There was a time was when commuting to work meant a daily drudge. Standing in silence on a jealously guarded platform spot, come wind or rain, and trying not to acknowledge the familiar, nameless faces that surrounded you every day – that was the norm. But our working lives are changing and it’s time the commute did too. Welcome to the future of urban mobility.
Take photographer Matthew Allen from London for example – his work requires him to travel to offices, meetings and venues in neighbourhoods all over a city that is more than 611 square miles in size and home to more than 8.5 million people.
Like many urbanites, Allen’s days are not set in the same way as previous generations. A typical day might start with breakfast in Shoreditch, followed by a morning shoot in Kensington. Then lunch with friends in Soho followed by an afternoon shoot somewhere south of the river, before returning to an early evening event somewhere central with dinner and drinks to cap the day off. And all that’s before even thinking about the journey to and from home.
In other words, Allen is always on the move and often short on time. When he first realised how much of his day was spent in transit, he also recognised that he wasn’t making the best use he could of the services and technology at his fingertips.
“One Sunday, I sat down and looked at my schedule for the following week to see if I could make travelling from place to place easier or more efficient,” he says. “I quickly discovered that by mixing up my transport options, I could make savings – both in terms of time and money.”
Since then, Allen has been taking a multimodal approach to travel – meaning that he takes advantage of the different transport options available in London: tubes, trains, buses, cars, taxis, bicycles and on foot. By using a combination of urban mobility services, he has more freedom, more flexibility and can be more spontaneous in his movements each day.
To make this happen, of course, his smartphone plays a vital role. Allen uses apps to access car sharing and taxi services when he needs them, and he plans out his journeys on public transport by using mapping and timetable apps. Meanwhile, his mobile phone allows him to access tubes, trains, buses and bikes across London, all using just one “ticket”.
Multimodal travel has seamlessly made Allen’s hectic day-to-day life easier. His only complaint? That he’s had to buy a portable charger, as his smartphone’s battery rarely makes it from morning to bedtime.
And Allen’s not alone. People in cities across the world are embracing the diversity of urban mobility options and combining them to make moving between appointments smoother.
“Today, there’s not just one end-to-end solution to suit everyone’s transport needs. So by definition everyone is already multimodal to some extent,” says Vinay Venkatraman, CEO of Leapcraft, a data and design consultancy based in Copenhagen.
“Most city dwellers today use at least a few forms of transport. For example, you probably start your day walking or cycling to a bus stop or a subway station, and walk or cycle again when you get off the bus or train,” he explains.
These kinds of options have been around for generations, but taking advantage of the benefits is easier than ever before. Most people now have access to an abundance of information about transport options, and they’re able to interact with them using a device that fits in their coat pocket. As a result, more and more technology providers are working to offer apps and innovations that make everybody’s lives easier.
“In today’s fast-paced, globalised world, travellers are looking for door-to-door transport. They’re looking for a single journey experience where transport is viewed and presented as one coherent system,” says Rakhi Basu, a transport specialist at the World Bank. “Shared ticketing systems, for example, offer benefits such as greater comfort and lower costs for users.”
The benefits of a multimodal approach to transport, though, extend beyond individual commuters. Cities themselves are reaping the rewards of transport innovation, which is helping solve common urban problems ranging from traffic congestion to affordable or convenient parking and even overcrowded public transport.
“The day will soon come when you can get off the bus or train and have a ride already waiting at the stop to take you home,” Basu adds. “Ride-sharing apps and big data are changing commuter behaviour – they’re encouraging more flexibility and offering real-time, personalised information.”
The “last-mile” stretch from a transport hub to the front door has long been a challenge that public transport is left unable to address. While cycling or driving may be possible if the distance is too far to tackle on foot, these options present their own challenges. Many people find parking bikes or cars in cities too stressful or costly, and knowing they’re committed to getting their vehicle home can feel limiting at the end of a long day.
But with new apps and services emerging all the time, surely it won’t be long before urbanites across the world are commuting from doorstep to destination seamlessly with the tap of a finger.