Rail’s opportunity in the great mobility revolution

  • Rupert Fausset

Rail’s opportunity in the great mobility revolution

Rupert Fausset, Sustainability Consultant at Forum for the Future, looks to Mobility as a Service and the opportunities it presents for rail

We struggle to find a word for it, but the world is moving beyond mere transport.

‘Mobility’ tries to convey the new world in which transport modes are dramatically changing, converging and collaborating. New technologies and social trends have converged in the past ten years to create new possibilities in consumer options and behaviours.

As Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, said in 2016: ‘There is more change to come in the next five to ten years than in the last fifty years.’

What are the big trends driving the change?
Heralded for decades, electrification finally looks unstoppable as cheaper battery technology, dropping in cost by about 16 per cent a year, now enables it to compete effectively with fossil fuel. Investment is pouring in, with most commentators anticipating a tipping point in the 2020s, and governments announcing phase out dates for fossil fuelled cars.

Meanwhile autonomous driving has jumped from science fiction to reality in just a few years. As the mobile communications revolution spreads into the transport space, the smartphone is also fast replacing the car as a key aspirational item for consumers.

More importantly, its advent points towards a potential for the wider democratisation of travel. Smartphone based travel technology innovations such as geo-located travel planning, smart ticketing and phone-based tickets have quickly sprung up. The smartphone also forms the basis of the emerging sharing economy in which emphasis is placed not on ownership of products, but on access to services.

The logical next step for the sector is already here: Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is a radical shift away from traditional ways of thinking based around the private car, towards mobility solutions that combine public and private providers alike, into a single unified platform that consumers can use to manage their trips from end to end – planning, accessing real-time travel information, and paying for their multi-modal tickets with a single account.

But the critical integration is not technical – that’s here – it’s the change in our mindsets, as MaaS begins to bring all modes together in our minds as well as on our phones.

Changing the face of travel
The early incarnations of MaaS are already all around us, in the form of multimode journey planners like CityMapper, combined ticketing like Oyster cards, on-demand car mobility from car clubs and of course the ubiquitous Uber.

But now, apps and services are emerging that bring everything together: the integrated journey planning with real-time information, and payment across all the forms of travel you might need: bus, rail, taxi, car club, cycling and walking in one package.

This is an innovation trend happening across the world. MaaS schemes are emerging at city level in various countries including Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Singapore and the USA – as well as the UK, where several schemes have already launched.

Forum for the Future is part of a consortium that includes O2, FirstGroup, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leeds City Council, which has developed a new MaaS product called trav.ly that has just been launched in West Yorkshire. Trav.ly offers full journey planning, RTI, bus ticketing and car club linkage. The next steps are to bring in rail ticketing and taxi integration, and scale to other locations.

Once it covers all modes and journey stages, it will be a true portfolio solution that can replace a personally owned car. KPMG’s 2017 Automotive Executive Survey found that most automobile executives agree that ‘by 2025, more than half of car owners will no longer want to own a car’. And those auto executives are acting. They are investing in the new mobility world to make sure they’re part of it, with companies including BMW, Ford and PSA investing in car sharing and online taxis, while Toyota has invested in Whim, another MaaS scheme already operating in the West Midlands.

As these city-wide schemes expand and merge into nationwide or even supra-national systems, all modes of travel – in particular public transport – will be brought together not just functionally, but also in the minds of the traveller.

This is a mindset change that could prove critical. As consumers are helped to think of public modes of travel as complementary and coordinated, they are more likely to shift their behaviour patterns onto shared and active travel options. Already, as costs accumulate and consumer interest wanes, the face of car ownership is changing rapidly: driving licenses amongst young men in the UK have fallen from 51 per cent to thirty per cent, whilst car clubs (known as car sharing in the US and elsewhere) double globally every two years.

In this new landscape, shared forms of passenger travel, including bus and rail but also car clubs and on-demand taxis, can supplant personally owned and operated cars and vehicles as the new default form of travel in the UK, for the first time since car-based conspicuous consumption first swept the world seventy years ago.

These changes offer the tempting prospect not just of growth in public and shared transport, but real progress in transport emissions, which are now the largest UK sector in terms of CO2 emissions, and the focus of renewed concern and action on urban air quality.

Communities have much to gain from this model. Accessibility and freedom of movement are now within reach for people who can’t afford to buy a car, or who find it difficult to access integrated travel information to plan their journeys. Migrating to more active forms of travel allows them to develop healthier lifestyles as part of everyday life.

As people reduce the number of owned cars, it could even transform urban landscapes for the better, in terms of street safety, space allocation for parking, and air and noise pollution.

Implications for the rail sector
For rail, what’s not to like about MaaS? The new mobility approaches help customers to plan and complete rail journeys, and reduce car dependency, helped by the manifest advantages of being able to stay connected and active on bus and rail.

As the backbone of a sustainable transport system, delivering low-carbon, long and medium-distance mass transit within and beyond nation-states, rail ought to be a major beneficiary of and contributor to the new mobility world.

But this might not happen. In some locations outside the UK, Mobility as a Service is seen as a road-based solution based on car clubs and demand-responsive transit, which could be an Uber-type cab but might equally be a shared minibus running flexible routes for app-using customers. Citymapper is experimenting with this approach in London.

If this expanded into longer range coaches then trains, as well as conventional buses, might be outflanked.

And in the UK at least, the barriers to entry to the rail retail market are high for the new mobility services, and to date, rail’s inclusion in these services has been very limited, while on demand taxi and car clubs are making integration easier.

Without a more proactive, strategic approach the new mobility story could continue to be one of cars, even (or perhaps especially) if they are electric and self-driving. So, it makes sense for rail to embrace MaaS and help it reach its potential with rail at its core. Some in the industry do recognise this but may need to move more quickly to keep up with the speed of development of the new solutions.

Uber, for example, was only founded in 2009 and has grown to its current level in less than the time taken to develop the latest Intercity Express train.

But Mobility as a Service provides the rail and wider public transport sector with the way to roll back car dominance and help make public and shared transport the new default means of getting around.

This is a great opportunity for growth in rail, and we look forward to working with the industry to overcome these challenges and put rail at the heart of the new mobility revolution.

Rupert Fausset is a Sustainability Consultant with Forum for the Future

2018-10-01T12:46:59+00:00October 1st, 2018|Magazine, October 2018|