How should we organise mobility in urban spaces?

In the interview with the PTV Compass Blog, Philippe Crist, Project Manager at ITF, talks about the mobility of the future.

New forms of mobility – from sharing services and autonomous vehicles to mobility as a service – will exert a strong influence on life in the city. As a member of the Corporate Partnership Board (CPB), PTV has been working together with the OECD’s International Transport Forum (ITF) for several years now. In 2015, PTV participated in the Lisbon Study which analysed the impact of shared, autonomous mobility on urban transport. In September, the CPB members came to visit us in Karlsruhe, a meeting in which the results of the study were discussed and analysed further. On this occasion, we spoke with Philippe Crist, Project Manager at ITF, about the future of mobility and the challenges ahead of us.

Compass: What are the main challenges we are facing concerning mobility of the future?

Philippe Crist: Given the many different mobility contexts, there is more than one answer to this question. The main challenges, that we are facing today in Europe, differ from those in South-East Asia or in Africa. But I think there are major trends. One is that there is an increasing demand for better, more efficient travel options. For a long time in many places, in Europe and in North America, it was all about the car. What has changed is that the traffic system is no longer the same as it used to be some years ago. There are very busy roads in the cities and congested environments. That is why people are considering different options.

Compass: What role does digitisation play?

Philippe Crist: In wealthy, developed countries, digitisation plays an important role concerning the mobility of the future. It enables people to make better choices based on existing services and  new shared and automated models. However, that’s not necessarily the most interesting development for developing countries. In those countries, the top priority is to increase efficiency of the overall transport system. To this end, they will have to offer more classical forms of public transport and also provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists.

Compass: How can the Lisbon Study help solve those challenges?

Philippe Crist: One of the goals of our work in Lisbon and in some other cities was to identify the potential. And so PTV’s modelling and simulation approach helps provide input to what if scenarios. What if you were able to use this shared system, how and to what extent would it affect us? But this is only the very first part of the answer to the question. Because you have to ask how to develop and implement it, who owns and operates it and under what pricing structure? The way how we organize mobility in urban spaces has the potential to challenge the definition of how we characterize public transport, because in the study we don’t say who operates the system. A private company? A public transport company? A combination of the two of them? One thing is perfectly clear: this mobility solution is something that looks very different from that provided by existing public transport. For public transport operators it’s also a wakeup call that they might have to think about their future business role.

Compass: Do you think it will be difficult to convince people to share more?

Philippe Crist: In countries like ours, people are not used to sharing or have forgotten how to share. If you look at informal transport around the world, a lot of sharing is taking place. The question is how do you formalise these processes and integrate them into the transport offer. I believe – and that is what we know from experience – that there are many people who would share more often, if they had convenient options that would allow them to save some money. So there might be 30 % of the population or 50 % or 60% – we don’t know. But we can see that sharing is an attractive option, when we look at the increasing number of shared rides like Lyft Line, Uber or BlaBlaCar.

During their meeting in Karlsruhe the members of the Corporate Partnership Board were visiting the PTV Mobility Lab.

Compass: During the meeting of the Corporate Partnership Board in Karlsruhe, you dedicated a central part of your agenda to ride services …

Philippe Crist: Yes, that’s true. Ride sharing still represents a small part of the world travel but these services are growing quite fast. As we look to the future, with more and more people using those services including traditional taxis, we will need more space for picking up and dropping off passengers in cities. This in turn may put pressure on the amount of space that we dedicate to vehicle storing and parking. We are going to model what happens if you increase pick up and drop off capacity and combine it with the amount of space on the curb that you provide for public transport vehicles, for pedestrians and cyclists, etc. And so it is a way of thinking what happens in a world where the most important value proposition for transport comes from how easily you access the curb and not where you can stop your vehicle.

Compass: If you look at all the cars parked in cities, you can clearly ask yourself if this is the best way to use urban space…

Philippe Cirst: That’s what Mikael Colville-Andersen, an urban planner based in Copenhagen, describes as the arrogance of space. In the kind of scenarios we are thinking about, you could have around 120 pick-ups and drop offs for the same, let’s say 40 metres of blocked space in one hour, that means 120 people that can get on or off a bus, taxi or ride service. At the same time, if you allocated this space to cars, you could park four cars there. 120 versus 4. We are providing a lot of room for one type of vehicle and that is arrogant in terms of the use of space. It is misallocation of space.

Compass: So, what was the goal of the meeting?

Philippe Crist: We had three purposes. One was to talk about the things that we have to be aware of when we start looking at this modelling exercise. The second aim was to understand what tools we have at our disposal to find answers to the questions, to build the scenarios and to run them. So PTV has several solutions, we have some solutions and the idea was to see how can we make all those work together. And finally we wanted to analyse the scenarios in terms of performance indicators resulting from this combination, such as the turnover of one square meter of space dedicated to one user or another. Or safety considerations. In cities like New York, where the access to the curb is blocked by parked vehicles, a lot of the pick-up and drop off activities take place in the first lane of traffic. That is not only dangerous for passengers, but it may also cause traffic jams. In our models, we want to find out how many conflicts there are and if they can be solved or mitigated through the configuration of pickup and drop off zones.