There’s a lot excitement about new transport technologies at the moment, with buzzwords like “shared mobility”, “mobility as a service”, “transport as a service”, “autonomous vehicles” and “connected vehicles” being pinged around like crazy. Many of these developments seem like they could be really useful, but at the same time seem to come with a lot of teething problems. This doesn’t stop some from making some really bold predictions about the upcoming changes to how we get around:
I looked at some of the potential impacts of driverless cars around a year ago, reaching the conclusion that it’s quite possible they could end up making our transport problems worse, rather than better. The big uncertainty was around whether people would share vehicles, as in the same vehicle shifting multiple people (ride-sharing) rather than everyone travelling around in their individual little pod.
Last week the International Transport Forum released a study on this issue of shared mobility, using Auckland as a case study. The study’s key findings are outlined below:
This report examines how the optimised use of new shared transport modes can change the future of mobility in the Auckland area in New Zealand. Based on computer simulations of different shared mobility scenarios, the study shows that introducing ride sharing and Taxi-Bus services can significantly reduce C02 emissions and improve accessibility while lowering mobility costs and improving service quality for users. Most scenarios also reduce congestion and release public parking space for other uses. The simulations show that new shared modes work particularly effectively in tandem with public transport supply such as rail and bus rapid transit (BRT), for which they can act as feeders. A survey and focus groups for the study explored how willing citizens in the Auckland area are to using shared mobility solutions. Together, the findings provide an evidence base for decision makers to weigh opportunities and challenges created by new forms of shared transport services. The work forms part of a series of studies on shared mobility in different urban and metropolitan contexts.
The report itself is very detailed, but a few of the key points that jumped out at me were:
- Shifting all private vehicle trips to shared mobility would reduce total travel (and therefore emissions) by half.
- Using shared mobility as a “feeder service” to rapid transit (busway or rail) could increase ridership on those core public transport networks ten-fold.
- Areas that are difficult to serve efficiently with “traditional” public transport seem to benefit substantially, addressing equity issues.
- Some of the configurations of number of seats were inefficient.
- People preferred a larger number of fellow passengers on their service (as long as they could still get a seat)
It paints a fairly rosy picture and most of the recommendations seem to be around encouraging transport agencies to get on with providing these services. However, it seems that all of this still leaves a huge number of questions unanswered. Things like:
- How willing will people be to give up their individual vehicles, for something they need to share? After all, cars are often seen as an extension of one’s living room or personal space.
- How annoying will it be to keep diverting off the most direct route to pick up or drop off someone? Will people stand for it?
- Until these vehicles are driverless (which could be a long way away), how expensive will it be to provide a driver for every 8-16 people who want to travel around Auckland?
- How will security concerns be addressed when it becomes that little bit more obvious to all your fellow passengers exactly where you live?
Increasing vehicle occupancy has long been the “holy grail” for transport planning. If only there were four people in each car instead of one, then all our transport problems would seemingly disappear. But it’s been going in the opposite direction. Sharing a small vehicle and making a whole pile of detours seems like it’s just too annoying for most and as cars have become cheaper, occupancy rates have fallen. Take a look at data from Australian cities about the huge decline in commuting as a “car passenger”:
Over a similar time, Auckland has gone from around 6.7%, down to 4.7%
This isn’t to say that shared mobility shouldn’t be encouraged. It certainly seems like it could play a useful niche role in the transport system in better serving lower density areas, particularly in feeding people into core rapid transit spines. But jumping on the bandwagon still seems a bit premature, at least until driverless technology gets to a point where the labour cost implications of replacing bigger vehicles with smaller ones disappears.
What we don’t want to see is shared mobility eating up precious public transport funding in areas where other transport options already work fairly well. Which is why it’s quite concerning to see Auckland Transport’s latest board report indicating a Van scheme will be operated in Devonport:
We will follow how this trial goes very closely. Hopefully it works better than the last time Auckland Transport tried something like this with the Half Moon Bay ferry shuttle, which was used a grand total of 23 times in two months!