Transportation Troubleshooting: Mobility Marketplace Will Improve How We Use Transportation Systems
Transportation technology is changing so fast that it’s easy to forget how our choices have multiplied in the last 15 years. As recently as the mid-2000s, many of the services we take for granted today did not exist. These include ride-hailing services; city bike-share programs; dockless e-scooters; and smartphone apps to book, pay for and obtain real-time status updates for buses and light rail.
In that time frame, advanced technology in passenger vehicles has evolved from primitive GPS navigation to collision and lane-departure warnings, adaptive cruise control and other advanced driver-assistance systems. In addition, many state highway agencies have transitioned to electronic tolling.
This technology vastly improves traffic flow, idling and pollution, and will enable congestion pricing and other road-usage charges that jurisdictions will eventually implement as alternatives to antiquated and insufficient motor fuel taxes. And with the electrification of light-duty vehicles, profound new changes are on the horizon, especially in fueling infrastructure.
Opportunity for Technology
As transportation technology advances, there is an enormous opportunity to consolidate mobility services—from intelligent planning of routes and travel modes to booking and payment of all transportation costs—into a single platform. Along with other leaders in transportation—notably USDOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office—we’re calling this approach the Mobility Marketplace.
We can see the beginnings of Mobility Marketplace in Integrated Electronic Payment System (IEPS) apps such as Transit, which handles mobile fare payment for more than 100 transit agencies, and regional IEPS collaborations such as the multimodal Orca Card in Puget Sound. In WSP’s vision, a Mobility Marketplace would expand this model to all transportation services—from scooters to commuter rail, from ride-hailing services to EV charging, and from tolling to parking—offering convenience for busy travelers on the go and cost savings for transportation agencies.
Mobility Marketplace would also use big data and AI to offer users recommendations for the best combination of modes and routes to reach their destination—recommendations tailored to their economic and time budgets.
“Right now, major metropolitan areas can be confusing for transit riders who need to make connections between different transit agencies, such as a ferry operator and a light rail system,” says my colleague Patrick McGowan, director of mobility operations. “A Mobility Marketplace would not only allow one app for payment, but it would let the traveler see all their options and provide guidance to make the best choices.”
My colleagues and I also see the Mobility Marketplace as a budgeting tool for commuters and travelers. “Now, most people don’t know what they spend on transportation,” McGowan says. “This marketplace concept would make paying for transportation more like paying for electricity, water and other utilities. It would empower them to reduce costs or make other changes based on complete information.”
WSP launched its Mobility Marketplace initiative at the September IBTTA annual meeting in Austin—and the response was virtually unanimous agreement that this is something that needs to happen. However, mixed with that enthusiasm was a healthy dose of skepticism and concern about the challenges. These include rallying the political will to support and finance this evolution, concerns about revenue impacts to individual agencies, objections from private companies such as parking and EV charging operators, and the technical risks inherent in such a significant upgrade from legacy booking and payment systems.
We also must address equity concerns. For example, many transit riders can’t afford or don’t want smartphones. We applaud the work of our colleagues at USDOT ITS, who advocate for accessible kiosks, websites and integrated call centers to allow all users to enjoy the same planning and payment options that smartphone users will.
Build the Platform
We’re confident such risks and equity issues can be worked out with collaboration and a desire to succeed together as an industry. What’s needed are transit and transportation agencies willing to invest in building the necessary platform architecture to integrate regional transportation services into an integrated system. This does not mean agency back-office functions must be integrated—just that they communicate in real-time to present travelers with a single marketplace of choices.
And it’s important to mention that Mobility Marketplace configurations will differ from region to region. “We recognize this won’t work with a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Jeff Heilstedt, WSP’s national leader for highways, bridges and tolling. “Creating the right platform for a region will start with talking through the relevant agencies’ goals and objectives and putting together a strategic plan to achieve what they want to achieve.”
The goal is to put travelers at the forefront, using advanced technology to make it easier for them to plan, make connections, pay for and budget their transportation needs.