The transportation transformation

via Globe and Mail

Integrated mobility is one of the hottest topics in the industry – but peddling the idea to Canadian cities is proving a slow ride

The future of transit is more than transit.

Imagine being in an unfamiliar city and wanting to get to a specific spot. You've downloaded a transportation app and it takes care of everything, offering options for your route and suggesting whether to go by transit, a bike-share, taxi – or perhaps a combination of all three. Upon completion of the trip, you're billed automatically.

This is integrated mobility, with the goal to offer the most convenient possible transportation journey, in which people can use the most logical vehicles for any given trip. The core idea is that much of urban living can be done without a car, if you have the right options. Having robust transit and other choices – along with occasional access to a car – should mean that fewer people will require their own vehicle.

It's a future that is emerging in select cities, as private companies and public transportation operators roll out pilots and small-scale launches. These include everything from mass transit to bike-share to electric vehicle charging – even ski-lift passes.

Sampo Hietanen, chief executive officer of the Finnish firm Mobility as a Service (MaaS), said his company's goal is to offer all the options people need.

"Simply, we'll get you there," he said from the airport in Copenhagen. "It's not just [your daily normal] A to B. We need to be able to take care of all your As and all your Bs, all the time."

Integrated mobility is one of the hottest topics in transportation and a session on it drew a standing-room-only crowd at a global conference in Montreal this spring. Some of the most senior people in Canadian transit were there to learn about cities and companies leading this change. But there is little progress in most Canadian cities, some of which have only recently got past the idea of something such as cycling competing with public transit.

The backbone of integrated mobility is invariably public transit, though this is not typically about transit agencies themselves providing all possible transportation services. Instead, it's about extending the service transit can offer on its own, doing so by linking transportation options together so they can be accessed as part of a bigger package.

Martin Roehrleef, head of transportation modernization efforts in Hannover, Germany, likens the city's offerings to a fast-food restaurant. Its customers can pick and choose what transportation options they want to include, paying a single monthly bill.

"Every transit customer also has to rely on other modes of transport … so we made it our mission to make it as simple as possible for them," he said.

Hannover has 3,000 or 4,000 users of its app. It's still a relatively small number, Mr. Roehrleef acknowledged, but he noted that its percentage growth is "by double digits" from year to year and said a large number of users have been able to rid themselves of private vehicles.

The city offered Germany's first multimodal transportation package in 2004 and launched a Web-based mobility service last year. It's at the forefront of a global evolution that is starting to gather momentum, promising to transform how people get around.

The Canadian question

This transportation evolution is an effort that Canadian cities have been slow to join. Montreal is most bullish on the vision, but some Canadian cities are merely monitoring what others are doing. Mr. Hietanen's firm is eyeing Toronto, but the city itself has done little to pursue such a future. As it stands, the Presto fare card offers no functionality beyond transit, not allowing users to pay for parking or even take out a bike-share.

Patrick Leclerc, president of the Canadian Urban Transit Association, argued that the technology is new, so cities in this country aren't so far behind. But he added that they face struggles around governance, the regulatory environment and limited population density.

Some cities that might want to integrate their transportation system lack alternate options such as bike-share. And with transit agencies often still judged by their ridership and with funding linked to the number of people carried, there can be little motivation to co-operate with other transportation providers.

"What we need to look at is how can we grow the share of the pie of sustainable urban mobility," Mr. Leclerc said.

"If the goal is to build sustainable communities and we say we will track modal share of sustainable urban mobility options, this is where I think we'll achieve the right growth. And this is where you will really incentivize transit agencies to partner up with other sustainable mobility providers, to grow that piece of the pie. But if we only give them objectives to increase ridership, then what is the incentive to [encourage] people to leave the bus and get on their bikes?"