In the USA, almost 70% of all trips occur via private car. Across the western world, buses, trains, bicycles, and new devices like electric scooters, are finding it difficult to compete with the perceived convenience of the car. However, the reliance on private vehicles poses a real threat to the future of cities. Urban transport systems are unsustainable and are causing major damage to the environment and quality of life of city residents.
Multimodal transportation takes a new angle on the problem: instead of helping other modes of transport compete with the car, city governments and transport providers can help them complement it. Nobody wants to drive a car into a congested city center - what if instead drivers drove from the suburbs to a parking lot, and from there took an electric bike to their final destination?
The idea is "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" - by combining all modes of transport into one smart mobility platform, cities can encourage sustainable transport options, without asking commuters to forego the convenience of the car. New transport options like carsharing and ride-hailing are blurring the boundaries, allowing cars to join the mix on-demand as part of a multimodal trip.
In this article:
- What is multimodal transportation?
- Multimodal transport—why we need it
- Where is multimodal transport today?
- The future of mobility
What Is Multimodal Transportation?
In its traditional meaning, multimodal transportation, or combined transportation, is the movement of freight using two or more modes (or means) of transport under a single contract. In this type of transportation, a single carrier is responsible for the entire process, from origin to destination.
Extending this concept to our urban life, multimodal urban transportation refers to the way people travel by various means of transport, including bikes, cars, buses, subways, and micromobility devices such as electric scooters. This contrasts with personally owned modes of transportation, such as private cars and motorcycles.
Multimodal transportation offers a wide range of choices. A commuter might start their journey on a shared electric scooter to a train station, then take a train to work, later cycle to the store on a rented bike, and carry groceries home in a taxi. In this example, one private car is replaced by four separate modes of travel, each of which represents the choice that works best for each journey, or part of the journey.
Multimodal Transport—Why We Need It
Socio-economic and population pressures are changing the way people move within cities. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 50% of the world's population lived in urban environments in 2010, and that number is expected to increase to nearly 70% by 2050.
With road and highway networks already struggling to meet transportation demand, more people are turning to alternative transportation modes. One reason for this is the emergence of the sharing economy and shared-use mobility such as car sharing, scooter or bike-sharing, private shuttles, and on-demand ride services.
The usefulness and attractiveness of public transit services, such as metro systems, is limited by the difficulty of getting to and from the station, known as the first and last-mile problem. The use of shared, short-range mobility services can complement public transit by addressing this challenge, enabling commuters to reduce their dependence on private cars.
These alternative forms of transportation must provide a complete transport solution—otherwise, commuters will keep their private cars. The best solution is a multimodal transportation system in which many options are readily available. This allows commuters to seamlessly shift from one mode to another and choose the one most suited to their needs at any given moment.
Where is Multimodal Transport Today?
As mentioned already, in the USA, 69% of trips were made by personal vehicle as of 2017, while all other modes of transport accounted for 22%.
From another angle, looking at all private, public, and commercial transport in the USA, road transport accounts for 99.5% of all trips while only 0.05% of trips use rail-based transport. The UK figure is 96% for road and 4% for rail.
In the European Union, passengers travel 60 billion times per year using intra-city public transport, vs. only 1 billion times using long-distance rail and 800 million times using flights. Within that staggering 60 billion trips, 56% use buses, and the rest use trams, metro, and other short-distance rail-based transport.
This and other data suggest that while multiple modes of transport are in common use, the western world is still heavily dependent on road transport. Increasing the share of other modes of transportation—apart from car and bus, which are the primary modes used today—is key to encouraging a multimodal transport mentality and more flexible use of transport by commuters.
The Future of Mobility
The future of urban transportation lies in mobility-friendly networks where cars are just one element. As we wean ourselves off a system governed by personally owned vehicles, we will move towards a multimodal future of on-demand driverless vehicles, ride-sharing, and seamless public transit. In this future, motorized vehicles will be shared and will have zero emissions.
In tomorrow's city, any destination will be easily accessible without a private car. City streets will be redesigned to reduce reliance on cars, and parking spaces will be a thing of the past. Road infrastructure will be adjusted to accommodate bikes, scooters, and priority vehicles.
The fastest and most convenient modes of transport will range from walking and riding bikes or electric scooters, to transit services that cut through congestion in priority lanes. Bikes and scooters will offer convenient connections to travelers' local transit stops or shared ride pickup locations.
For multimodal transportation to work, it must integrate all mobility options into one smart transportation platform, enabling travelers to seamlessly compare cost, route, and schedules of different transport services, and pay for it all at once. This is one of the missions of HERE Mobility. By connecting all transportation services with businesses and customers in real-time, our mobility marketplace aims to empower transportation freedom, efficiency, and sustainability.
It's inevitable that with current transportation systems unsustainable, urban mobility has to change. With some of the advancements already available, such as the integration of travel modes into a single platform, a truly multimodal urban transportation future is close.