20 Sep 19

Defining new mobility requirements

Speaking at the Realty conference in Belgium this week, Alexander D’Hooge, Professor of Urbanism at MIT in Boston, set out research by himself and his team into how the new mobility landscape is likely to develop.

One of his major points was to divide the territories involved into three distinct zones. The first two of these are the urban area and the rural area, and he had a clear message. In urban areas, alongside the new solutions such as carsharing, bikesharing, pavement scooters and so on, is the 19th-century technology of trains and metros. Despite their age, these are and will remain the only mode of transport able to transport tens of thousands of people an hour across our cities. To these can be added buses, provided they are in dedicated lanes. 

In terms of the amount of space taken up in the city per person transported, all these require the least amount of space, while cars require the most. Professor D’Hooge also had a warning where carsharing services are concerned: “Someone using a carsharing vehicle is still on the road on his own, it’s just not his own car. So that changes nothing.” These cars need multiple passengers and dedicated lanes to make any difference. And dedicated lanes, he pointed out, do not require new infrastructure. They can be grafted into the existing situation. There was also a word of warning for Uber. The explosion in use in New York (six times increase in three years), with people using Uber instead of the metro, has led to increased congestion, and the city Mayor is taking action.


Moving into rural areas, Professor D’Hooge said that the situation is exactly the opposite. It is simply not possible to have metros or any form of mass public transport stopping at every corner of the street in the countryside. So here, we have to accept that private cars will remain essential. 

Not only are two solutions needed, therefore, but they are absolutely mutually exclusive – neither of them can be imposed onto the territory of the other. 

So where is all the development potential for new modes of mobility? This comes in the form of genuinely multi-modal transport hubs in the city suburbs, where people can arrive using one form of transport and very quickly move to another. But these, too, have to be structured so that they provide real solutions for travelling between cities as well as within cities. They also represent great development opportunities for mobility providers – new systems can simply be added on in the future. They also have potential for the construction industry – providing services around these new hubs.

New modes

Next come two examples of what the future may hold. One of these comes in the form of what the Professor referred to as ‘micro-transport’. These are small (perhaps 8-seater) electric buses which are part of the multi-modal hub and which are ‘on demand’. These would also be free-floating, as this system is rapidly outpacing ‘fixed station’ versions. On this point, he also said that the software being developed for these solutions is evolving so fast that the vehicles themselves cannot keep pace with it, and traditional transport suppliers certainly can’t.

The second example demonstrates really new thinking. Professor D’Hooge set out the case of a new service in the USA called ‘VIA’. This is a sort of ridehailing service, but with a new twist. You tell the VIA app where you want to go and it will respond by saying something like: ‘Walk to the end of the road, it will take 3 minutes, and a VIA car will pick you up. It will drop you off within 2 minutes' walk of your destination.’ Again, fast-evolving software... The cars themselves take around 5 people and they are partitioned inside so that you don’t have to talk to the others, and you can make private phone calls. Alongside this in-car feature, the second innovative element of the service is the fact that every passenger is not picked up and dropped off at precisely the start-point and destination of their journey, which requires a lot of detours and wastes time for the others.

To conclude, the future of mobility lies in being realistic about differing needs in differing locations, and in creating genuinely flexible and efficient multi-modal hubs, integrating new thinking in terms of on-demand services.

Photo Alexander D’Hooge: 
Credit: We Make the City  Jonathan Ramael District Antwerpen


Authored by: Tim Harrup