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How to build seamless integrated mobility systems for the cities of the future

  • New mobility solutions risk overtaxing existing systems and infrastructure.

  • Seamless integrated mobility systems (SIMS) could be the answer.

  • This new report examines the SIMS challenges and choices faced by cities.

The future of cities has captured the global imagination for centuries, and some of those earlier thinkers were prescient. A UK Ministry of Transport report in 1963 warned of the effects of traffic and motorcar ownership, and recommended getting cars off the road and repurposing street space. A half-century before, in 1911, French architect Eugène Hénard envisaged the first version of a seamless mobility: a central tower to coordinate the various mobility modes and facets of a hypothetical modern city.

Today, a plethora of new mobility solutions are available, from drone-enabled shipping and self-driving vehicles, to on-demand public and private transportation options and integrated trip planning. But these disparate services and technologies, operating in isolation, risk exacerbating the strains on already overtaxed legacy mobility infrastructure.

The Seamless Integrated Mobility System (SIMSystem) Initiative proposes a solution much like Hénard’s: to bring together disparate mobility modes onto a single digital mobility platform. The potential impact could be profound. With a bird’s-eye view on the deployment of mobility solutions across urban centers, city leaders can adjust schedules, stops, vehicle types and routing to benefit citizens while optimizing efficiency.

Nevertheless, the activation of a seamless integrated mobility system is fraught with challenges and questions. How can competitors be convinced to share data? How can cities build the capabilities to handle this large technological effort? How can consumer privacy be protected? How can this system ensure service to the underserved while reaching critical mass?

To explore these questions and more, the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Consulting partnered to examine 10 cities’ journeys toward the activation of their own seamless integrated mobility systems, which will be featured in our report, Activating seamless integrated mobility systems (SIMSystem): Insights into leading global practices.

The challenges

In the report, we combine insights from these case studies to offer learnings for those embarking on their own mobility system transformation. In many respects, the focal cities of this study could not be more different. But there was also a surprising degree of consensus – indeed, near unanimity – on some of the approaches they have adopted and the challenges they face:

Political will determines everything. A committed leader willing to champion new approaches and drive change is critical – but they must have the authority to act on their vision.

Having a clear vision necessitates making hard trade-offs. This enables identifying (with much greater clarity) what you can and cannot do and matching mobility transformation efforts to specific goals and objectives. Simply copying the playbook of another city is unlikely to work well.

Governance structures matter and can powerfully shape how and with what success a city advances its mobility agenda. Whether centralized or not, a strong coordinating mechanism is vital to achieving meaningful, systemwide impacts.

Successful cities have found a source of leverage which is critical to attract partnerships, funding and talent. Leverage can take many forms – and even the most constrained city has policy and regulatory tools available to elicit active private sector participation.

Pilots are not always the answer because seamless mobility requires ecosystem-level thinking. Focus on specific and intended outcomes, not just the process; one-off pilots unconnected to greater system-wide efforts may not be useful.

More data isn’t always better. Understanding what data exists, where it is housed and the rules that govern sharing and exchange is critical to success. Many cities have defined guidelines that can serve as a starting point for how to use data effectively.

The fundamental characteristics of seamless integrated mobility systems

The choices

Beyond these commonalities, the research uncovered four primary strategic choices every city needs to address in activating seamless integrated mobility systems. In a perfect world, a city might aspire to achieve both ends posited by the design choices. But in lieu of perfection, cities are making very different choices when it comes to where to play.

1. Individual journeys vs. systemwide optimization: Cities must decide what they are optimizing: an individual’s ability to choose their preferred trip, or the efficiency and throughput of the overall system. While recent innovations in mobility-as-a-service are beneficial to their users, they might exacerbate the systemwide challenges of congestion, sustainability and access which requires more active management and influencing of consumption choices through policy.

2. Public sector leadership vs. private sector leadership: While government will always have a role, there is a wide spectrum of activities they can opt to lead on or to allow private sector players to drive. Cities must objectively discern their willingness and capabilities to manage mobility innovation – and identify areas where complementarities from the private sector may make sense.

3. Data openness and transparency vs. privacy and security: Data is at the heart of creating a seamless integrated mobility system. However, concerns about personal privacy and cybersecurity are growing and remain a priority for both governments and businesses. Cities must figure out what data to collect, specific use cases, how to house it, and how to create common standards to produce actionable insights.

4. City-regulated vs. market-led innovation: New mobility services and technologies have often outpaced regulation. As cities come to grips with this more dynamic transportation environment, they must choose whether to proactively create policy, legislation and regulation that set guidelines within which the private sector must act, or to allow a more open market-based approach to drive the pace of innovation and let regulation follow.

The full report explores each of these strategic choices and how the focal cities are addressing them. Unsurprisingly, in a domain as complex and dynamic as mobility, there is no single “right” answer – and what is “right” for any particular city may shift over time. Yet, the hope of this study is to build a common, global view of leading practices to increase the potential for replicability and accelerate the adoption of seamless integrated mobility around the globe. We invite you join the conversation: how does this resonate with the realities in your own city? What strategic choices have you faced through your own involvement in the transformation of mobility systems?

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