How Can Effective Planning and Modelling Lead to the Success of Mobility Hubs?
Multimodal transportation has become a dominant trend in our mobility systems.
However, the operation of multiple services must be seamless to provide the best mobility experience and ensure people do not shift to using private vehicles.
In recent years, this challenge has given rise to the concept of a ‘mobility hub’ – a physical place of connectivity where different travel options come together. Mobility hubs provide an integrated suite of mobility services (biking, public transportation, shared mobility) with supporting technologies and amenities to enable an improved mobility experience.
Organisations such as the Smart Mobility Living Lab, CoMoUK, MobiHub, and the Shared Use Mobility Centre have been championing these developments for several years.
This advocacy has converted into new pilots in Scotland and England and numerous Department for Transport funded innovation zones and live labs including Nottingham, the West of England, Plymouth and Staffordshire.
Benefits of mobility hubs
Mobility hubs offer improved transportation experiences for travellers, cities, and private service operators.
Travellers have new transportation options available to them and can seamlessly connect from one mode to another. This improves convenience and lowers cost of using shared mobility services.
Cities can improve air quality, accelerate decarbonisation of local transportation, support their active travel agenda, reduce congestion, and revitalise city centres.
Private operators benefit from the high concentration of demand for services, increased patronage and the raised profile of their service in the mobility mix.
Key challenges to scaling mobility hubs
Whilst this is not a new concept, it faces a core set of challenges that have so far restrained deployments.
Many trials have failed commercially once public funding ends, as developing a sustainable business model has proven hard to ensure longevity of mobility hubs.
At the heart of this, is the challenge of building collaboration between key hub stakeholders – infrastructure owners, mobility service providers, , and local authorities. To gain alignment and investment from these disparate partners is key to developing an agile, yet commercially viable business model.
Finally, with the rate of innovation and investment in mobility solutions, it is hard to ensure that the hub is futureproof. Who knows what the next disruptive vehicle, charging or technological innovation will be in mobility… which increases the perceived risk of deploying the wrong set of solutions.
How good planning can reduce the risks
Fundamentally, the design of mobility hubs must focus on benefits to travellers. If this community extensively uses the facility, then wider benefits are enjoyed by the city and mobility service operators. The mobility experience enabled by the hub must be cheaper, quicker, and more convenient than other options to ensure usage. These are the key metrics for planning a mobility hub.
When identifying locations for hubs, we need to make data-driven decisions. Use local demographic data alongside knowledge of current transport networks, services, and operations to target mobility gaps that exist.
Once a location that can benefit from a hub has been identified, we should use modelling and simulation tools to test service configurations and any onsite infrastructure requirements. This ensures that we have rightsized the mobility hub from day 1. An undersized hub will leave travellers frustrated that they cannot use a service when they need it, and an oversized hub will leave private operators frustrated that their vehicles are not being utilised.
The data that is used and generated from these exercises can then be used to empower collaboration. For private operators to join a scheme, they need to be confident that their service will benefit. Good data and scenario-based simulation should be used to prove the benefits and de-risk deployments.
Everyone can benefit
Mobility hubs may hold the key to efficient, multimodal, and sustainable transportation systems as they offer benefits to travellers, cities and private service operators.
But scaling them up has several barriers. Sustainable business models, effective collaboration between stakeholders and futureproof service configurations need to be enabled to succeed.
Data and simulation-driven decision making holds the key to selecting the right service configuration and business model and getting buy-in from core stakeholders. This technology is more accessible than ever and must be used to ensure efficient, sustainable, and equitable mobility systems.