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Going multimodal: Why seamless travel is more important than ever

Category: Lifestyle
Published: 10/08/2016

If we lived in the world of Hogwarts, we’d cast a spell and ‘apparate’ straight from one destination to another (that’s teleportation for non-Harry Potter fans). But while we’re far from the magical world of effortless travel, there’s no doubt that the seamlessness of our transport networks has improved massively – and the multimodal future is looking bright.

Gone are the days of hiding behind an A-Z map, peering at street signs and asking passers-by for directions. Nowadays, if you live in a city, transport can be as easy as asking your smartphone to crunch together everything from ride-shares and trains to bike-shares and buses, all working together to make your journey as efficient and enjoyable as possible.

And multimodal transport is only going to get slicker, easier and more sophisticated in the years to come. It’s a big business too: the global market for intelligent mobility is predicted to be worth £900 billion by 2025. A world where travel is increasingly simplified across modes is inevitable.

Why we need multimodal transport

Multimodal transport involves integrating everything from cars and trains to trams – and even good old-fashioned walking – to take the hassle out of travel. In essence, using two or more modes of transport to make streamlined and effective journeys.

If all the modes in which we travel were merged together to create integrated and smart multimodal journeys, not only would our trips be quicker – they’d be more enjoyable too.

New mobility business models could save users £150 billion in 2025

As Will Phillipson, of rail technology providers SilverRail Technologies, observes, simplicity in every aspect of our trip is key: “Today’s travellers want real-time, accurate, bookable information which will enable them to move with minimal friction.

“They want to get on a train, bus, bike, taxi or ride-share with a ticket while knowing that they’ll always get the best value and that they’re taking the best route.

“They don’t want to worry about delays, ticket machines, ticket types or refunds – they don’t even want to worry about a ticket at all if they can just use their mobile device instead.”

Plus, Phillipson continues, efficiently connecting the dots in transport doesn’t just benefit passengers – it has a positive impact well beyond the immediacy of transportation.

For example, recent research from Frost & Sullivan highlights the environmental importance of effective transport networks, showing the extent to which smart mobility could help the planet. New mobility business models will not only save users £150 billion in 2025, but also deliver emissions savings of 56 MtCO2.

multimodal transport

There’s an app for that

At the heart of this fusion is the smartphone, as noted by transport experts Susan Shaheen and Matthew Christensen.

Consider how apps like Citymapper have helped change the very way we travel, altering the way we think about getting around (and without us actually being that aware of it). We have gone from asking, for example, “which train should I catch?” to asking “how do I get home from here?”.

Our smartphone is now the go-to device for more or less everything travel-related. We order tickets, get updates about delays or traffic, find out the most effective way to get home and even use them as a contactless card. Forget your device and travel starts to feel slow and unsophisticated.

According to transportation design expert Dan Sturges, the smartphone is “very important” for the future of transport. “We’re going to become like Tarzan or Jane swinging from vine to vine, from one mode to the next mode to the next mode,” he says.

“These apps will be what makes this easy. It becomes a seamless journey with the right information showing up as you need it.”

Crossing the threshold and facing hurdles

But despite this innovation, there’s still some tacit resistance to multimodal transport, with drivers, especially in suburban towns, reluctant to change their ways.

“It’s hard for the basic consumer to imagine how great a multimodal network could be,” Sturges says. “It’s probably as big a change as when we went from riding horses to driving cars.

Multimodal transport could be the biggest change since we went from riding horses to driving cars

“In some neighbourhoods, the car takes people everywhere. The car becomes like another pair of legs, so people are a little resistant to change.”

So how do you change stubborn minds? For Stuart Cole, professor of transport at the University of South Wales, there are four important ‘I’s to consider when attempting the mammoth task of integrating multimodal transport and getting consumers excited about it.

“Information, interchange, investment and imagination,” he explains. “Tell people what’s available, create a single ticket for the whole country to use; you need everything to be easy. If it’s easy, people will use it.”

Carbon emission reductions, reduced costs for consumers, decreased traffic congestion, and even an improvement in public health – all courtesy of multimodal transport. Harry Potter’s ‘apparation’ may be a way off, but the future of travel is clearly looking more exciting than ever before.