy experience similar to today’s train commutes.

This is where it gets really exciting. The combination of being open to longer commutes and shared experiences allows us to reimagine the urban-to-suburban relationship, broaden access to affordable housing, offer solutions for a work-life balance, and improve relationships with each other.

Case in point: researchers at the UK’s University of East Anglia found British workers who commute to work by bus, train or bicycle were happier compared with those who drive their personal car each day. So, if those who make up Gen Z view cars as little more than appliances, treating a self-driving vehicle experience as a form of alternative transportation might have the same effect.

A new forecast released in June 2019 from the International Data Corporation (IDC) indicated that global spending on smart cities initiatives will reach roughly $190 billion over the next four years.

Three of the top five areas that will experience the most spending by 2023 will include smart grid (given the rise of electric vehicles), advanced public transportation systems, and intelligent traffic management.

The output of these investments made by forward-thinking city planners – cleaner forms of personal vehicle transportation, improved transportation usage and reduced traffic congestion – directly addresses “we” values expressed by emerging mobility consumers.

It may also be easy to forget that less than a decade ago, ridesharing did not even exist. In 2019, Lyft went public with more than $25 billion in market cap, as has Uber with a market cap of just under $80 billion. All despite historically disappointing earnings reports.

Our study found one-third of American consumers report regular use of rideshare services (31%) as an alternative to using their own vehicle – an astounding market penetration for such a relatively young service within the marketplace. And Gen Z is only a relatively small portion of the rideshare market. As they age and enter new life stages, the potential for rideshare service growth is massive. The same is true for all new mobility technologies, which are expected to change massively as autonomous options begin to come to market.

If the dramatic and rapid growth of ridesharing is an indicator, mobility culture will accelerate the transition of how cities and denser suburban areas get designed, particularly space allocated for traditional vehicle parking.

Commercial real estate and larger residential housing are expected to convert existing parking spaces to pick up and drop off areas, solar facilities (to enhance vehicle charging options), or even micro green spaces for local communities which could decrease urban heat-island effects in densely populated areas. Similarly, new construction developments will take these smaller footprint opportunities into consideration.

While streets will continue to play a critical role advancing most mobility options, there will be opportunities to narrow them. A decrease in personal transportation won’t require the wide boulevards seen in many cities today, and those that exist can be converted to accommodate cars, micro-mobility solutions, charging infrastructure, pedestrians, and safer dedicated bikeways.

Developers and city planners will see opportunities to convert larger parking structures into infrastructure that can positively impact urban areas. This will include housing options (condos) to address reported shortages or even indoor growing facilities – with the growth of vertical, indoor growing methods – to bring fresh, affordable produce and healthy food options to communities.

The birth of mobility culture and the rise of “we” values suggest future journeys will not be quiet and alone, but ambient rides that are shared with others.

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