Traveling: necessity and opportunity. In both cases, when a movement intersects a city, you have to deal with real urban jungles. Jungles that are becoming more and more dense, populated, and more difficult to navigate.
The urbanization trends speak for themselves: in the coming decades, cities will be more and more inhabited and, therefore, inevitably chaotic. At the same time, the possibilities of movement will multiply, with new transport services (such as scooters) that will tenaciously try to conquer new market shares. Urban travelers will pay the consequences: it will be increasingly difficult to find the right tool to navigate these modern jungles.
There are various solutions to this problem. Some of these, fairly large, will involve costly interventions in infrastructures, heavy urban restructuring and profound reorganization of transport services. There are also solutions, diametrically opposed, less impacting, less costly and capable of bringing benefits even in the short term starting from the status quo. These solutions all belong to the digital domain; among them the most important and forthcoming is the concept and delivery of “MaaS”.
MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service: in short, the synergistic union of multiple forms of transport, in more detail, see “MaaS and Freedom”) is the digital tool for tracing safe routes in the urban jungle. Normal urban complexity can be overcome with intelligence thanks to the power of digital. Let’s be clear: the movement of people will always remain physical, but its planning and implementation can be enormously facilitated thanks to a simple smartphone. Going around a city thanks to MaaS must be as simple as looking for a book on a shelf in a tidy library with a precise digital index of the volumes owned. Currently, however, many cities operate as an index-less library with unorganized shelves and untitled books. Many other cities, on the other hand, have organized and excellent local public transport services that are easy to search for because they are properly digitized (for example, trip planners and ticketing for access to the service).
Warning! MaaS does not mean that data and algorithms must replace investments in new infrastructures and inhibit the emergence of new mobility services; these interventions are necessary and desirable to respond to the growing needs of mobility and at the same time lay the foundations for better cities and territories. These are interventions which, by their very nature, have very different costs and timing: typically huge for infrastructures, more limited for MaaS. However, we must not “choose” between these interventions, which are both important; indeed, investments in MaaS and at the same time in infrastructures are synergistic to bring even greater benefits to the mobility landscape.
How does the car move in the urban context? The car appears increasingly clumsy in this jungle, risking not to longer embody the freedom of movement that users seek. Even electric cars will not be able to solve this problem: they can help alleviate the pollution of cities, but they will not solve the “congestion problem”. The underlying problem is that there are too many cars on the road, essentially.
In the 1970s the car was the undisputed queen of mobility, guaranteeing excellent point-to-point travel, even in urban areas. Today, 50 years later, urban mobility appears intrinsically different because it is increasingly co-modal and hierarchically organized into specialized services to cover specific mileage ranges and needs. To give an example, a 2km urban journey is perfect to cover by scooter. As the distance increases, a ride on the subway is probably preferable, if available. Why not combine the advantages of these two modes of transport (scooter + metro)? The combination can be better than traveling by car itself, a means of transport that increasingly suffers from the problem of traffic, paying tolls and fuel and finding a parking space. Clearly this example can be disproved with many other contrary examples; the key concept, however, is that, thanks to the great variety of transport services available today, every move can be completed with an optimal combination and, above all, the car does not necessarily win this competition a priori, as was almost taken for granted half a century ago.
The concept of co-modal mobility makes multimodality an interesting opportunity, especially in urban jungles. Multimodality, however, hides intrinsic complexities; by increasing the means of transport involved, the variables increase, complexity increases and things can also go wrong. To move in an intermodal perspective, more information is needed and precise coordination of the individual travel segments is required. Think of a railway connection: it requires the knowledge of “life critical” information (arrival and departure times and platforms) and very often it is a source of stress and potential hitches in the journey. The situation can only get worse if the connection takes place between two totally decoupled transport services, for example between a rented bicycle and a bus ride.
It is precisely here that MaaS can proudly show its full power. MaaS can in fact offer effective multimodal concertation to pave the way for the end user. In this way it is possible to obtain an “apparent unimodality”, namely the most effective and seamless solution one could wish for. The apparent unimodality is the ability to integrate multiple transport modes, as if they were a single solution. Given the multimodal nature of urban travel, MaaS aims to provide everyone with the best possible travel solution, using as resources all transport services included in the MaaS platform.
To summarize: the urban jungle, its growing inhabitants and the co-modal hierarchical conception of mobility make unimodality less effective (mainly represented by the private car). We must therefore try to get the best out of intermodality, well aware that it is intrinsically more complex and risky for end users and could discourage them. MaaS has the goal of restoring confidence to travelers, gaining their trust, successfully accompanying them to their destination through a skillful and accurate presentation of all the various transport services with the most cost conscience and effective travel modes in mind.