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Unlocking the barriers to future mobility

Philip Hoare | 17 Nov 2016 | Comments

In this series of three articles, we will explore how the rail sector responds to the very real demands of harnessing new technology, improving the customer experience, encouraging innovation and developing new funding models.

Our world is changing. As an industry, if we are going to fulfil the expectations of passengers in the digital age, then we need to harness industry collaboration to unlock the barriers to future mobility and drive continuous improvement for passengers.

To shape the future of transportation, we need to dream big and be willing to test new ideas, harnessing new technology, listening to the needs of passengers, encouraging innovation and developing new funding models.

We see future mobility as characterised by seamless end-to-end journeys, the establishment of a new norm where technology-enabled customers rely on digital platforms powered by mobile apps to facilitate their journey choices, multi-modal trips with a single payment mechanism and access over ownership.

Lessons to learn?

New start-ups are materialising across the rail sector, readily attracting investment.  They are lean, smart and agile. They share the ability to continually innovate, go through multiple iterations and try and test new concepts quickly. With limited overheads, they are able to rapidly establish a presence, particularly in the growth markets of emerging economies.

Meanwhile, the rail industry faces increasing pressure to provide a high-quality travelling experience for passengers and embrace technology to deliver ever higher levels of safety, reliability, comfort and cost-effectiveness.

Is there a way of embracing the potential of start-ups to incubate new ideas and drive innovation to create the digital railway of the 22nd century today?  Strategic partnerships with start-ups and technology firms offer one route; another possibility is developing bespoke incubator teams within more established businesses.

The future of rail, and in fact all forms of transportation, will see us come together to share digital data platforms, which will allow us to have a closer relationship with the passenger than ever before and to offer them the kind of services they will increasingly demand.

Our customers are changing

Mobility as a Service is just one exciting example of how the rules are changing for how we’ll move people, goods and services in the future.  Imagine, for example, waking up, using your phone to check the news over your cereal and relying on one platform to cater for all your transport options for the day ahead.

MaaS doesn’t just talk about personalisation and putting the passenger first, it also aims to provide a clear set of new instructions and approaches for achieving it.

The Finland-based start-up MAAS Global plans to launch one of the first solutions of this kind in the autumn, in Helsinki. The aspiration is that users will ‘pay as you go’ or have a longer term contract, just as they would with a mobile phone. Users will receive automatic alerts advising them of the best way to travel, together with real-time information about any network challenges, allowing them to make dynamic decisions about routes and modal options. Ultimately these may be personalised to an individual’s preferences, featuring route and mode recommendations which consider proximity to a user’s favourite shops, for example, or tailored advertising and marketing as they pass their favourite restaurant.

At its heart, MaaS reflects a new set of assumptions about we interact with transportation and mobility. It redefines our expectations about how services will be provided. In Cambridge, Atkins has been working with its innovation partner, Fluxx, on an experiment revolving around a multi-modal commuter transport service.

This has involved testing modal shift and behavioural change among participants who have been asked to give up their car and instead commute by a combination of bus and lift-sharing. The success of the experiment demonstrated that people are willing to alter their behaviour, something which will be vital for any development of MaaS.

Consumer habits are being turned on their heads by the spending and consumption habits of millennials, a trend-igniting generation who are persistently tearing up the rule book. It is vital for the continued success of the rail industry that it keeps up with the pace of change.

As governments and operators are increasingly trying to deliver more for less, working collaboratively in the digital space opens up previously untapped possibilities for a sustainable, integrated and passenger-focused transport service

The second article in this series will focus on encouraging innovation.