Whether it’s ride-sharing, connected public transportation systems, autonomous vehicles or electric scooters, the ways we get around our cities are changing.
Technological and digital advances designed to make the task of getting from point A to point B easier and more efficient will shape the future of mobility. Those electric scooters popping up on the streets of many cities are just the latest demonstration that mobility is indeed changing. They also underscore some of the challenges to be overcome.
The days of commuting in self-owned cars with a single passenger may be numbered. With the rise of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and smart cities, your morning trip to the office might soon start with a combination of smart transport options that consider real-time traffic conditions to deliver you to your destination as quickly as possible.
“Today we have many different mobility options available to us: ride-sharing, car-sharing, subscription auto lease, autonomous vehicles, scooter-sharing, bike-sharing plus public transportation,” says Jillian Slyfield, Digital Economy practice leader at Aon.
“If you go back just a year ago, each of those modalities were unique,” Slyfield says. “Now, in certain markets, you can use a ride-sharing app and see an end-to-end solution for your transportation needs. It might involve a ride-share to public transportation, then public transportation to a point where you get on a scooter for the last mile. The process takes you through your journey in the most efficient manner.”
The technology propelling these new forms of mobility is designed to get people around more efficiently. But achieving the best outcomes requires properly integrating the new modes into urban transportation planning and developing regulations that appropriately address the new forms of travel.
The future of MaaS will see us using multiple modes of transportation – such as ride-sharing, car-sharing, subscription cars, autonomous vehicles, platform-enabled delivery services, bike-sharing and electric scooters. A hub-based transportation system can then link various modes together at key points in the city and coordinate targeted services, such as grocery delivery, at key intersections in the journey.
COORDINATING WITH EXISTING TRANSIT OPTIONS
As the mobility landscape evolves, some public-transit agencies are finding ways to use MaaS for serving travelers better and stem declining passenger numbers.
“Thirty-one of the 35 largest transit agencies have seen ridership decline due to new travel options, in addition to factors such as sustained lower gas prices, an increase in teleworking and service cuts,” says Otis Tolbert, managing director and Rail & Transit practice leader at Aon. “The transit community recognizes the trend, so it’s trying some new things to remain an important part of the transportation landscape.”
One option being explored by transit agencies is mobility on demand, which provides riders with vouchers that cover the cost of ride-sharing rides or even of scooter rentals to and from train stations. This approach seeks to address several perceived inconveniences – chiefly, in taking a bus to and from a train stop, or in the hassle of parking at a train station. As a bonus, the option also reduces the need for parking spaces and garages in already congested areas. Plus, partnering with ride-sharing services might also enable transit agencies to better serve customers when construction projects or breakdowns interrupt normal service along certain routes.
For a small number of U.S. cities – such as Houston, Phoenix, or Seattle – a renewed focus on transit-system quality has increased their ridership. Seattle’s bus and light-rail systems have seen gains thanks to voter-supported system expansions and improvements that bring more frequent, reliable service. And a partnership between Washington state and large employers helps workers find alternatives to solo commutes by car.
NEW TRAVEL OPTIONS BRING NEW RISKS, LIABILITY QUESTIONS
As new modes of transportation are added to the mobility mix, they raise questions of risk and liability. Transit agencies partnering with ride-sharing firms are determining how to appropriately assign risk and potential liability.
Ride-sharing is a developed market, so while regulations might vary by state or country – prompting some confusion for travelers – most jurisdictions mandate fairly standard levels of protections for riders, Slyfield says. Still, questions around determining liability remain, she says, likely with a variety of answers. “It’s not going to be a federal answer,” she adds. “Certainly not a global answer.”
Scooters bring a number of questions around risk and liability as cities, states and countries take varying stances toward their regulation and responsibility for liability. As electric scooters have become more commonplace in cities around the world, so have accidents involving them. As of June 2017, accidents involving rentable scooters had caused at least eight deaths in the U.S.
The question of whether scooter rental companies will be held liable for losses such as third-party injuries – such as when a rider hits and injures a pedestrian – will be critical to the industry’s survival, according to Slyfield. “By comparison, rental car companies aren’t held liable if you injure someone while driving a rental car,” she says.
Scooter riders may eventually take out individual insurance policies written to cover liabilities associated with scooter use, Slyfield says, particularly as some homeowner’s insurers exclude scooter risks. Indeed, complying with local law, Singapore-based scooter rental firm Beam recently began providing personal accident insurance to scooter riders in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, and New Zealand.
THE FUTURE OF MOBILITY: SMARTER, MORE EFFICIENT
Technology has introduced new modes of transportation into the mix, reshaping how we get around our cities. As those modes mature and more new options are introduced, mobility will continue to evolve.
“It’s all about what is the most efficient form of transportation, given what’s happening with traffic patterns at any point in time,” says Slyfield. “That’s where we’ll see interconnectedness with sensors and smart cities as well as consumer feedback – using that data with apps and these new modes of transportation to provide an efficient travel recommendation.”