How Passenger Behavior Can Improve City Mobility (100 resilient cities)

Published 08.24.16

Cities must engage citizens to develop efficient transport infrastructure that meets the urgent challenges facing cities today .This cross-post from our Platform Partner EYdescribes how studying behavior can affect the future of transport planning. 100RC engages in content partnerships with several organizations, and cross-posting does not indicate an endorsement or agreement.

Cities under pressure

The growing economic power of cities and the accompanying demand for infrastructure is one of the themes that defines today’s global economic and political landscape. The number and scale of cities continues to grow across the globe, driven by rapid urbanization in emerging markets and continued urbanization in mature markets. The United Nations estimates that 54% of the world’s population currently live in cities, and that by 2050, this proportion will increase to 66%. Cities need effective infrastructure investment and sound planning if they are to remain competitive, resilient and good places in which to live and do business.

Effective transport infrastructure is critical to a city’s economic performance. Congestion and widespread dissatisfaction among transport users suggest a clear opportunity to reform systems and policies. Crowding and underutilized transport systems also hint at a challenge that policymakers should address head-on: putting the user — the citizen — at the heart of the solution. A thorough understanding of their behavior will be the cornerstone of effective transport policy.

The convergence of human, digital and physical in transport changes what it means to be mobile

A new type of individual mobility, and the different behaviors associated with it, triggers the pressing need to change approaches to transport policy planning. Citizens’ experience of mobility is evolving. And this is changing their relationship with transport infrastructure. As users of transport systems, individuals everywhere are now connected to real-time information and transit alternatives, such as ridesharing, ridesourcing, taxi-hailing and multimodal transportation apps.

Connectivity and information support users’ travel decisions, giving them new ways of accessing the city. This is digitalization of consumption. Technology and digital connectivity are enabling citizens to access new transport amenities from outside existing infrastructure. In fact, digital advances are bringing infrastructure to life in a new way, enabling citizens to discuss and plan their own journeys.

Putting citizens in control

It is logical that, if transport planning is to be effective, policymakers should ensure that infrastructure and behavior work in concert. A renewed focus on the human being as the starting point for transport policy planning is important. Significantly, this means more than just studying ridership. While ridership undoubtedly reflects individuals’ behaviors and mobility choices, it does not properly represent the new “personal mobility.”

What is needed instead is a policy planning focus on transit behaviors per person. How does this one person use modes of transport to get around their city? How do they access work and social opportunities? These behaviors per person ultimately contribute to their mobility, rather than the aggregate number of riders on one mode of transport.

Driven by behavior

If behaviors per person is the bellwether of effective mobility, transport policy planning needs to focus squarely on residents’ mobility behaviors if it is to drive improvement. It is all the more important for policymakers to tune into behavioral patterns. As the dynamics of human, digital and physical infrastructure are transforming, mobility behavior is itself changing.

Of course, human behavior is complex and can be contradictory. For example, individuals and households may believe in environmental conservation, yet still prefer to use their car for routine journeys rather than a public transport alternative. Similarly, individuals may value the health benefits of walking or riding a bike, yet instead make use of ride-sourcing services for more of their trips. Tapping into socially-desirable behaviors and norms can offer important clues on effective behavioral-based reforms.

Mobility must meet the expectations of citizens

With the revival of inner-city areas, city living is growing in appeal both for younger generations and retirees. Travel demands are changing accordingly, with increasing demand for public transit and multimodal travel. While these attitudes may be exemplified by young people, they are certainly part of a broader shift in preferences away from driving and toward alternative and mixed-mode forms of travel.

Current trends suggest the average future user will want to live in dense, community-oriented cities with short commutes, plentiful public transit, and non-motorized, customizable transport options. To best promote mobility, transport policy planning needs to make these trends in attitudes, and the associated preferences and behaviors of the future user, central to design.

Three visions for mobility in the future

How can policymakers grasp socially desired behaviors and harness digital, physical and human interactivity to make progress toward the ultimate goal of more effective, personal mobility? We outline three potential outcomes for mobility for future residents in large cities:

  1. Mobility is an on-demand, personal serviceDigital social channels inform users’ mobility decisions and are an important part of their journeys. At the same time, the increasingly blurred boundaries between the digital world, physical infrastructure and human activity mean that consumers have access to a customizable mobility service at their fingertips. The challenge for policymakers is to convert attitudes, such as residents’ acceptance of autonomous transport services and interest in ridesharing, into behaviors.
  2. Pedestrian and pedal power ruleMore residents are opting to live in inner-city locations and a decreasing proportion of people own cars. Non-motorized transport modes are predominant in city life. The bulk of a city’s residents are active commuters, using non-motorized transport for a portion of their daily journeys.To achieve the most effective outcome for mobility, the policy challenge is to enable residents to act on their preferences and aspirations for an active commute. The twist on this challenge, in an environment of digital technology and hyper-connectivity, is to design policy that uses the socio-technical transition to enable behavior.
  3. There is no peak hourWorsening congestion is a thing of the past. With many people telecommuting, and non-work trips comprising a higher proportion of travel, residents have flexible transit times. Engaging residents with appropriate incentives and penalties so that they adapt their behavior is the focus for policy.

Framing what a “commute of the future” could look like — the length of the working week, how people use telecommuting and plan for social gatherings — is the first step. Governments can then use digital technologies to bring it to life, through interactive platforms and effective use of real-time information.



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