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5 Mobility Opportunities on the Horizon for Cities

City leaders answer the question, "What are the biggest opportunities for cities in mobility within the next 2 to 5 years?"

The distant future of mobility may be uncertain at this point, but at the Smart Cities Innovation Accelerator at Melbourne, members of the Transportation Panel were asked a more proximate question: What are the biggest opportunities for cities in mobility within the next 2 to 5 years?

Representatives from cities around the globe, along with industry leaders, weighed in on this question, identifying and discussing some of the major opportunities on the horizon. Here are some of the main themes

1. Focus on Last-Mile Transit

First, it should be noted that 1-hour long panel session focused almost exclusively on last-mile transit—once citizens make it into the city, what forms of transportation do they use to journey the last mile of their commute to their exact destination?

Panel members did not target one particular form of mobility for last-mile transit solutions but instead advocated offering citizens a range of convenient options. Bikes, e-scooters, shuttle systems, ride-sharing, buses and more are all options that cities are exploring. For example, one city is offering electric vehicle on-demand shuttle systems that are funded by parking meter revenue, while others are focusing on making buses more convenient with real-time data, or contemplating how to make curbside more efficient in the city.

Focusing on last-mile transit means that city officials have to get engineers, operators, and other tech people inside the transportation sector to think differently about how mobility in the city works. A representative from New South Wales, who has done a lot of work in this area, says there is no secret to making this happen. It just takes lots and lots of hard conversations, and strong leadership.

2. Payment Systems

One topic that took up a good portion of the panel session was the need to upgrade payment systems for public transit. Many panel members advocated the use of contactless payments because it allows the city to shift away from traditional big ticketing companies, and it keeps them open for whatever innovation will come out in the market next.

There are so many different vendors in the market of contactless payments, and the possibilities are vast. While contactless currently requires the use of a credit card, in the future, cities could look into how to incorporate payment into something citizens are already carrying, such as phones, jewelry, or devices. Panel members also dream of the day when payment systems move beyond city boundaries—a future where it doesn’t matter where you are, you just tap and go.

3. Making Transit Accessible

Contactless payment systems are convenient and take advantage of the fact that humans are creatures of habit who also want to walk the path of least resistance. However, some panel members argued that contactless systems are exclusive. You either have a card, or you don’t, and if you don’t, you are singled and you have to use the paper ticket line. Some people are either unable or unwilling to open a bank account for whatever reason. “If public transit is contactless, how do you ensure that you’re looking out for everyone—that public transport is truly for the public?” mused one panel member.

Other panel members suggested that cities could create city ID cards which can verify a person’s identity and address while also having payment functionality as well as safety measures in place that protect the user in case the card is lost. They argued that contactless is a positive step forward; it’s convenient, safe, clean, reliable, and offers a better user experience. Instead of holding back because contactless payments may be exclusionary at the current time, they recommended that true inclusion would be finding a way to help all citizens participate in the contactless payment system.

On the topic of accessibility for all, panel members also suggested that mobility solutions should always be focused around human-centered design. City officials should look to reduce friction in urban transportation, improve efficiency so that a variety of mobility options are appealing to citizens, and always remember that comfort is a big part of the user experience that residents are expecting.

4. Sustainable Mobility

There was also some discussion about sustainable mobility—providing cleaner transport and making sure that cities explore bikes, walking, and other sustainable options.

Most cities have experience with lime green docked and dockless bikes as well as e-scooters; these are popular forms of last-mile transit that citizens love. However, many city officials have mixed feelings about these mobility solutions.

Some cities have opted to take a free approach, with no regulations for the first several months, allowing many companies which offer these solutions to try them out in the city to see what

happens. This trial period allows the cities to get data on utilization and feedback from citizens while having time to think about use cases.

That said, many city officials stress the need to have regulations regarding these mobility solutions. Bikes and scooters being dumped everywhere can create disorder and impact safety. Some cities have limited the number of providers who can roll out their mobility solutions in the city and required them to adopt certain rules of engagement. Other leaders recommend licensing and registration requirements.

In terms of managing shared bikes, cities leaders also mentioned the need to contemplate accessibility, such as ensuring that there are safe bike lanes to use. Panel members also discussed using apps that would allow the public to submit a picture if a bike was in left in an undesignated area, a sort of self-enforcing solution that would help ensure that bikes stay where they should be and do not crowd and clutter the city.

5. Sharing Experiences

Panel members spoke passionately about the importance of cities sharing their smart city mobility experiences with one another, and there is a lot of hope that sharing and learning from one another will become easier in the next 2-5 years.

City officials are often caught in their day jobs, and they don’t have time for collaboration—nor is it in the city budget. Thus, collaboration only tends to happen if a leader takes the initiative to do it in his/her own time, or when they have formed a personal relationship with another city leader.

This piece is part of the Smart Cities Innovation Accelerator at Melbourne report, which focused on strategies, sustainability and disruption in innovation. Visit Mastercard Transit Solutions to learn more about innovative transit and mobility solutions for cities.

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash.

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